Czech Republic, The Catholic Church in the
CZECH REPUBLIC, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN THE
Formerly a part of Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic is a landlocked nation located in eastern Europe. It borders Germany on the west and northwest, Poland on the northeast, Slovakia on the southeast and Austria on the south. Made up of the former kingdoms of Bohemia and Moravia, the Czech Republic contains numerous mineral springs and fertile soil lines its many rivers. The landscape features rolling plains and hills in the west, which rise to hilly regions in the east. Natural resources include coal, copper, zinc and some gold. Containing one of the most stable economies of any of the eastern European communist states during the mid- to late 20th century, the region suffered from a financial setback in 1997. However, restructuring efforts and increased exports of machinery and other manufactured goods led the way to recovery by 2000.
Together with the neighboring kingdom of Slovakia to the southeast, the lands of the Czechs in Bohemia (to the west) and Moravia (to the east) were provinces of the Empire of Austria-Hungary through the 19th century. Sharing a common language and culture, these three regions joined after World War I, and in 1918 the Republic of Czechoslovakia was formed. When the Communists seized power in 1948, the Slovakian region of Carpethian Ruthenia was ceded to the USSR and the rest of Czechoslovakia was termed a People's Republic. In 1960 it became the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. Prompted by a strong internal desire for independence, Slovakia separated from the Czech Republic in 1993; the dissolution of the union between the two countries was so peaceful that it was sometimes referred to as the "velvet divorce." The Republic entered NATO in March of 1999, and looked forward to acceptance in the European Union.
The following essay is in two parts: Part I focuses on the early church to World War II, while Part II covers the Church from 1948 through the fall of communism into the present day.
Czechs and Christianity to 1918
Joining Celtic and Germanic tribes that had inhabited the region since the 4th century b.c., the West Slavic immigration into the present-day Czech Republic reached its zenith by the 6th century, and within 300 years fortified towns had developed in the region encompassing southern Moravia and western Slovakia, near the modern localities of Staré Město, Velehrad, Mikulčice, Devín and Nitra. This political center controlled the region of Great Moravia, situated on the border of two cultural worlds, the Latino-Germanic to the west and the Byzantine to the east. The region came under Roman conquest near the decline of the empire.
Origins among West Slavs. Christianity spread from the Germanic west and began to take roots in the region soon after the defeat of the Turkish avars (796). The bishop of Regensburg considered Bohemia as his mission field, and the bishop of Passau claimed Moravia as part of his diocese. Fear of German expansion led Rastislav, of the ruling Mojmirid dynasty, to seek missionaries from Constantinople. In reply the imperial city sent Saints cyril (constantine) and methodius. These two missionaries celebrated the Christian mysteries in Slavonic and with their disciples created a rich Slavic literature. Their missionary methods proved very successful and received the full approval of the Roman See. Great Moravia was made a separate ecclesiastical province subject to Rome, but was destroyed in 970 due to internal divisions, pressure from the Germans, and finally the invasion of the pagan Magyars.
Czech Lands to 15th Century. After the collapse of Great Moravia, a new political nucleus was formed during the 10th century in the heart of Bohemia (which owes its name to the Celtic Boii who inhabited it from the 4th century b.c.) and under the Přemyslid dynasty. Christianity continued to penetrate Czech lands from the west, but the Cyrillo-Methodian form did not disappear. The Slavic liturgy even experienced a brief revival, thanks to the monastery of Sázava, founded by Procopius (d.1053), whom the Holy See added to the list of saints in 1204. By the 12th century the Přemyslid state was within the orbit of Latin culture.
Christian missionaries met opposition at first. A pagan reaction led to the martyrdom of St. Ludmilla in 921 and her grandson, the young Duke St. wenceslas i (Václav), in 929, although the effect of the latter's martyrdom was to speed the process of Christianization and seemingly to convince contemporaries of the legitimacy of the Czech state. The victory of the new faith was
sealed by the construction of the Diocese of prague (973) and by the renewal of the Moravian hierarchy with the establishment of the See of Olomouc (1063). The second bishop of Prague, St. adalbert (Vojtěch, d. 997), an ardent admirer of the current Western reform movement, brought the benedictines into Bohemia to Břevnov (992–993). Princess Mlada founded a monastery for women at St. George in Hradčany (971).
The gregorian reform reached Bohemia and Moravia a century after the rest of Europe, introduced by the cistercians from the Abbey of morimond who settled at Sedlec, near Kutná Hora (1142), and at Velehrad in Moravia (1205). The soul of the reform of the clergy was the Bishop of Olomouc, Henry Zdík (d. 1150), who welcomed the premonstratensians to Strahov in 1142. Only after the popes triumphed over the German kings and contact between Central Europe and the Latin countries became more frequent, did Gregorian reform ideals truly take root in Czech lands. The 13th century saw parishes replacing the former system of proprietary churches.
