The Stolen Church

This is a three-part series based on Alexandru Ratiu’s account of the horrors committed by the communist regime. Ratiu published his experiences in a book entitled Biserica Furata (The Stolen Church).

Ratiu (1916 – 2002) was a Romanian-American priest of the Romanian Greek-Catholic Church who was arrested on 29 October 1948 by the communist authorities for his religious believes. He spent 16 years in prisons and forced labour camps.

Alexander Ratiu is the 5th person from the left in the back row. Bishop Valeriu Traian Frențiu (1872–1952) is sitting.

In 1979, only a handful of copies were printed in English. The book was published once Ratiu was freed and arrived in the United States in 1970. Only three copies reached Romania.

The book has three parts. The first part is called “16 Years of Detention”, part two is entitled “The Brainwashing Experiment from Pitesti” and the final part is called “The Persecution of the Church”.

The communists took over the country after the end of World War II, in 1947, and transformed Romania into a Marxist-Leninist one-party state that lasted until the revolution in 1989.

In the aftermath of the Soviet occupation during the war, pro-communist parties gained momentum. As a result, the Romanian Worker’s Party was installed. Its control of the country’s administration grew to the point that King Michael I was forced to abdicate in December 1947. Then, the People’s Republic of Romania was formed.

The events that Ratiu describes in The Stolen Church happened between 1948 and 1964. In other words, the crackdown on individual freedom began immediately after the communists took power.

All religions were persecuted by the communists as they implemented a totalitarian regime. They oppressed Jews and other Christian denominations, including the Orthodox and the Protestant churches. But they hated the Greek-Catholic church in particular.

Greek-Catholic church

Like with the Roman-Catholics, the primary issue with Greek-Catholics was their link with Rome. There are many differences between these two denominations of the Catholic church but the primary difference rests in how the religious ceremonies are perfromed. Although both recognise the Pope as their leader, Greek-Catholics have a rite similar to that of the Orthodox church.

Its Byzantine rite is one of the oldest in Europe, developed in Constantinople in the Eastern Roman Empire. The Romanian Greek-Catholic church goes back to 1700, when the Orthodox church of Transylvania decided to accept the authority of the Holy See.

It is this elevated element of mysticism coupled with the link to Rome (“the outside world”) that made the Greek-Catholics a unique target of the communist regime which actively sought to erase both religion and the past.

On this page, you can read Ratiu’s account of the terrors through which the communists put many men and women for their believes that did not conform with the Party’s ideology.

The first part of the book, “16 Years of Detention”, is further broken down into four parts: The Arrest, The Prisons, The Forced Camp and Freedom. The second part, “The Brainwashing Experiment from Pitesti” is divided into three parts: “Destroy them through themselves”, Pain and Fear and Death and Life. The final part of the book is called “The Persecution of the Church” and is divided into three parsts as well: “The List”, “The plan of destruction” and “Nobody can server two masters”.

You can read the experience of the Greek-Catholic Church under communism by clicking the buttons above or below.