Imagine being ordained, but you cannot tell your Catholic mother you’re a priest

By Victor Gaeten, 19 July 2020
Tomáš Halík. Image: Petr Novák, Wikipedia.


During the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, hundreds of priests were ordained in secrecy. Father Tomas Halik, ordained in East Germany in 1978, and playing a central role in the revival of the Church in Czechoslovakia has remarkable story which he shares in this interview.

Czech philosopher and theologian Father Tomas Halik, secretly ordained in 1978 in East Germany (occupied by 380,000 Soviet soldiers), was almost certainly the first new priest of Pope John Paul II’s papacy. For the first 12 years of his vocation (while 73,500 Soviet troops occupied Czechoslovakia), he worked in various civilian professions, the longest as a psychotherapist helping drug and alcohol addicts, who were unaware of his priestly status.

He also worked with Prague Archbishop Cardinal František Tomášek (1977-1991) who thought Father Halik was a talented lay Catholic. (Because Archbishop Tomášek was constantly under surveillance and his office bugged, Father Halik’s East German ordaining bishop thought it safest to keep the secret even from him.)

With the collapse of communism in Czechoslovakia, Father Halik was suddenly at the center of power. A friend of President Vaclav Havel (1993-2003), the priest was even mentioned as a possible successor. He participated in the revival of the Church as general secretary of the Czech conference of bishops. In 2014, Father Halik received the Templeton Prize, a prestigious award also given to Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and Mother Teresa.

Father Halik, a leading Catholic intellectual in Europe, is a professor at Charles University in Prague. Notre Dame University Press published his biography, From the Underground Church to Freedom, last year as well as a spiritual work, I Want You to Be: On the God of Love positing the importance of Christians serving nonbelievers.

The National Catholic Register recently interviewed Father Halik by phone from Prague. You can find this fascinating interview here.

With thanks to the National Catholic Register where this article first appeared.

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