Page 10, 12th March 1976

12th March 1976
Page 10
Page 10, 12th March 1976 — Persecution still in Czechoslovakia

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Locations: Helsinki, Prague


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Persecution still in Czechoslovakia

IN the wake of Solzhenitsyn's recent warning about the one-sidedness of detente, ANTHONY LAND reports that Communist persecution of the Church continues unabated in Czechoslovakia. THF. 1975 Security Conference at Helsinki put the word d#tente on to every tongue. It also struck fear into the hearts of Christians in Czechoslovakia.

During 1975 the Communist Party's offensive against the Church in Czechoslovakia increased. And Christians there believed that any Soviet success al the conference could make their lives harder.

In all the splendid talk on EastWest co-operation would not their sufferings he overlooked? Once all the documents were signed and filed, was it not likely that their persecutors would tighten the screw even more? Their fears have not yet been Fulfilled — or at least not completcl■ . But at the same time the conference has produced for them none of the benefits which Western politicians expected. Indeed. Czechoslovakia's ideological machinery afterwards ran on smoothly without interruption. And steps were taken to ensure that the conference did not give the country's Christians ideas above their station. In January it was reported that in the months following the conference, police in Bohemia had rounded up a large number of Catholic priests more than 60 cases are known of. The priests were firmly told that government policy towards "clerical elements" would not change. even after Helsinki. In Slovakia, priests were warned not to take statements in the Helsinki Agreement as a ground to increase their activities. And in the local edition of the Church newspaper Katolicke Noviny parts of a speech made at Helsinki by the Vatican delegate, Archbishop Casaroli, were taken out. It is not easy to sum up how Christians in Czechoslovakia fared during 1975. For one thing it is impossible to check the individual s inner loyalty to God and his deeper motivation. But — more significantly we also lack information on the country's underground Chris tian movements, which continue to protect people from total spiritual demoralisation, despite their secrecy and outward silence.

Where the Catholic Church is concerned. however, we can say from the very patchy details available that in the year just gone the Communist authorities continued their efforts to smash the people's Christian tradition. to eliminate Church influence in schools, to ban religious literature, to weaken the Church institution by intimidating priests and to encourage atheism within the health service. A few examples make this clear.

In schools it is the policy of the Communist Party to encourage atheistic teachers. Those teachers who can 'show a drop in the number of pupils attending religious instruction classes and going to church are rewarded.

Well-tried methods help to further this policy. Children are encouraged to join atheistic groups and they get good or bad marks depending on how they adapt. Those who go to church are intimidated.

Classmates spy on them at the church door, and a particularly close watch is kept on those who go to church but for one reason or another — do not attend religious instruction. They arc accused of hypocrisy and their parents are told off. The ultimate aim is to take religious instruction — which is in any case primarily a profession of faith — out of school. It will then be easier to ban all religious education — even by parents. The Soviet Union serves as a model here. In 1929, Article 22 of the Constitution was introduced to forbid anyone but the parents to give religious instruction. In July, 1975, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet withdrew even the parents' right.

Religious literature is regarded as a special danger, and frontier police go to enormous trouble to smell out smugglers. The Prague newspaper Prace describes how one police unit mounted an anti-religious campa ign and captured 500 kilograms of religious publications in a single year. Poland is a useful source of literature, so there are now particularly strict controls on the frontier with Czechoslovakia. A theology student from Slovakia — Ignac Jams — was even expelled from his seminary because border officials found religious publications on him.

Because of these measures it is essential to find new ways of sending books. A book to the right person at the right time is a torch which will be passed on in a chain reaction._

Priests are always the first object of persecution, because they are at the centre of the Catholic community. In August, 1975, the Czechoslovak authorities amended the 1949 Statute Book (Ref No 2530:75) to strike a further blow at the


The amendment states that there is no right in law to work in the Civil Service. Since the priest is regarded by the authorities as a State servant this could affect his government permit.

The rest of the clause concerns the priest's private life. For example: "Retired priests who have another occupation must have permission from the district secretary for Church affairs to say Mass — even privately when none of the faithful is present

"The permit must expressly state where and when the Mass is being celebrated." Breaches of this law are punishable with up to one year in prison.

Within the health service, pressure on doctors and medical staff became very great last year. A medical journal — Zdravotnicke Noviny — printed a series of articles campaigning against doctors professing Christianity — of which there are a large number, particularly in Slovakia — and nurses who keep their Faith.

The authors thought it irresponsible to let the sick be surrounded by people who might get at them with illusions of another life and reconciliation with God.

Now new regulations have been issued to prevent doctors and nurses from calling a priest to the dying unless certain conditions are fulfilled.

Relatives, or the patient himself, must apply to the hospital management before a priest may attend the deathbed. Priests who dare to give the Last Sacraments in hospital on their own initiative risk losing their State permit. Communist governments regard religion as an alienation of capitalism, destined to disappear. But in a recent book, "The Runaway Church", Peter Hebhlethwaite wrote: "Even Viterslav Gardays14, a relatively sophisticated Czech philosopher . . . committed himself to the revealing idea that 'a world without God would be easier to control'."

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