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Chaplaincies in military institutions and the penitentiary system

Religious assistance in public institutions was fairly quickly regulated after the establishment of the modern Romanian state: in 1870, a ruling on military clergy of the standing army provided for the presence of an Orthodox priest in each army battalion. The law on military clergy of 1921, the law on the organisation of the Romanian Orthodox Church and the law on the general status of denominations of 1928 established the organisation of the military clergy in the form of a bishopric of the army, administered by an Orthodox hierarch.
After the advent of Communist rule, decree no. 177/1948 on the general status of the denominations eliminated all forms of religious assistance in public institutions and dissolved the military clergy. The possibility of "on demand" religious assistance for the military remained in the statutes of the Romanian Orthodox Church, but without being concretely applied.
After the fall of communism, the Romanian Orthodox Church called from January 1990 on the provisional government to allow religious assistance in medical and military institutions and within the prison system in order to restore a legal tradition dating back to the beginnings of the modern Romanian state.
As a first step, this assistance was organised more or less informally through agreements with directors or commanders of the various institutions involved. In the Romanian Constitution of 1991, the state undertook to "facilitate" religious assistance in the above institutions.
Religious assistance in military institutions and in the prison system began to be formalised by the establishment of inter-institutional agreements between the ministries involved and the Romanian Orthodox Church (in a de facto majority). And agreements were signed in October 1993 (revised in 1997) with the Ministry of Justice for the prison system and in October 1995 with the Ministry of National Defence for military institutions. Other similar agreements were established for the police and other forces of law and order. Besides some specific differences, these agreements included several common principles: the Orthodox Church was the main partner of public institutions involved in the development of systems of religious assistance; priest-chaplains become officials within these institutions and were subject as much to the internal discipline of these institutions as to canonical discipline (principle of the double subordination of chaplains); chaplains had responsibilities which were as much spiritual as educational, but not exclusively; Orthodox priests were the mediators of religious assistance for persons belonging to other faiths, ensuring access to assistance in the religion of their choice; the institutions concerned had to ensure funding for the construction of places of worship for their respective institutions. The chaplains of the prison system were not members of the military clergy.
In 2000, a law on the military clergy established a unified system of religious assistance in military institutions, the police and prison system. Chaplains of all these institutions now belong to the military clergy. The law was modelled on the 1995 agreement concluded between the Romanian Orthodox Church and the Ministry of Defence. The general principles of the agreements were preserved. The priest chaplains in prisons were also assimilated to the military clergy. The possibility was created to recruit a second priest for the same unit - and a cantor in certain conditions. The law also opened up, explicitly, access for chaplains of other recognised religions to these institutions, either by recruiting them on a permanent basis in some divisions (where there was a majority of members declaring affiliation to the faith in question) or by using fixed term contracts.
The law on the military clergy also developed the system of religious assistance in the relevant institutions and intended to make it more homogeneous, but just as these institutions were beginning to reform themselves, the prison system was being gradually demilitarised, like the police, and the army itself began to transform from a conscript army to a professional army.
The system of religious assistance in public institutions has rarely been challenged and has not been the subject of great public debate. The Association for the Defence of Human Rights in Romania - Helsinki Committee reported especially in the 1990s that many minority religions had difficulty obtaining access to religious assistance for their members in these institutions and similar problems were reported several times in the International Freedom Report of the U.S. State Department. The association Solidarity for Freedom of Conscience (a humanist association) also challenged the principle of financing the construction of places of worship in public institutions in a report published in 2005.
Law 489/2006 on Freedom of Religion and the General Status of Denominations did not bring anything new in relation to the system of religious assistance in the institutions mentioned here. It confirmed the government support for various activities of recognised religions. By recognising that faiths had the status of "providers of social services" (Article 10.7) and by allowing the establishment of partnerships between public institutions and recognised religions "in areas of common interest", it could enable - without targeting it directly - the development of the social dimension of religious assistance in prisons.
In 2010, the number of Orthodox priests active in military and penitentiary institutions was 134.

D 2 October 2012   

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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