Catholics in Czechoslovakia
towards the Church, for which the first priority is "gradual breakdown of parishes and liquidation of the clergy," This corresponds to the biblical text: "I shall slay the shepherd, then the sheep of the flock will be scattered."
The priest shortage is already making itself felt. One-fifth of the priests have no State permit. The rest are generally older men. Only in a few dioceses is the average age under 60.1n addition there is frequent mortality among younger priests because they have all too great a burden.
Last year there was great annoyance at the decision of the Slovakian Ministry for Culture to grant State permits tor pastoral activity to only half of the newly ordained priests.
Q. What do the seminarians receive in the way of professional training?
I do not know the Czech seminary in Litomerice. I am better acquainted with the "theological faculty'' in Bratislava, which regards itself as successor to the canonically Founded theological faculty at the Comenius University of Bratislava.
The Ministry of Culture controls the situation — as far as that is humanly possible. The professors are named by the ministry. The Bishop of Tyrnau, in whose diocese the faculty lies, can give authorisation only after the event.
The seminary is regarded as an internal department of the faculty and hence it seems logical that the faculty dean should appoint the superiors of the seminary. Both the admission and dismissal of seminarians depends on the faculty — which is seen as an arm of the Ministry of Culture Two. years ago there was a classic example of the harmonious co-operation between the ministry and the faculty staff: on verbal orders from the ministry the dean of the faculty decided to dismiss seven very able seminarians who were about to be ordained.
Regrettably there have been some scandalous incidents (alcohol, sex) in the seminary. But it was forbidden to dismiss seminarians of this kind and they had to be granted ordination. The possibility cannot be ruled out that there are agents of the secret police among the seminarians. The superiors are, however, powerless towards them.
Study of theology is on a very modest level. At the Bratislava faculty you get to use the current seminary expression "self-service theology." What one fails to acquire oneself where possible from foreign theology books — is not to be heard at the lectures.
It is said that "fixed number" admissions may be changed. Instead candidates will be admitted on the basis of their "abilities" — that is, the undesirables will be rejected as unqualified. Q. Visitors from the West say that Churches in Czechoslovakia are full. What significance should one ascribe to these reports. How is Church attendance in your country? First the expression "churches are full". It is true by contrast with Hungary, for example. The churches are full in Prague, in Bratislava, in Kosice — the large towns. Let us take the last town. It has about 200,000 inhabitants — but only two parishes. Bratislava needs at least 20 new churches. It is obvious that the churches are full.
On the other hand this also means that the great spiritual vacuum which has resulted following the disappointment of Communism is now being filled in various ways. In general it may be said that people see in Christianity the only alternative to a scorned and deceitful Marxism.
One cannot speak in general terms of church attendance itself — as a proportion. It is known that the Slovakian area of the republic has preserved its religious character, In the villages, church attendance is generally somewhat over 60 per cent.
As a rule people with important positions, those in public service (teachers, leading officials and all those connected with cultural life, the army, politics and the administration) are afraid of going to church. Ever-present spies could betray them and that would mean dismissal. In the villages around towns, spies are instructed to make a note of car registration numbers and report them to the police, Q. And now the final question. What is the outlook of Christians in your country? Are they pessimists or optimists? Are they in despair? Or do they remain hopeful, and what do they hope for?
I can only speak for myself and for a relatively wide circle of my friends. First 1 must say that in very concrete terms our hope — however extraordinary this may sound — rests in Christians abroad. Just as much the Germans as the Africans, the British as the Brazilians. If they leave us we are abandoned.
Their voice on radio and television, in newspapers and demonstrations is sometimes of decisive significance. We cannot protest, make apologia or defend ourselves. Only Christians abroad can do that. And their intervention on our behalf is effective, Much could be said on the theme of hope, The sociological aspect is only one dimension of hope --the human dimension. Communism is a painful world experiment, it is the scourge of which the Biblical prophet spoke.