Czech Bishops: Church Was Victim of Communism

Defend Priests in Midst of Media Campaign

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PRAGUE, Czech Republic, JAN. 31, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The Czech episcopal conference is reiterating that under the Communist regime, the Catholic Church was a victim.



A statement from the conference came in the wake of media reports of clergy accused of having collaborated with the Communist regime.

Such attention was especially focused on Poland, where Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus resigned on the day he would have been installed as head of the Warsaw Archdiocese, after admitting that he collaborated with Communist secret service.

The Czech bishops addressed the issue in their two-day plenary assembly last week. At the close, the prelates published a statement in which they emphasized that "no one could escape" the totalitarian situation in the country.

The bishops recalled that when the Communists led by Klement Gottwald came to power in 1948, the authorities decided to put an end to all religious activity they did not control.

At that time, the organization of the Church was entirely modified. Bishops were arrested, and replaced by priests chosen by the Communist Party.

Thousands of religious and priests were arrested, convents and monasteries closed, and the teaching of the catechism was banned in schools.

Police pressure

In statements quoted by the Catho.be agency, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, archbishop of Prague, clarified that the reason for some officials' collaboration was, in most cases, the enormous, often psychological pressure used by the police.

"Many have told me that they did not have the strength to resist, that they weren't heroes, that they were afraid," the cardinal said. He added that he does not think that there will be a scandal similar to that which broke out in Poland.

In a statement, the Czech bishops' conference admitted that there were priests coerced into collaborating. But it pointed out that society tolerates, even today, the heirs of the time of persecution sitting in Parliament as members of the Communist Party.

Individuals who persecuted and tortured their victims, are still in their posts in several administrations, the bishops noted.

Cardinal Vlk, 74, said he is amazed at media interest in priests, who in the main were victims of pressures and blackmail.

Public disclosure

The Czech bishops stressed that the Catholic Church had already updated the files of the priests accused of collaborating with the Communists.

As a result, personalities who obtained important posts thanks to their collaboration with the Communist secret police had to resign.

As early as 1990, the year after the fall of the Communist regime, a pilgrimage of repentance was organized to the Shrine of Velehrad for all those who were guilty of espionage.

Moreover, on several occasions, the bishops' conference has requested that priests who were implicated should make their situation known and, if necessary, ask for forgiveness.

The bishops also have asked that the documentation found in the files of the Communist security organizations not be used without reflection. Use of such documents, the prelates said, should be done with "extreme circumspection," not for revenge or slander.