Romanian bishop dies; collaborated with communists

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BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — A Romanian Orthodox bishop who was the first senior cleric to acknowledge collaborating with the feared Securitate communist secret police has died. He was 90.

Nicolae Corneanu, the bishop of Banat, who irritated Romanian Orthodox Church leaders with his non-traditional views, died Sunday at his residence, church spokesman Lucian Florea said. Bells rang out at Orthodox and Catholic churches Sunday night upon news of his death.

In 1997, Corneanu confessed he had been recruited as an informer in 1948 when he was arrested by the communists. He said he had signed papers that led to the excommunication of five dissident priests in 1981 who had accused church leaders of prostituting the church to the demands of communist rulers.

He also informed on priests visiting communist Romania.

"Of course I made a mistake. ... I gave into pressure," Corneanu said of his actions.

Corneanu's confession confirmed suspicions that Orthodox church clergy had close links with the Securitate and top state organizations under Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu.

But he was also praised Monday by Emil Constantinescu, president at the time when Corneanu came clean about his past.

"His repentance ... freed him of the burden of duplicity, and had others followed his good example, we would have been better prepared for freedom and democracy," he said.

The confession and apology, published in a newspaper interview, was distinctly unorthodox in style and displeased some church leaders, but he gained popularity among ordinary people. Over the years, he also irked church leaders with his tolerance of Catholics and homosexuals.

His critics said in exchange for collaborating he was promoted within the church and allowed to travel abroad, a rare privilege.

President Traian Basescu Monday praised "his interfaith dialogue in a spirit of tolerance." Corneanu helped the president prepare a 2006 report on the abuses committed during the communist era.

Corneanu was bishop of Banat from 1992 until his death.

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