When the mendicant orders began ministering to the spiritual welfare of the rising towns, Bohemia became more closely linked to the Latin countries. St. clare of assisi found a kindred spirit in St. agnes of bohemia (d.1280), daughter of King Přemysl Ottokar I, who served as the superior of the first monastery of poor clares in Prague. After the death of Wenceslas III (1306), the last of the Přemyslids, the Cistercian abbots were primarily responsible for establishing the Luxemburg family on the throne of Bohemia. In 1212 the Czech rulers won the confirmation of their royal title in perpetuity from fred erick ii. While the kingdom was a part of the holy roman empire, feudal links between the two were weak. The King of Bohemia invested the bishops of Prague and Olomouc. Bohemia experienced its golden age under the second Luxemburg king, Charles IV (1346–78).
In 1344 Prague became an archbishopric, with Olomouc and Litomyšl as suffragans. It was soon among the
Empire's leading cultural and artistic centers and became the home of Charles University, the first in central Europe, founded in 1348. humanism was introduced to Bohemia by John Dražic (1301–42), bishop of Prague, and merged with the genuine desire for Christian renewal in the Czech devotio moderna, whose nurseries were the Carthusian monastery in Prague and the house of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine in Roudnice. Among the leaders of this movement were Adalbert Ranconis (d.1388), rector of the University of Paris, and Matthias Janov (d. 1399), who in the spirit of the Devotio Moderna recommended frequent Holy Communion. Another leader was Thomas Štítný (d. 1401), a member of the Czech gentry whose writing in the vernacular instructed members of his social class in the genuine imitation of Christ. John Milíč of Kroměříž (d. 1374) and Konrad Waldhauser (d. 1369), an Austrian Canon Regular of St. Augustine, tried by their preaching to correct abuses among the clergy, who formed a numerous and wealthy group. St. john of nepomuc, the vicar-general of Prague, was martyred (1393) during the troubled reign of Wenceslas IV (1378–1419).
Hussitism. Although the partisans of the Devotio Moderna were guilty of certain exaggerations, they were respectful of ecclesiastical authority. Some reformers of the second generation, however, fell under the spell of the heretical writings of John wyclif. Best known among them were jerome of prague (d. 1415), James of Stříbro (Jacobellus, d. 1429), Nicholas of Dresden (d.1416) and above all, John hus, the fiery preacher of the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague. Rumors that heterodox teachings were spreading in Bohemia moved the Council of constance to summon Hus to answer charges of heresy. In 1415, after being convicted of errors concerning the nature of the Church, the papal primacy and other doctrines, the Czech reformer was burned at the stake as a relapsed heretic. This ignominious death of a beloved
leader aroused the indignation of Bohemia and marked the beginning of the Hussite wars.
The program of the hussites did not always agree with that of Hus himself. In Prague, Jacobellus began (1414) to distribute Communion under both species, a practice approved by Hus in a letter from Constance, but strongly disavowed by the hierarchy. The chalice for the laity became the symbol of the Hussites, who were for that reason called utraquists or Calixtines. The Hussite League, formed in 1415, decided to introduce Hussitism throughout Bohemia, but discord developed between its moderate wing, represented by the people of Prague, and the radical sectarians, who were adherents of Wyclif and the waldenses, who were influenced by the chiliastic notions of joachim of fiore. One of the radical groups became known as tÁborites because its center was the city of Tábor in southern Bohemia.
The Hussite movement was fostered by national and social issues as well as religious ones. It voiced the animosity of the Czech peasants and gentry against the German element in the higher clergy, in the monasteries, and in the cities. A leading Hussite motivation was an eagerness to strip the clergy of their property under the pretext of conforming them to the spirit of the gospel. Despite their internal discords, Hussite factions united whenever external danger required. Between 1419 and 1431 they thwarted several military campaigns conducted by Emperor sigismund, heir to the Czech throne, and the Crusaders. The Council of basel settled the Bohemian question by issuing the Compactata, which ratified in modified form the Four Prague Articles of the Hussites, including the privilege of Communion under two species for the laity in Bohemia and Moravia. The Compactata never received papal approval, because medieval Christianity acquiesced reluctantly in national particularities of this kind, and Pope paul ii eventually proclaimed the Czech King George of Poděbrady (1458–71) a heretic for observing them. In their wrath the Hussites caused a
cleavage between Bohemia and the other territories belonging to the Czech crown. It also ruined the kingdom economically, isolated it culturally and permanently divided it religiously.
