The Romanian Pentecostal parents of five children who were seized by Norwegian child services last November due to spanking allegations have finally regained custody of their infant son following a court ruling, the family's spokesman announced.
The five children of Ruth and Marius Bodnariu were removed from the family's home in Naustdal by the Barnevernet (Norwegian child services) on Nov. 16, 2015, and were placed in three separate foster homes after one of their daughters told her school principal about how her parents spank her and her siblings as a form of discipline, which is illegal under Norwegian law.
After months of limited visitation rights with their children, the family's spokesman, Pastor Cristian Ionescu, a Chicago-based pastor and vice president of the Romanian Pentecostal Union in the United States and Canada, announced this week that a Norwegian judge has ruled that the parents are to be reunited with their yongest son, Ezekiel.
"Norwegian judge partially ruled in support of the Bodnariu family: the custody decision for Ezekiel has been reversed!" Ionescu wrote in a statement. "The judge instructed that baby Ezekiel should go to be home with his biological parents!"
While Ionescu's initial statement explained that the family was waiting on the agency to comply with the ruling, Ionescu wrote in another statement issued on the family's website that the Barnevernet complied and Ezekiel and his parents were officially reunited.
Although the other four children — two boys and two girls — remain in the Barnevernet's custody, the judge has granted both parents the right to visit with their two oldest sons twice a week for two hours at a time. No news is yet known about the status of the two Bodnariu daughters.
"Note, this ruling is a 'step' in the judicial process and does NOT end the Bodnariu's appeal or fight to regain full and unhindered custody of ALL of their FIVE children," Ionescu asserted. "The battle for the children continues!"
The Christian Post reached out to Ionescu for further comment on the next steps in the legal process but he could not be reached before publication.
The parents appeared in court on March 14-15 to argue for why they should have custody of their children and also participated in a 40-day fast.
In Mid February, the entire family was reunited for the first time since the children were removed from the home for a three-hour visiting session, where they played, talked and ate a meal together as a family.
"It was joyous because for the first time in three months, Marius and Ruth were together with all five children at the same time, in the same place," Ionescu wrote on the family website on Feb. 18. "It was such a happy reunion, for everybody had so much to say."
Although the charges against the parents are based on the allegations of physical abuse, a Texas-based lawyer with access to court and government records claimed in February that the records indicate that the government targeted the family prior to the removal of the children because of the family's belief that "God punishes sin."
"They plainly state that Barnevernet 'is worried that this is a way of upbringing which is justified by the Bible,'" Peter Costea, the the president of the Alliance for Romania's Families, wrote in an analysis of the situation. "The authorities pivoted their contemplated removal of the children on the 'attitude' the parents 'have to their own faith and way of upbringing when it comes to religion.'"
Other Christians, including other Romanian Pentecostals, in Norway believe that it is outrageous to claim that the children were taken from their parents over religion.
"Every ethnic religious group may worship and raise their children according to their beliefs, as long as they don't violate Norwegian law," Andreas Hegertun, the spokesman for the Norwegian Pentecostal Movement, told CP in February.
"In practice this means as long as they don't use violence," he added. "I have never heard of anyone getting in trouble with the government for any other reason than violence, serious neglect or addictions. In this matter we, as churches, strongly agree with our government that violence toward children is not accepted."
Thousands of protesters have participated in numerous demonstrations held in cities across the world, calling on the Norwegian government to return the Bodnariu children to their parents.
Over 30 protests will be held in support of the Bodnariu family on April 16 in cities all across Europe, according to a protest schedule posted to the family's website.