BUCHAREST, Romania: Files kept by Romania's communist-era secret police on a dozen Orthodox clerics were burned during the 1989 revolution to prevent their names from being disclosed, said a member of the state council studying the Securitate archives.
The council member, poet Mircea Dinescu, also officially confirmed Tuesday that a senior bishop who previously acknowledged collaborating with the feared secret police did in fact do so.
The council is reviewing a list of 20 senior Orthodox clerics, among whom a few almost certainly collaborated with the Securitate, he said. Sixteen of them are suspected of having been informers, he said.
Some of the clerics he was referring to, he said, were potential candidates to lead Romania's influential Orthodox Church. The election of a replacement for Patriarch Teoctist, who died July 30, is to be held Sept. 12.
"Their files were burned in December 1989 so that their names could be covered up," Dinescu said. "The church has the opportunity to eliminate suspicion that its high-level clerics collaborated with the Securitate," he said.
Teoctist was opposed to the files being opened, arguing it was an internal church matter. Since his death there have been calls for the names of priests who collaborated to be made public.
The council confirmed Tuesday that Metropolitan Bishop of Banat Nicolae Corneanu and academician and member of the Orthodox Church Electoral Board Constantin Balaceanu Stolnici had been collaborators.
The Securitate is believed to have had at least 700,000 informers when communism was overthrown in December 1989.
The opening of the files is part of Romania's efforts to shed light on the communist era. Those found to have collaborated are not prosecuted but can be excluded from running for public office.
Church officials reacted defensively to Tuesday's disclosure. Orthodox Church spokesman Costel Stoica noted that Corneanu's collaboration was already public knowledge. "I think he was one of the first Romanians to admit what he did. This is not new," he said.
Corneanu, who is the Metropolitan for Timisoara, said he collaborated from 1960, when he was bishop of Arad, until the revolution.
Stolnici admitted earlier this year in a newspaper interview that he had been a Securitate informer. The church spokesman said Stolnici would be allowed to remain a member of the electoral council that will choose the next patriarch.
He accused Dinescu of libel, adding that the church was "praying for him."
More than 80 percent of Romanians are Orthodox believers.
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