In addition to sewing discord, Hussitism gave birth to the bohemian brethren (Unitas Fratrum ), a peaceful movement originating after 1450 that drew its inspiration from the Czech squire Peter Chelčický (d. 1460), whose writings were influenced by Wyclif and the Waldenses. By 1500 the Brethren formed a small but active minority group of about 100,000 members. jagieŁŁo (Władisław II, 1471–1516) tried vainly by special laws to check their advance.
While Catholicism survived the Hussite disturbances it declined to minority status, less so in Moravia than in Bohemia. Church property was confiscated, monastic communities were massacred or dispersed, and ecclesiastical organization was destroyed. Hussitism also interrupted the promising development of humanism in the region; after 1450 the Czech kingdom renewed its contacts with the Italian centers of the renaissance at the urging of Czech Catholics.
Reformation and Catholic Restoration. After the death of Louis Jagellon in 1526 at the battle of Mohács, the Bohemian estates elected the Hapsburg Emperor Ferdinand I as king, prompted in their choice by the danger of Turkish invasion and by existing agreements concerning the succession to the throne. The hapsburgs, who provided a succession of Holy Roman emperors during 1438–1806, united the Czech and Hungarian territories to its Austrian possessions and remained in Bohemia until 1918.
The Hussites, who were falling into decadence for lack of able priests, listened eagerly to the teachings of Martin luther and for the most part adopted lutheranism. Under the leadership of Bishop John Augusta (d.1572) the Bohemian Brethren also inclined toward the doctrines of Luther and melanchthon and, in 1547, became involved in the halfhearted and unsuccessful rebellion of the Czech estates against Ferdinand I. The Brethren paid dearly for this involvement; only their Moravian branch, which took no part in the uprising, was spared.
Meanwhile, the region's Catholic minority was strengthened by the vigorous counter reformation that originated in the Latin countries. In 1566 the jesuits opened a college in Prague, and in 1600 the Capuchins extended their activity to Bohemia (see franciscans, first order). In 1564 Pope Pius IV granted the king's request and permitted the laity in the ecclesiastical provinces of Prague and Salzburg to receive Communion under two species, but this concession came too late to bear the expected fruit. The extent to which Protestant innovations had infiltrated the Lutheranized Hussites was manifested in the Confessio Bohemica (1575), which was based to some extent on Hussite traditions, primarily on the augsburg confession (1530).
The Confessio Bohemica was intended to embody a creed common to all non-Catholic Christians of the realm, but it was unable to satisfy all Protestant groups. When the estates asked Maximilian II (1564–75) to approve this creed, they received no more than a verbal assurance of religious tolerance. Written guarantees of religious liberty arrived from Rudolph II (1576–1612) in his Letter of Majesty (1609). A few years later, the Protestant estates claimed that this royal charter had been violated and, relying on the solidarity of the Protestant world, rebelled against Rudolph's successor. In 1619 they elected Frederick, the Calvinist Elector of the Palatinate, as king of Bohemia. This selfish oligarchy ended at the brief battle at the White Mountain near Prague on Nov. 8, 1620, when Frederick, the "Winter King," was eliminated as a claimant to the throne.
The victorious ferdinand ii (1618–37), ruling according to the Spanish pattern of absolutism, curtailed the powers of the diet and the privileges of the estates. German became an official language along with Czech. Convinced he could best attain his political aims in an entirely Catholic realm, Ferdinand II set out to reconquer Bohemia by applying the principle, cuius regio, ejus religio, and revoking the Letter of Majesty. Thereafter he permitted only the Catholic religion in the kingdom and exiled those who refused to return to the old faith. As a result, about 30,000 families left the country. Properties of religious recalcitrants were confiscated on a vast scale, and passed into the hands of the foreign nobles and adventurers who filled the kingdom. Bohemia's misery was consummated by the horrors of the thirty years' war.
Nominally Catholic Bohemia received better ecclesiastical organization after construction of sees at Litoměřice (1655) and Hradec Králové (1660), but a shortage of priests handicapped the progress of religious life by permitting only a third of the 1,000 parishes to be staffed. The opening of Jesuit colleges did much to gain converts to Catholicism, as did missionaries such as Albert Chanovský (d. 1643) and Adam Kravařský (d.1660). Many other priests went on foreign missions and helped spread the faith in South America and China. Regenerated Catholicism created a new literature and left many monuments of baroque art.
