SHARING OF CHURCH ESTATES BEGINS
Immediately after the new Act on Creeds was enforced on January 6, 2003, patriarch Maxim busied himself with tightening financial discipline in his eparchies. He also wants to regain the church estates, misappropriated by dissenters, but cannot do that through court trials because scandalous documents about his appointment discredit him, informed sources revealed. According to them, Maxim cannot prove he was the legal owner of the estates while the former act was in force. Therefore, he adopted another tactics. He is preparing special letters, requiring from the bishops to submit to him by end-January precise data about the size of agricultural land, forests, and real estates in the towns, which the State has not yet returned to the church, or which have been misappropriated by the fellow-men of the deceased Pimen, who was his competitor for the patriarchal throne when the Bulgarian Orthodox Church split in 1993. The reason for the hurry are the thin bank accounts of the Synod and the lack of whatsoever chances of replenishing them. As the Sofia bishop Inokentiy has misappropriated real estates and receives the rents from them, for a fourth month now the Synod pays only half of the full amount of subsidies to the two ecclesiastical seminaries. The money for the remuneration of priests has almost finished as well, although the salary is only BGN180.With the enforcement of the redrafted Act on Creeds, adminstrative church structures are automatically considered registered, Maxim himself becomes the legal patriarch, and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church - a juristic person. Neither Maxim, nor the institution, headed by him, had such a statute so far. This was the main reason for the Synod to lose its estates some ten years ago and the impossibility to regain them as it failed to prove it was their legal owner. For twelve years after 1989 the patriarch and the Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church were not included in documents, as any procedure for registration in the Sofia City Court requires presentation of documents for the appointment of the patriarch and the higher church administration. Some 30 years ago a dozen of dissenters took advantage of the communist party's meddling with church matters. They held a church convention on July 2, 1996 and procured perfect documents for appointment, registering their bishops in the local municipal administrations, as the former Act on Creeds required. On teh grounds of those documents, the new bishops appropriated estates worth almost USD80MN. The expert in the philosophy of creeds with the Parliamentary Commission of Creeds, Assoc. Prof. Stefan Penev announced that the aggregate value of all church estates amounts to USD150MN. The figure was confirmed for the BANKER weekly by the MPs from the NMSII Borislav Tsekov and Kiril Milchev. Lawyers have calculated that in order to regain the misappropriated estates, patriarch Maxim would have to initiate 43 lawsuits. Most of them will be against Inokentiy, who was registered by Mayor Stefan Sofiansky Sofia's bishop in 1997, and the others - against the bishops from the so-called alternative Synod in the other towns.We are getting prepared for the court, but we'll initiate legal proceedings not earlier than June. Till then we'll wait for the dissenters to repent and return voluntarily the misappropriated estates, the Synod's lawyer Atanas Zhelezchev said in front of the BANKER weekly. Bishops informed that patriarch Maxim was preparing a letter, inviting Inokentiy and his fellow-men to repent and return voluntarily the misappropriated estates. The lawyer Zhelezchev said that if this is without any result, the patriarch will hold extraordinary elections to replace the church and eparchial boards where people from the alternative Synod predominate. If this does not yield any result, we'll compromise no more, and we'll initiate lawsuits, Mr. Zhelezchev explained. He is sure that patriarch Maxim shall win and regain the estates in Sofia. By the autumn Inokentiy will return the misappropriated estates, because Mayor Sofianski won't be reelected. Without his support the dissente will return to Maxim, the lawyer is certain. In front of the BANKER weekly he explained that the patriarch is inclined to pardon the dissenters and not unfrock them. According to theologians, this is the only way for the patriarch to regain the estates. Afterwards, the Synod will be getting 12% of the incomes from the metropolitan's estates, guaranteed by the statutes of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.Patriarch Maxim's Synod loses BGN250,000 each month from rents of church estates in Sofia alone, Assoc. Prof. Ivan Zhelev, Head of the Department of Creeds with the Council of Ministers, has calculated. The most attractive piece of real estate is the 5-storey building at No 16 St. Nedelya square, owned by the Sofia metropolitan. After Mayor Sofiansky registered Inokentiy as Sofia' bishop, the rents from that building started going to the bank accounts of the dissenters' Synod. The BANKER weekly has established that the rent for that estate is in the range of USD7 - 28/sq. m, depending on the location and the purpose it is used for. The alternative Synod gets USD3,000 each month from the Russian restarurant at No 1 Pozitano street and USD500/month from the shop at No 1 Hristo Botev stree. Inokentiy receives also rents from the premises at No 1 Karingradska street. The Synod and its metroplitan own also four flats at No 8 Stefan Karadja street. The garage at the same address with about 30 parking places was until recently rented to the Podkrepa trade union. The nextdoor shop for expensive spirits is also in the hands of the alternative Synod. It also has 22 churches in the country. Twelve of them are extremely lucrative, as they are in the capital city and the monthly profit of each of them (from sale of candles, weddings, christening and funeral services) is at least BGN10,000. The candle-works and the workshop for church plate with it (located in the Iliyantsi quarter) is the hen with golden eggs, which patriarch Maxim will try to regain, bishops comment. It was misappropriated by the dissenters in 1994 and since then the official Synod has been losing BGN250,000 annually from the sale of candles.Patriarch Maxim and his bishops have also made it their ambition to regain 329,436 dca of fields, vineyards, meadows, and orchards, worth a total of BGN800MN. Of them 191 dca of land, 30 dca of fileds, 7,000 dca of meadows, 150 dca of forests, 17,000 dca of pastures, and 236 dca of orchards are monestery property. These estates have not been returned by the State yet, because before the passing of the new Act on Creeds the Bulgarian Orthodox Church did not have the statute of a juristic person and could not lay its claims in court. The matter now depends on the lawyers. If they fail to prove that Maxim and his bishops are legitimate, the agricultural estates may remain state-owned forever, as under the law on agricultural property, the term for placing claims by former owners expires in a year.