Vatican Clarifies Status of Communist-era Czech Priests

VATICAN CITY—The Vatican said clandestinely ordained priests and bishops in the Czech Republic who have failed to reconcile with Church authorities are forbidden from celebrating Mass and the sacraments.

After several years of Vatican efforts to regularize those secretly ordained under communism — including more than 60 married priests — the time has come to clarify the status of those who have refused the Vatican's terms, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in a Feb. 14 statement.

“Difficulties remain and a clarifying discussion is requested,” the statement said, without elaborating on when or where such a meeting would be held.

Meanwhile, it said, the Czech faithful should know that Masses celebrated by those refusing the Vatican conditions are illicit and the sacraments they perform are of doubtful validity, it said.

“These Masses, administration of sacraments and other liturgical celebrations are forbidden. Whoever, in fact, refuses the authority of the Pope and bishops celebrates illicitly,” it said.

“The Holy See addresses itself to those Catholics who have not yet complied with its indications and invites them to unite again with other Catholics under the guidance of the Pope,” said the statement. It was signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the doctrinal congregation.

The problem of clandestinely ordained priests surfaced after the fall of Czechoslovakia's communist regime in 1989. About 250 priests and 16 bishops were ordained without individual Vatican approval as an emergency pastoral measure under communism; of the 127 cases still pending in 1996, more than half involved married priests or bishops.

As a solution for many of the priests, the Vatican offered a conditional re-ordination and technically assigned the married men to Eastern-rite Churches, which have a tradition of married clergy.

But some of the priests have steadfastly refused even a conditional re-ordination, saying the Vatican was showing lack of trust.

The Vatican statement said it understood the psychological motives and the objections that had been raised and said Church officials had attempted to explain to these priests that conditional re-ordination was the best way to end doubts about their status.

It said, in fact, that the original ordinations had not always been carried out validly, especially those performed by underground Bishop Felix Davidek.

While voicing respect for the courage of underground Church leaders under communism, the Vatican statement sharply rejected the idea that a “clandestine Church” still exists in the Czech Republic.

Catholics who characterize themselves as clandestine “are not persecuted like Christians in the cata-combs, in fact they give interviews to the media, publish books and express in full freedom their dissent from the Roman Pontiff,” it said.

The Vatican said the position of married bishops was different from that of the married priests, since Church law and traditions in the Eastern and Latin rites do not allow for married bishops. It said that the conditions for reconciliation offered by the Vatican to the married bishops were rejected.

(From combined wire services)