Despite the brilliance of baroque culture, there were shadows. The hand of the absolutist Hapsburg state lay heavy on Church and State. To multiply conversions, force and military intervention were used, despite opposition from Church leaders who realized that such measures of compulsion by the government injured the Church by association. National individuality was on the whole disregarded, although it found one stanch defender in Bohuslav Balbin, SJ (d. 1688). The preservation of both the traditional Catholic faith and a national consciousness was due to the efforts of the educated priesthood. The great national awakening of later times was built on the foundations set during the Catholic Restoration.
Enlightenment and Liberalism. The enlighten ment of the 18th century deeply affected ecclesiastical life. Some Catholic disciples of the Aufklärung disavowed only the excesses of baroque religiosity, but others, even among the clergy, shared the current optimism in the omnicompetence of human reason. Catholic philosophy proved unable to compete in popularity with the original approach of Christian wolff (d. 1754), who found supporters even among the Jesuits of Prague. The arbitrary interference of Holy Roman Empress maria theresa (1740–80) in ecclesiastical affairs differed only in method from that of her son joseph ii (1780–90). Joseph II dissolved 71 monasteries in Bohemia and 31 in Moravia, and was responsible for the destruction of
countless artistic and literary treasures. In pursuance of his policy of josephinism he removed clerical training from episcopal control and entrusted it to general seminaries created by him in Prague and Olomouc with the intent of educating priests to be trustworthy civil servants more than mediators between God and man. Leopold II (1790–92) restored the seminaries to the bishops, but the spirit of Josephinism survived beyond 1850. Ecclesiastical divisions remained unchanged except for the creation of the Diocese of Brno (1777) and the elevation of Olomouc to the status of a metropolitan see. The government caused new parishes to be formed without previous consultation with Church authorities.
The grant of tolerance in 1781 affected the reformed churches, those which subscribed to the Augsburg Confession, Hussites and Orthodox. Between 1781 and 1787 about 78,000 of the four million inhabitants of Bohemia and Moravia became Protestants.
Catholic Revival. The rise of romanticism c. 1800 stimulated a Catholic revival. In part the government sponsored the Catholic restoration, but this restoration, based on the union of throne and altar, harbored many tenets of the Austrian Enlightenment. There was also a more genuine revival, whose leading figure was St. Clement hofbauer (d. 1820), a native of southern Moravia. Romanticism was also responsible for a lively reawakening of nationalism in Czech territories.
Liberalism, jealous of any encroachment upon human liberty, opposed state absolutism and the Austrian Church which was closely linked with it. The controversies concerning ultramontanism and the growing power of the papacy affected the German element in the population more than the Czech. This was true also of the los-von-rom movement. At vatican council i Cardinal schwarzenberg of Prague was among those who opposed as inopportune the definition of papal primacy and infallibility.
Political leadership among the Czechs was exercised at first by the conservative Old Czech party, whose ideals were those of the historian Francis Palacký (d. 1876). During the 1890s this party ceded leadership to the Young Czechs, who were openly anti-Catholic and devoted to Hussite traditions. However, they subordinated the religious aspects of Hussitism to secondary ones. The notion of Slavic solidarity inherent in the Czech revival from the very beginning roused their enthusiasm. This idea appeared in the scholarly works of Joseph Dobrovský (d. 1829), a priest who began the scientific study of Slavic philology. Slavic solidarity inspired the Pan-Slav Congress in Prague (1848). One effect of this sentiment in Catholic circles was the growth in devotion to Saints Cyril and Methodius. From the same roots grew the movement for the religious unification of all Slavs, the most tangible results of which were the unionist congresses held at Velehrad from 1907–36.
The Catholic awakening c. 1900 had strength enough only to assume a defensive position in the face of rising liberalism, materialism and the anti-Catholic interpretation of Czech history as propounded by Tomáš Masaryk. Pope Leo XIII, who was deeply interested in the development of Czech Catholicism, founded (1890) in Rome the Bohemicum for seminarians from Czech lands. In 1929 this college became the Collegium Nepomucenum, intended for students of theology from the whole of Czechoslovakia.
The Period of the World Wars
On Oct. 28, 1918, after the capitulation of the Hapsburgs' Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, the lands of the Czech crown and Slovakia regained their freedom and together organized a new republic. Despite the Czechoslovakian government's professions of democracy, the Catholic Church had to fight for its existence during the first years of the new regime. Strong anti-Catholic prejudices existed throughout the region, caused by the widespread belief that the Vatican had supported Austria-Hungary in its oppressive policy, as well as from religious indifferentism among a citizenry exposed to liberal and socialist slogans.
