The Tablet today posted a fascinating piece by Christa Pongratz-Lippitt about the secret church that sustained the Catholic community in the former Czechoslovakia during four decades of Communist rule.
It has become increasingly clear in our own time of crisis in the church – granted most of it self-imposed and not a matter of state interference – that when things get bad enough the community can always find the theology to meet the need. Too few priests? All of sudden pastoral associates, who could be nuns or lay people or a married couple, have what it takes to run a parish.
Seminaries short on single, celibate men? Other schools of ministry are filled with lay people doing theology and studying pastoral skills needed to minister. Or we bring in foreign priests or ordain waves of married men as deacons or accept men from other denominations and allow them to break the unbreakable rule and bring their wives and families to ordination.
In the former Czechoslovakia, as Pongratz-Lippitt relates, theology met need in a really big way. The late Bishop Felix Maria Davidek founded one of the foremost underground movements in the church, ordaining married men and at least one woman, Ludmila Javorová, “a prominent member of Koinotes, and later made her his vicar general, which she remained until his death in 1988.”
During a recent awards ceremony honoring Davidek’s Koinotes community, Javorova had this to say: “The work has been begun. Others must continue it. Even if the Vatican considers the matter closed, it is my firm belief that at some point in the future this dossier will be reopened.”
The question in all of this, in those moments when theology meets need, is how long before practices considered “closed” become normative? How long before figures like Fr. Roy Bourgeois are not ushered quickly and unceremoniously out of the priesthood for raising questions that have at their heart a respect for the call to vocation that women experience as well as concern for the survival of Eucharistic communities?
Read about Bishop Davidek and his experiments that helped save a church forced to exist under a severe regime.