Monday, April 11, 2011
"And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” MT 15:3
Last week I was in Prague, Czech Republic. During my visit, I learned about the underground Catholic Church that operated there during the communist era. The underground church helped the Catholic faith and church survive while the country lived under the Iron Curtain’s rule.
The situation was very dangerous for Catholics then, especially for clergy. Ordination in the official Catholic Church required Communist Party approval. Consequently, informant priests working for the Communist Party regularly betrayed fellow priests, nuns and laity. Priests promoting Christian ideals conflicting with the totalitarian government’s interests experienced imprisonment, torture or death. Other Catholics openly living their faith experienced similar persecutions.
Felix Davidek, legitimately was ordained bishop in the underground church in 1968 with the Vatican’s full knowledge. In 1992, the Vatican validated his ordination as bishop.
Knowing Catholic priests were easily identified and targeted by their celibate life status, Bishop Davidek ordained married men as priests beginning in 1968. This helped ensure the people received sacramental care. Knowing imprisoned women were denied all sacramental care because males including priests were not allowed in female prisons, he called a synod in 1970 to discuss possible female ordinations. Following the synod’s split decision, he ordained six women to care for the many imprisoned Catholic women including hundreds of nuns. Focusing on the people’s needs rather than church tradition, the church survived that stark period by ordaining women and married men.
For over twenty years between 1968 and 1989, married men risked their lives answering the call to be ordained. For almost twenty years between 1970 and 1989, women like Ludmilla Javarova did likewise. One might regard as heroes these brave Catholics who placed the sacramental needs of others above their personal well-being.
However, once the Cold War ended, many Vatican officials including the pope denounced these ordained women and married men. Rather than hail them as heroes, they nullified their vocations. They questioned Davidek’s sanity, invoked Canon law nullifying acts by mentally ill bishops, and declared invalid many ordinations he performed. Their concern was not caring for the people but preserving church laws and traditions excluding women and married men from ordination.
Church leaders are considered ecclesial fathers and these parents invalidated those who fed their children for decades. Would they rather have seen their children starve than change their laws and traditions?
Before I became a parent, I read many books on parenting and thought their advice worthy of implementing with my children. After I actually had children, I found some of that advice very impractical or outright contrary to caring for my family. No textbook or law book substituted for knowing my children. That is because parenting is an effort of the heart, not of the head.
Do church fathers stand with their textbooks and Canon law books, or their hearts in hand as they retain their “only celibate males” ordination tradition? As parishes close from priest shortages, are these parents again opting to starve their children to death rather than relinquish their man-made traditions? Does Jesus’ query of religious leaders in MT 15:3 apply now? "And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?”