Rival Faiths, Apathy, Preface War. During the critical postwar years (1919–21), Catholics were left without bishops to provide leadership, and this proved fatal. In this crucial period, along with a lack of bishops, a reform movement started among the Catholic clergy that demanded the liturgy in the vernacular and a married priesthood. Open revolt occurred in 1920 when the national Czechoslovak Church was proclaimed in Prague, and before long some of its radical leaders had brought their sect to the margins of Christianity. Official government circles favored anti-Catholic propaganda, which disseminated slogans such as: "Settling accounts with both, Vienna and Rome."
Flux within the Church ultimately led to a mass apostasy, and in the Czech lands about 20 percent defected. Although a few became Protestants, far more joined the Czechoslovak Church, which numbered close to 750,000 members by 1930. Many others severed all religious affiliations. Upholders of the Augsburg and Helvetic confessions merged to form the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, which accepted the Czech confession of 1575. With almost 300,000 members by 1930, it was the largest Protestant Czech group. Little support for the struggling Church was gained from the State: Tomáš Masaryk, Czechoslovakia's first president, publicly commented that Catholics "would enjoy as many rights as they would be able to gain." Fortunately, the Church did have its defenders, among them Monsignor John Šrámek, head of the Czech Catholic People's Party. Šrámek could not stop the passage of anti-Catholic legislation on marriage and education, but he did forestall the planned separation of Church and State in a manner hostile to the Church.
Eventually passions subsided, and more moderate elements replaced the Socialists in positions of power. Beginning in the late 1920s the zealous and patient work of diocesan and religious priests rejuvenated Catholicism. This new vitality was noticeable during the celebration of the millennium of St. Wenceslas (1929), during the Pribina festivities in Nitra (1933), and especially during the general convention in Prague of all Catholics of Czechoslovakia, with Cardinal Verdier present as papal legate (1935).
Diplomatic relations were established between Czechoslovakia and the Holy See in 1920, although a temporary interruption occurred in 1925 due to the actions of the papal nuncio. A modus vivendi was signed in 1928 by the papal secretary of state and the minister of foreign affairs that provided, among other things, that diocesan boundaries should be adjusted so that no part of the country would be under the jurisdiction of foreign dioceses. It further stipulated that religious houses should not be subject to provincial superiors resident outside Czechoslovakia. Residential bishops were to be named by the Holy See, after the government was given the opportunity to raise objections of a political nature concerning any appointments. Prior to assuming office, new bishops would be required to take an oath of fidelity to the state. However, such things as the status of the Czecho-Slovak districts previously belonging to the Polish Archdiocese of Wrocław (Breslau) and now forming the Apostolic Administration of Český Těšín remained undecided due to the onset of World War II.
Church Confronts National Socialism. The international crisis caused by the expansion of National Socialism during the late 1930s directly affected Czechoslovakia. Under the terms of the Munich Pact signed with German Chancellor Adolf Hitler in September of 1938 all Czech lands were deprived of their border territories, including the Sudetenland to the northwest, while Slovakia lost its southern districts. Changed to a federated state on Oct. 6, 1938, the republic of Czechoslovakia was forcibly dissolved six months later, on March 14, 1939.
By 1939 the Nazis had occupied the Sudetenland, which was annexed to the Third Reich as the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Czechs living in that region were kept in a state of constant terror because of ever increasing violence until 1945. Universities were closed, along with their theological faculties. Catholic publications and organizations ceased. Of the 370 priests arrested by the Nazis, eight were executed, 70 died in prison, 58 died in concentration camps, seven perished from tortures and two died from unknown causes. Ecclesiastical administration also suffered; to avoid placing German candidates in vacant sees the Holy See named no new bishops. Even the Archdiocese of Prague remained vacant after the death of Cardinal Charles Kašpar in 1941.
Bibliography: p. david, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912–) 9:418–479. e. winter, Tausend Jahre Geisteskampf im Sudetenraum (Salzburg 1938). k. krofta, Československé dějiny (Prague 1946). b. rÁČek, Československé dějiny (Prague 1929). v. novotny et al., České dějiny, 12 v. (Prague 1912–48). d. perman, The Shaping of the Czechoslovak State (Leiden 1962). k. krofta, Dějiny československé (Prague 1946). f. cinek, Knáboženské otázce v prvních letech našI samostatnosti, 1918–1925 (Olomouc 1926). Katolicke Slovensko (Trnava 1933). e. beneŠ, Czechoslovak Policy for Victory and Peace (London 1944). k. glaser, Czecho-Slovakia: A Critical History (Caldwell ID 1961). h. ripka, Le Coup de Prague: Une Révolution préfabriquée (Paris 1949). j. korbel, The Communist Subversion of Czechoslovakia, 1938–1948 (Princeton NJ 1959). e. j. tÁborskÝ, Communism in Czechoslovakia, 1948–1960 (Princeton NJ 1961). l. nemec, Church and State in Czechoslovakia (New York 1955). k. s. latourette, Christianity in a Revolutionary Age: A History of Christianity in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, 5 v. (New York 1958–62) v.1, 2, 4. Bilan du Monde, 2:837–846. Annuario Pontificio (Rome 1912–).
