Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on the Bishops and Priests Ordained Secretly in the Czech Republic, 11 February 2000.
For some time, the situation in the Church in the Czech Republic has required the special attention of the Holy See. The most painful problem was the question of the secretly ordained Bishops and priests. Notable progress has been reached in the effort to arrive at a long lasting solution. Nonetheless, some difficulties remain, and a clarifying conversation is necessary. Thus, it is necessary to accurately explain the events and the related documents, clarify misunderstandings, and make precise what Catholic doctrine says about the matter.
1. Attitude of the Holy See
The Congregation always had an attitude of respect and waiting: it did not want to wound the sensibilities in any way of those who, for personal
reasons, did not intend to accept the criteria adopted by the Dicastery for the solution of a most delicate problem of conscience, which further affected persons who had also suffered a long time in the dark years of communism. Additionally, the Congregation always hoped for a happy conclusion to this question.
2. The Resolution of Individual Cases
A large part of the celibate priests who were ordained secretly—some fifty in all—accepted the Pope’s decision on ordination sub conditione and they have been inserted into pastoral ministry by their respective diocesan Bishops. On September 16, 1997, Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, communicated to the Apostolic Nunciature (Protocol no. 115/190) that the Holy Father had regularized the juridical position of 22 Latin married priests, also secretly ordained, authorizing them to pass over to the Byzantine Slavic Rite as full members of the Exarchate for the faithful of that rite, resident in the Czech Republic. Of those priests, 18 were ordained sub conditione in the Premonstratene Abbey of Zeliv the following October 22; another was ordained some time afterwards: these are now carrying out pastoral service according to the norms and jurisdiction of the Catholic Oriental Churches, in that Exarchate where they are incardinated.
3. The Remaining Problems
Some of the Bishops and priests secretly ordained have not accepted the norms approved by the Holy Father. For these priests, the principle motive for the refusal was the ordination sub conditione, which they held to be a lack of faith on the part of the Holy See, because they were firmly convinced that they were validly ordained. Alongside this, there were also psychological reasons, which must be respected, even if they cannot be accepted. As was explained to them by their own Bishops, and also the Apostolic Nuncio, who had several conversations with some of these priests, the ordination sub conditione does signifies neither distrust nor an obstacle to their acceptance as priests. In reality, based on research done on each case, priestly ordination was not always conferred in a valid manner; perhaps in some cases it may have been, but there remained serious doubts about this, especially in the case of ordinations carried out by Bishop Felix Maria Davidek. Being ordained sub conditione means that if their previous ordination was valid, the second
ordination (“subject to condition”) would not have any effect, given that they were already priests; if, on the other hand, the secretly received ordination were not valid, they, being newly ordained, would be certain in conscience that they were really priests. On this point, there was an open and sincere dialogue, and the accusations leveled against the Holy See do not correspond with reality. As to the matter of the married Bishops, the delicacy of their position lead the Holy Father to follow a well-motivated prudential norm: in fact, it is well-known that the Canon Law of the Catholic Church, both of Latin and of Oriental rite, as well as the most ancient tradition of those Oriental Churches not in communion with it, absolutely do not admit the compatibility of the married state with the episcopal office. Nonetheless, the possibilities that were offered to them, and which were made known to them by their respective diocesan Bishops, were not considered satisfactory by them.
A) The “Underground Church”
This title, or the other, “Church of the Catecombs,” is not justified. In fact, the persons of the groups that claim this title do not live in secret: they belong to civil society and organize initiatives, including some of assistance, which are certainly good in themselves, demonstrating the full freedom of movement they enjoy. The are not persecuted like the Christians of the catacombs — they even give interviews to the media, publish books, and openly and completely freely express their dissent from the authority of the Roman Pontiff. If we should speak of secrecy, it is only in the sense that they celebrate the Eucharist in small groups of their adherents and administer sacraments to them in private houses or in locations known only to them.
These Masses, administrations of the sacraments, and other liturgical celebrations are prohibited. In fact, those who deny the authority of the Pope and the Bishops celebrate illicitly.
C) On Doubtful Validity
Given the doubts that remain about the underground consecrations and ordinations of certain bishops and priests, there remain doubts about the validity of their Masses and the sacraments they administer (especially
Confession). A consecration or ordination subject to condition would have precisely the purpose of removing these doubts about the validity of such Eucharistic and sacramental activities. This meaning was explained at length to the interested parties. Every declaration that affirms the contrary does not correspond to the truth.
It is hoped that the situation can improve in the Czech Republic, where the Church has suffered so much from the pressure of an inimical Authority, and where Christians are called to give a united testimony at all levels of public and Church life. The Catholic Church is one and must give witness to the one God and Lord by the unity of its members. The Holy See thus calls on those Catholics who have not yet accepted its indications and invites them to unite themselves again with the rest of Catholics under the leadership of the Pope. The Bishops of the Republic, as well as the Apostolic Nuncio, are ready to cooperate to bring about this union in that spirit of service to which the Lord calls his followers, and which is a distinctive sign of their membership in the Church.
Given in Rome from the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, February 11, 2000, Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
Prefect , Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone
Secretary, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith