Image: Romanian Orthodox Patriarch Teoctist
Vadim Ghirda  /  AP
Romanian Orthodox Patriarch Teoctist died of a heart attack following surgery on his prostate gland Monday, doctors said.
updated 7/30/2007 4:03:55 PM ET 2007-07-30T20:03:55

The head of the Romanian Orthodox Church, who made history when he invited the late John Paul II to his Orthodox country in 1999 but was criticized for being too close to former Communists, died Monday. He was 92.

Patriarch Teoctist died of a heart attack following surgery on his prostate gland earlier Monday, doctors at the Fundeni hospital told Realitatea TV.

Teoctist was appointed to head the church in November 1986, but briefly stepped down after anti-communist protesters in 1989 said he had been too conciliatory toward former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. He had refused to condemn Ceausescu’s destruction of Orthodox churches in Bucharest. He was reinstated a few weeks later.

Although he was often criticized for failing to take a stand on thorny issues such as the rights of the Eastern Rite Catholic Church in Romania, the patriarch won praise when in 1999, the late Pope John Paul II visited Romania at Teoctist’s invitation.

It was the first invitation extended by an Orthodox Church leader to a Catholic pope since the churches split in the Great Schism of 1054. The two leaders called for the healing of divisions within Christianity.

Teoctist also won the respect of Romanians after he confessed that he had felt abandoned by God for years — from the time when he briefly resigned as patriarch until the pope’s visit.

Teoctist was also criticized for opposing the investigation of clerics who were believed to have collaborated with the Communist Securitate secret police. When communism ended, there was no purge within the church and no acknowledgment of the extent of clerics’ collaboration.

In 2001, Securitate files discovered by a historian said that Teoctist had supported the fascist Legionnaire movement and was one of several priests who in 1941 helped ransack a synagogue in Bucharest. The church said the information in the files was fabricated.

Born into a poor family in northeastern Romania in 1915, Teoctist was the tenth of 11 children. He became a monk when he was 20.

Earlier this month, Teoctist condemned a Vatican document in which Pope Benedict XVI reasserted the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, describing it as “brutal” and saying it made inter-church dialogue difficult.

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