The Church since 1945
On May 8, 1945, Czechoslovakia was reestablished and it regained its pre-war boundaries, save for the 4,500- square-mile region of southeast Slovakia known as Carpathian Ruthenia, which joined the USSR as the Transcarpathian Oblast. While the restored Republic professed democratic principles, in accordance with the Potsdam agreement it was considered an area of Soviet influence. Communists quickly occupied key political positions and by February of 1948 had gained control of the government.
Church-State Relationship Falters. Soon after World War II new bishops were appointed to the vacant sees, an effort of the Holy See to secure the Church in advance of political upheavals. Josef beran (1888–1969; bishop 1946, cardinal 1965) became archbishop of Prague in 1946; he had been rector of the seminary there and had survived the concentration camp in Dachau. Josef Matocha was named archbishop of Olomouc. His consecration of the bishops of Trnava and Rožnava in August of 1949 was the first public episcopal consecration in Czechoslovakia.
As in most of eastern Europe following Soviet intervention, the Church did not fare well under communism. The internuncio to the Czechoslovak government was forced to leave the country in 1948, and open conflict broke out between the Church hierarchy and the Communist regime of Klement Gottwald later that year, following a decision by the bishops that priests were barred from taking an active part in political life. Despite this prohibition, Czech priest Josef Plojhar accepted a government appointment as minister of health and was consequently suspended from his priestly functions. The government did not view this action as conciliatory on the part of the Church, and a systematic persecution of the Catholic Church began shortly thereafter. Diplomatic relations between Prague and the Vatican would terminate on March 18, 1950.
During the four decades of Communist rule that followed, the Czech Church suffered restrictions and harassments while its leaders were persecuted. Deprived of property, buildings and land, it was robbed of its economic base. Monasteries were transformed into state offices and warehouses; church schools were abolished. The government Ministry of Internal Affairs occupied the seminary building in Prague.
A law nationalizing education (April 21, 1948) resulted in the seizure of all Catholic schools, including minor seminaries. Another law aimed at the complete control of the Church by the state caused a special ministry for Church affairs to be organized. All diocesan seminaries were closed on June 14, 1950. In their stead the government opened one seminary for the Czech lands, located in Prague (soon moved to Litoměřice) and another in Bratislava for Slovakia. Both of these state-controlled institutions were termed theological faculties. Students, who needed government permission to study for the priesthood, generally suspected the seminary professors to be collaborators to one degree or another. Theological books and journals from abroad were banned and, as of 1974, so were radios.
By the end of 1948 three influential Catholic weeklies had been shut down, and soon the free Catholic press had ceased to exist except for one weekly and one monthly for the clergy, published in both the Czech and Slovak languages and government-controlled. The charity cath olic action was also dissolved late in 1948. Within a few months the government, with the help of some "patriotic" priests, sought to found its own spurious version of Catholic Action, but this attempt was quickly condemned by the bishops and by the Holy See. The so called Peace Committee of the Catholic Clergy was formed in 1951. The Czechoslovak Society for the Spreading of Scientific and Political Knowledge, started in 1955, had as its real purpose the organized spread of atheism.
The Communist government acknowledged a legal obligation to support the needs of the Church and to pay the salaries of priests. In return, priests were allowed to carry on their ministry only with a state permit. Article 178 of the criminal code regulated the activities of anyone involved in pastoral work. Clergy were able to carry out their ministry only with "the prior approval of the state." According to Article 178 priests were "licensed" as employees of the state. A priest whose license was revoked could no longer function publicly and had to seek some other form of employment. Sees vacated through Article 178 were placed under the control of vicarscapitular who cooperated with the Communist regime. Eleven prominent religious priests were placed on trial in order to justify the invasion of religious houses during the night of April 13, 1950. All religious men were sent to "concentration monasteries." A few months later religious women suffered the same fate, and their work at schools and hospitals reverted to secular staff. Several years later all religious were dispersed.
