The Romanian Church United with Rome, Greek-Catholic (Biserica Română Unită cu Roma, Greco-Catolică) is an Eastern Rite or Greek-Catholic Church ranked as a Major Archiepiscopal Church, which uses the Byzantine liturgical rite in the Romanian language.
Since 1994, the Romanian Greek-Catholic Church has been led by the Most Reverend Lucian Mureşan, Archbishop of Făgăraş and Alba Iulia, who on December 16, 2005 became its first Major Archbishop when it was raised to the rank of a Major Archiepiscopal Church by Benedict XVI. The Church has four other dioceses in Romania: (Oradea Mare, Eparchy of Cluj-Gherla, Eparchy of Lugoj and Eparchy of Maramureş), and one, directly subject to the Holy See, in the United States of America (Eparchy of Saint George in Canton, Ohio). According to the information, valid for the end of 2003, given in the 2005 Annuario Pontificio, it then had 737,900 followers, many bishops, some 716 diocesan priests and 347 seminarians of its own rite. However, according to the 2002 Romanian state census, the number of followers in Romania is as low as 191,556 The dispute over the figure is included in the United States Department of State report on religious freedom in Romania.
In 1701 many of the Romanians of Transylvania, headed by Bishop Atanasie Anghel, entered into full communion with the See of Rome, while keeping their own Greek Byzantine liturgical rite. This was a result of diploma issued by the Emperor Leopold I, which decreed Transylvania's Romanian Orthodox Church to be one with the Roman Catholic Church. Transylvanians were therefore encouraged to become Catholics and adhere to the newly created Greek-Catholic Church by retaining their Orthodox ritual, but accepting the four doctrinal points established by the Council of Florence between 1431 and 1445: the Pope as the supreme head of the church; the existence of Purgatory; the Filioque clause; and the use of unleavened bread in Holy Communion.
Metropolitan Atanasie Anghel and his Holy Synod took this course to obtain for the Romanians of Transylvania (then part of the Habsburg Empire) the same rights as those of the other Transylvanian nations, which were part of the Unio Trium Nationum (Hungarian nobility, Germanic Transylvanian Saxons and Székely). The event coincided with the arrival of the Jesuits, who attempted to align Transylvania more closely with Western Europe. However, not all Romanians agreed with this conversion, leading to several peaceful movements of the Romanian Orthodox population that advocated for freedom of worship for all the Transylvanian population, most notably being the movements led by Visarion Sarai, Nicolae Oprea Miclăuş and Sofronie of Cioara.
The bishop's residence was moved from Alba Iulia to Făgăraş in 1721 and then, in 1737 to Blaj, which became a centre of learning and national awakening for all Romania. This was in part because, unlike the Romanian Orthodox who until 1863 officially used Church Slavonic in their Byzantine liturgy, the Romanian Church United with Rome used the Romanian vernacular since its beginnings. When, in the 19th century, Hungary followed a Magyarization policy, the Greek-Catholic Church played a prominent part in resisting ethnic assimilation, with the Transylvanian School (Şcoala Ardeleană) and the Transylvanian Memorandum. Leading Romanian personalities as Simion Bărnuţiu or Iuliu Maniu were initially civil servants of Greek-Catholic Church.
Other eparchies were set up at Oradea (1777) and at Gherla and Lugoj (1853); and Blaj, under the title of Alba Iulia and Făgăraş, became their metropolitan (in the sense of archiepiscopal) see. On December 16, 2005, the Church was raised to the dignity of a Major Archiepiscopal Church.
The Catholic bishops, and many Greek-Catholic priests, were arrested for "antidemocratic activity", mainly for refusal to give up ties with the "reactionary" Holy See. In the meantime, the Orthodox Church was "purged" of priests unfriendly to the Communist regime and, for the next 40 years, it had good relations with the Communist authorities.
Iuliu Hossu, Bishop of Cluj, refused the proposal of the Romanian Orthodox Patriarch, Iustinian Marina, to become the Orthodox Archbishop of Iaşi and metropolitan of Moldavia, and thereby even the official successor to the Romanian Orthodox Patriarch himself. He remained under house arrest, and each year sent a memorandum to the President of the Republic, asking that the country's laws and Romania's international agreements be observed with regard to the Romanian Greek-Catholic Church. In 1969, Pope Paul VI asked him to accept appointment to the cardinalate. As he preferred to stay with his people, the Pope made him cardinal only "in pectore", i.e. without publishing the fact, which he revealed only on March 5, 1973, three years after Bishop Hossu's death.
Another remarkable Romanian ecclesiastic of the time was Alexandru Todea (1912–2002). Secretly ordained as a titular bishop on 19 November 1950, he was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment in the following year. He was given amnesty in 1964 and on March 14 1990, after the fall of the Communist regime, was appointed Archbishop of Făgăraş and Alba Iulia, becoming a cardinal in the following year.
After more than forty years of surviving only in secrecy and illegally, the Romanian Church United with Rome, Greek-Catholic, was able to appear again in public only after the 1989 Romanian Revolution. Normative act 9/31, passed on 31 December 1989, repealed Decree 358/1948 as repugnant and bringing grave prejudice upon the Romanian State.
With some delay, some of the Church's property, in particular the cathedrals of Cluj, Blaj, Lugoj and Oradea, which the Communist Government had transferred to the Orthodox Church, were restored to it.Latin Rite pressure against this Church came from within Catholicism, one segment of the same Universal Church attempting to modify, suppress or even outright ban another part.
Historically, Eastern Catholic Churches in general came under pressure to modify their practices, to Romanize. In the case of the Byzantine-Rite Romanian Catholic Church, the pressure grew with the creation, 17 years after Romania's Greek-catholics recreated a full communion with Rome, of the "Commission, created in 1717 and operational in the heart of the Congregation for the Propagation of Faith ('Propaganda Fide') until 1862, for the correction of the liturgical books of the Church of the East. These interventions felt the effects of the mentality and convictions of the times, according to which a certain subordination of the non-Latin liturgies was perceived toward the Latin rite liturgy which was considered 'ritus praestantior.' This attitude may have led to interventions in the Eastern liturgical texts which today, in light of theological studies and progress, have need of revision, in the sense of a return to ancestral traditions.
Given that the Commission came into being so close to the date of reunification, Romanian Byzantine Catholicism is naturally the most profoundly affected of all the eastern churches as it never had a chance to gain its legs and get a sense of self within Catholicism prior to the creation of this innovating Commission. Another reason Romanizing pressure was more intense was the fact that the Romanian language itself is derived from Latin, not Old Church Slavonic or Greek, and Romanization was therefore more attractive to Romanian Byzantine Catholics than it was to, say, Ukrainian Catholics.
Latin Rite repression of this Church recently centers in the United States and consists of repeated, and sometimes successful requests for partial or total suppression of the Church's Rite. This has largely been based on the issue of a married clergy in the Eastern Rites in general and has produced schism in many eastern rite US parishes.