The Romanian Orthodox Church has condemned the formation of a trade union among its clergy, and has said that priests should follow church procedures in making demands and airing grievances - writes Jonathan Luxmoore.
"Certainly, some Orthodox priests have trouble making ends meet, especially those with families," said Constantin Stoica, a spokesperson for the Bucharest patriarchate, which governs the church, "but we have ways of solving their problems inside our church."
In May, 20 priests from Iasi, Neamt and Bacau applied to the Iasi court to register their Mother of God Protection union in northeastern Romania, while 35 other priests in Oltenia said they were considering strike action after registering a separate Good Shepherd union at Craiova on 22 May.
The Good Shepherd's vice-president, the Rev. Nicolae State, told Romania's Gandul daily newspaper on 28 May that the union would fight low clergy pay, and demand the right for priests to make parish decisions without diocesan approval.
"There is an abyss between the church hierarchy and the priests who serve in churches," State said. "We are put under pressure, and have already lost some of our members."
In a statement, the Bucharest patriarchate dismissed the moves. "The initiatives to set up clergy trade unions are taken by priests tempted by the spirit of rebellion and division, and moving away from church discipline and communion," the patriarchate said.
"A priest is not a lay employee of a commercial firm but invested by his hierarch with the responsibility of a holy mission designed to save and serve the community of the faithful," the statement added. "He cannot go on strike and not baptise children, wed spouses, hear confessions, bury the dead or administer Holy Communion because his wage is too small."
The patriarchate added that its priests were required to take their problems to church bodies, and not trade unions.
Under a 1999 law that currently faces amendment in the national parliament, the Romanian state pays part of the clergy's income. Local parish contributions make up the rest.
The church's spokesperson told Ecumenical News International that leaders of the Orthodox church hoped to obtain pay rises in current negotiations with the state, and especially for priests from poorer parishes in Transylvania and northern Moldavia.
"But there are also networks of solidarity within the church which enable financial burdens to be shared," Stoica added.
According to a 2001 census, 87 per cent of Romania's 23 million inhabitants belong to the Romanian Orthodox Church.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]