The Czechoslovakian government allowed three bishops from both the Czech lands and Slovakia to attend Vatican II in 1962, and four to attend the sessions in 1963. By 1964, however, no diocese in Czech lands was administered by an ordinary approved by Rome. The Communist regime placed Archbishop Beran under confinement in June of 1949; 15 years later, at the personal request of Pope Paul VI, Beran was allowed to leave the country to live in Rome where he died in 1969. The only state-acknowledged bishop in that time was František Tomášek (d. 1992) who had been consecrated auxiliary bishop of Olomouc in 1949, but was not allowed to carry out his office. In 1965 Tomášek was appointed apostolic chancellor in Prague. In 1977 he was named a cardinal and, subsequently, archbishop of Prague. Another noted victim of Communist persecution was Štepán Trochta (d.1974), bishop of Litoměřice (1947–74), who was interned in 1950 and resumed his office only in 1968. Pope Paul VI named Trochta a cardinal in 1971.
During the era of communist suppression, the Church was able to minister to its faithful only by going "underground," as discrimination in areas of employment and housing existed for practicing Catholics. The clandestine bishop Felix Davidek, who himself had been consecrated by a clandestine bishop early in the communist era, felt that it was necessary for the underground to have its own bishops. Beginning in 1968 and with the help of Bishop Jan Blaha, Davidek consecrated fifteen bishops and ordained uncounted married men to the priesthood. These married men, ordained in both the Latin and Greek Catholic rites, were less likely to be suspected by the police than unmarried men. Davidek also ordained one woman, Ludmilla Javorova. Unlike his own ordination, Davidek's consecrations were done without the approval of the Holy See.
Country moves toward Liberation. A brief respite of repressive government policies—the so-called "Prague Spring"— occurred in 1968 under the rule of Czechoslovakian President Alexander Dubček. However, it quickly ended via a military invasion from the Soviet bloc, leaving in its wake Gustav Husák. Husák was chosen first secretary of the Czechoslovakian Communist party in April of 1969 with a promise of "normalization." During the 20 years of Husákian normalization, repression of the Church continued, and the relentless pressure of the state police took its toll.
During the Husák years, an organization of priests called Pacem in terris provided a front for priests who, for one reason or another, collaborated with the government. Well-intentioned members thought that it was only way of saving the Church for the future. The organization served the purposes of the regime by legitimating its policies, and dividing the presbyterate. At the same time the government offered inducements to parents and teachers to discourage their children from attending religious education classes.
Success of the Velvet Revolution. Efforts on the part of the Holy See to reach some sort of accommodation with the Communist regime began under Dubček. Finally in 1973 the government permitted the Holy See to appoint four residential bishops. Two of them, Josef Vrána and Josef Feranec, who had been prominent members of Pacem in terris, were received coldly by the Catholic laity. No other bishops were appointed until 1989, even though ten of the 13 dioceses in Czechoslovakia were soon without a residential bishop.
The election of Karol Wojtyła as Pope John Paul II in 1978 marked a turn in the Church's policy and fortune. While archbishop of Krakow, Wojtyła had assisted the underground church in Czechoslovakia. Václav Benda and other Catholic activists who had a part in promulgating Charter 77, a manifesto denouncing oppression and proclaiming human dignity and rights based on moral principles, found encouragement. In 1983 the Czechoslovakian foreign minister met with the Pope, the first such meeting since relations between the Holy See and the Czech government ended in 1950. Meanwhile, the 1982 instruction of the Congregation for the Clergy banning priests' involvement with partisan politics led to a decline in the numbers and influence of Pacem in Terris. Cardinal Tomášek surrounded himself with priest advisors committed to an activist role for the Church and began more and more to support Catholic resistance.
The 1985 commemoration of the 1,100th anniversary of the death of St. Methodius demonstrated to Czechoslovakian Catholics a reason for renewed hope. Between 150,000 and 200,00 pilgrims made their way to the Cistercian monastery at Velehrad in Moravia for the occasion. Three years later a Moravian peasant named Augustin Navrátil began circulating a petition for religious freedom that sought redress for the multiple grievances of Czech and Slovak Catholics. Its 31 points spelling out the implications for Czechoslovakia of the fundamental principle of separation of church and state gave the signatories the opportunity to affirm publicly the basic human rights of freedom of speech, assembly and habeas corpus. Cardinal Tomášek told Catholics it was their duty to sign the Navrátil petition, and many Protestants and nonbelievers joined in registering their support.
The end of communist rule came swiftly and smoothly—thus it was named the "Velvet Revolution." The 1980s, which had begun as a decade of growing resistance, ended in open rebellion on Nov. 17, 1989 after a non-violent student demonstration was attacked by riot police. Following six weeks of mass demonstrations, strikes and negotiations between the communist regime and resistance groups, Václav Havel was duly installed as president of Czechoslovakia in June of 1991. His first action was to dissolve the Warsaw Pact. On Jan. 1, 1993 the "velvet divorce" was achieved and the Czech Republic came into being, a consequence of rising Slovakian nationalism.
