Worthy News Europe Bureau in Budapest
SOFIA/BUDAPEST (Worthy News) -- Bulgaria's government is planning to appeal a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which found Bulgaria guilty of violating religious rights of over 100 Bulgarian Orthodox priests, bishops and lay-workers, who were violently thrown out of their churches, Worthy News learned Monday, March 23.
The ECHR said Bulgaria violated the European Convention on Human Rights by supporting one faction in an internal church dispute and attempting to force dissident priests to recognise the authority of the state appointed Patriarch Maxim.
Over 100 Bulgarian Orthodox Priests and bishops were violently thrown out of their churches five years ago after they refused to recognise the authority of Patriarch Maxim, who was appointed by the Communist regime in the 1970s.
“Many of them have been living in difficult circumstances ever since, as some were barred from taking other employment or receiving state benefits,” said Britain based advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
After the collapse of Communism in Bulgaria, the Orthodox Church split with some clergy backing Metropolitan Innokentiy and others recognizing Patriarch Maxim, who refused to step down.
In its January 22 ruling, the ECHR gave the Bulgarian government “three months to make a payment of eight thousand Euros plus tax to compensate six individual applicants and Metropolitan Innokentiy for loss of earnings and damage to church buildings, ” said CSW, which closely monitored the case.
The court also ruled that the Bulgarian government and plaintiffs should reach a settlement, which, CSW said, “could be in the hundreds of millions of Euros”, regarding 107 confiscated churches and other buildings and unpaid wages and benefits for clergy and support staff who lost their jobs.
"If no decision is reached within three months from the date of the court ruling," on January 22, “the ECHR will rule on a settlement," CSW explained.
Following the ruling, the Bulgarian government said it was "seriously considering" appealing the ECHR decision and invited leaders of Orthodox Churches in Russia and other neighboring countries to Bulgaria. The move was an “an apparent effort to place sideline pressure on the members of the Alternate Synod to renounce their right to compensation and to recognize the authority of Maxim,” CSW added.
CSW quoted lawyers as saying that they do not believe a High Court will allow an appeal.
Yet, “Despite the positive ruling from the ECHR it still appears the Bulgarian government is staunchly unwilling to admit its clear violations of religious liberty, as set out in Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights,” said CSW National Director Stuart Windsor.
He said his group “strongly condemns any pressures being placed on leaders to sway the outcome of this case, and we urge the Bulgarian Government to find a reasonable solution regarding compensation payments...” (With reporting by Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos).