Romanian Orthodox archbishop acknowledges collaborating with communist-era secret police

(Constantina-AP) A Romanian Orthodox archbishop acknowledged Thursday that he collaborated with the communist-era secret police before he became a priest, but said he only informed on issues that were of “major national interest.”

Teodosie, archbishop of Tomis, a region on the Black Sea, told The Associated Press that he was pressured into signing a written pledge with the Securitate secret police in 1987 when he was a teaching assistant at the Theology Institute in Bucharest.

“I think I was vulnerable because I had applied to study on a grant abroad,” he said. He said he was kept for four hours at a militia headquarters and coerced into signing a written pledge to inform, but after that he did not give any information to the Securitate.

Teodosie’s comments came days after Romania’s president, Traian Basescu, called for the Securitate’s dossiers on priests to be opened.

Basescu’s decision earlier this year to open nearly 1.3 million files left over from the country’s communist era, which ended in 1989, has shaken up Romanian politics. Several prominent figures, including politicians, media figures and priests have had their former secret police ties exposed.

Iustin Marchis, a well-known Orthodox priest, said earlier this week that he had informed on foreigners who visited the Cheia Monastery where he was a monk, including the U.S. ambassador at the time.

Marius Oprea, a historian who heads the government-funded Institute for Studying Communism Crimes, said Thursday that Marchis had not been a Securitate collaborator, but only complied with laws requiring citizens to notify authorities of contact with foreigners.

Oprea, who has studied the Securitate archives, said priests were mostly victims of the Securitate, and many were informed on by parishioners.

During communism, thousands of priests were imprisoned or sent to labor camps, alongside tens of thousands of other political prisoners.

Orthodox bishop Andrei Andreicut has also admitted in his 2002 autobiography that the Securitate forced him to inform on a close friend.

“I was harassed for years by the Securitate,” Andreicut said, adding that his house was searched and he was persecuted by communist-era authorities. “It’s like someone stabs you with a knife in the back and then you’re arrested for illegally possessing a weapon.”

Another bishop, Nicolae, was also accused of collaboration with the Securitate.

Teodosie said the Securitate asked him to inform on teachers and students at the institute “on issues that were of major national interest.”

“Reading my file now, I find that they considered me ‘a failure’ as an informer,” he said.

He defended his actions: “It was a pledge to be faithful to the country and the nation.” At the time he confessed to his spiritual father, he said. “It doesn’t weigh on my conscience,” he added.

Teodosie became a priest in 1991 and was elected archbishop of Tomis in 2000.

The dreaded Securitate is believed to have recruited many priests during the communist-era, when churchgoing was not encouraged and atheism was official state policy.

Patriarch Teoctist, head of the Orthodox Church, to which more than 80 percent of Romanians belong, said last week that he did not believe priests betrayed parishioners’ confessions.

The church has said in the past that it wants to reserve the right to pass judgment on its priests’ relations with the Securitate but on Thursday said it wanted the files to be public.

“The Romanian Orthodox Church is waiting for all the files of its senior clergy to be declassified, including the file of His Beatitude Teoctist, to establish the truth about possible collaboration with the Securitate,” said Constantin Stoica, a church spokesman.

Some files, which are being opened before Romania joins the European Union next year, show that some citizens collaborated willingly, while other people were forced into doing it, often after being released from prisons or camps.