Restoration of the Faith. The freedom attained by the Church brought with it a complex web of administrative, economic and pastoral problems. When restored to Church ownership in 1990, many schools and other buildings were found to be damaged and in need of repair. In all, 175 monasteries and similar buildings reverted back to the church under the 1991 Law on Restitution. However, the law only applied to property confiscated after 1948, and the government's Social Democratic party stalled some claims for restitution by claiming that certain property had reverted to the State. By 2000 there were still outstanding claims for Church property taken by local government bodies, some of which included farmlands, 430,000 acres of forest and income-producing property.
Because religion was not taught in state-run schools, the Church hurried to reopen schools and train teachers. In the first years after the revolution, hundreds of laity studied theology and catechetics to become religion teachers. Religion was taught in the state-run elementary schools and, when demanded, in the secondary schools.
Religious orders played an important part in the restoration and re-evangelization of the country, a task that was encouraged further by the Pope. By the mid-1990s 33 religious orders of men worked within the Czech Republic, while women's religious orders, which had seen their numbers shrink and age under Communist rule, benefited from a resurgence of interest in the consecrated life. Religious sisters were soon back at work in public health care, homes for the elderly, disabled and sick, and in schools. The responsibility for evangelical efforts extended to the laity, noted Pope John Paul during a visit with Czech bishops in 1998.
Church Looks to 21st Century. By 2000 the Church in the Czech Republic oversaw 3,150 parishes, and benefited from the ministrations of 1,301 secular and 555 religious priests, 110 brothers and 2,484 sisters. Despite the country's Catholic history, only 39 percent of the population claimed membership in the Church, and informal polling revealed that over 60 percent of citizens felt themselves to be atheists. Among the biggest problems facing the Church in the new millennium was the religious indifference created by 41 years of secularism, a need to tend to the families of the faithful and the proliferation of questionable religious sects throughout Eastern Europe. In an effort to resolve more material issues related to the future of the Church, Pope John Paul II hoped to establish a joint committee of Church leaders and government officials that could handle Church-State matters.
In 1951 the Czechoslovakian Orthodox Church had formed an autocephalous metropolis with four dioceses. When the Greek Catholic Diocese of Prešov was suppressed on April 28, 1950, all of its 305,000 members were declared members of the Orthodox Church and subjected to the patriarch of Moscow. The Greek Catholic Church was reestablished in 1968, and 147 parishes across the region soon required priests. For this reason the Greek Church would be helpful in resolving one pastoral problem of the Roman Catholic Church that required special attention in the mid-1990s: How to assimilate the married priests of the former "underground clergy" into the life of the Church? Questions were raised regarding the legitimacy of Davidek's clandestine ordinations of married men, all of which had been performed without papal approval. After some debate, in 1997 it was decided that each case would be examined individually. By answering the Vatican's call to come forth, most clandestine priests would be re-ordained sub conditione in the Greek Catholic church, which had a tradition of married clergy. By 2000 over 50 of these priests had come forth, accepted the directives of the Pope, and were working within the Czech Republic, some even in Latin communities where their presence was needed.
In April of 1997 the Pope visited the Czech Republic, and spoke of the importance of Christian values to a nation that had become secularized by decades of communist rule. Recalling the heroic actions of many of the country's religious, he added that pardons must be granted, forgiveness given and divisions healed in the "hour of charity." Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, Archbishop of Prague, suffered much during the Communist era. In the early 1990s he also looked back into the century almost past, in search of positive effects on the Catholic Church in Czech lands. Christians learned to practice their religion in small communities and to survive in adversity without outside support, concluded Vlk. It would be with this legacy to support them that the Church in the Czech Republic would build its future.
Bibliography: g. ash, We the People: The Revolution of '89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin & Prague (Cambridge UK 1990). j. broun, Conscience and Captivity: Religion in Eastern Europe (Washington DC 1988). Církevní komise ÚV KSČ 1949–1951, Edice dokumentů, 1 (Prague/Brno 1994—). b. j. frei, Staat und Kirche in der Tschechoslowakei, 1948–1968, 5 vols. (Munich 1989–91). k. kaplan, Staat und Kirche in der Tschechoslowakei 1948–1953 (Munich 1990); Stát a církev v Č eskoslvensku v letech 1948–1953 (Brno 1993) with English summary and texts of the official Communist documents. v. vaŠko, Neumlčená, 1 (Prague 1990–). g. weigel, The Final Revolution. The Resistance Church and the Collapse of Communism (New York 1992).
"Czech Republic, The Catholic Church in the." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/czech-republic-catholic-church
"Czech Republic, The Catholic Church in the." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/czech-republic-catholic-church