Apr 9, 2011

Martyrs of Disobedience for the Faith, Ludmila Javorova, Father Roy Bourgeois and Franz Jagerstatter

Two significant events have occured within the past week which are signs of the times and harbingers of the future. Members of the underground Roman Catholic Church of Czechoslovakia during the Communist years, including marred and women priests, were honored in Vienna last Saturday (4/1) at its UN City Church by receiving the distinguished  Herbert-Haag-Foundation Award for Freedom in the Church. Present at the ceremony was Ludmila Javorova, the first woman priest ordained by Bishop Felix Maria Davidek, the leader of the clandestine group. Though ignored by Rome after the fall of Communism and told she was not a licitly ordained priest, Ludmila continued to consider herself a priest in Christ, though she humbly obeyed the Vatican order to desist from all essentially priestly sacramental functions. She has lived her sacrifice quietly in Brno all these past years and  has been an inspiration to the Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement for years as well. She is 79 years old.

"At the award ceremony she said: '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.'"

At the prize-giving ceremony in Vienna, Bishop Davidek’s Koinótés was for the first time publicly recognised for what it was – a valiant effort to assure the Church’s survival under persecution. In their laudation, the Swiss theologian Professor Hans Küng of Tübingen University, Professor Hans Jorissen, a former professor of dogmatics at Bonn University and probably the leading connoisseur on the clandestine Church outside the former Czechoslovakia, and Professor Walter Kirchschläger of Lucerne University, all deplored the potential that had been lost. As Professor Jorissen said, “The concept of a missionary re-evangelisation in the Czech Republic, which today is one of Europe’s most secularised countries, could have used the experiences of the clandestine Church, which was, and could still be today, a model for re-evangelisation.”

Read the full story here at the London Tablet.
Ludmila's moving and inspiring life story can be read here:

See the equally moving story of the first (clandestinely ordained) Anglican woman priest, Li Tim-Oi, ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Ronald Hall of Hong Kong in 1944. Tim-Oi is already being honored and recognized for her sanctity. Read the full story here.

The second event, which is related to the the first, is the formal announcement yesterday (4/8) by Maryknoll Father Roy  Bourgeis that he will not recant from his public support of women's ordination in the Roman Catholic Church, thereby inviting formal laicization  upon himself.  This story has been ongoing for some time and is rapidly becoming one of the iconic events of our time.

(read his full statement at Diane Dougherty's blog here)

Father Roy refers to the long standing Catholic tradition of primacy of conscience and references in particular the witness of Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, the Austrian martyr killed by the Nazis for refusing to serve in the army of the Third Reich. What Father Roy does not mention is that Blessed Franz was pressured by his Bishop and three  Catholic priests he turned to for advice to comply with the conscription order and join the army, all four men insisting that participating in the army of the German Third Reich was perfectly compatible with a Catholic conscience. By not complying, Franz was accused by his bishop of causing "grave scandal" to his fellow Catholics who had joined the army, exactly like Father Roy is accused today by his Markyknoll superiors of causing 'grave scandal' to the faithful and his fellow priests. 
Here is a very interesting comment from a fairly conservative blog in reference to Jagerstatter's meeting with his bishop (what follows the statement, however, is a rather bizarre twist to the story as the writer exemplifies the tendency of the canonization process to squeeze the saintly figure into a more orthodox mold):

Recognising that they could not reach common ground, Bishop Fliesser finally told Franz Jägerstätter that, in exceptional circumstances, one may act 'according to one's conscience'. The Bishop had made a concession to Franz Jägerstätter with this statement, by not toeing the official party line. With this statement, however, he put the onus squarely on Franz Jägerstätter's shoulders. It must have been devastating for Franz to realise that there was no approval from the Church for his proposed action. The responsibility and the consequences for his decision to refuse military service were his and his alone.

Indeed. And how many of these heroic witnesses do we need to convince us of the relative and limited value of 'official authority' in the Church and of the myriad ways in which we are tempted to turn this authority into a false idol. We need to ask ourselves why the same story keeps repeating itself over and over and over again. The striking example of Father Roy Bourgeois is yet another sign from the Holy Spirit of our need to be constantly reminded, cautioned and warned of the dangers of an exaggerated respect for authority and of the holiness of principled disobedience. And as Bridget Mary reminds us at her blog, Pope Benedict has recently canonized two excommunicated nuns.

"Mother Mary McKillop, the foundress of the Australian-based Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, was, in 1871, officially excommunicated by her local bishop, on the grounds that she "'she had incited the sisters to disobedience and defiance." 

"Mother Theodore Guerin, foundress of the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary of the Woods, was once locked into a room in a rectory by her bishop, who was infuriated by her (similarly) independent spirit." He later excommunicated her. 
See also Robert McClory's interesting book, Faithful Dissenters.

The real gift of the Spirit in all of these inspiring stories is the gift of freedom from the mystique of authority in the Roman Catholic Church, and the peace and  joy within the soul  that are the fruits of such dissent and the rewards for walking in the footsteps of the Master. This is why when I heard this recent story of Father Roy Bourgeois, while I felt for his pain, I also rejoiced in his own 'exaltation' (if that is not too strong a word), and rejoiced for the Church as well, which only grows through suffering. He is being conformed to the pattern of Jesus' own dissent from the injustices of his day. What could be a more honorable path to follow than to be called to live 'outside the door' with the poor and the marginalized, while the rich and powerful feast at the table of the privileged within the  hallowed walls of the sacred institution. Paraphrasing Thomas Merton, cautious distrust of authority should be an essential element in the educational process of every newly catechized Christian. We are fallible human beings and collectively we tend to corrupt the very institutions designed to serve and transmit our most sacred values. This applies as much to the formal institution of the Church as a whole as it does to the phenomenon of the Marian apparitions, with all of their bizarre secondary offshoots.  An essential obligation of every conscientious Christian is to be constantly alert to the signs of such corruption, constantly on guard against the tendency to create false idols, and continually attentive to the gentle signs of the Spirit, calling us both to preserve the purity of the essential charism as well as to embody it in new forms more appropriate to the times. The fruits of the Spirit are peace and joy in the midst of trial and contradiction. Let us rejoice in the honor being given to these great dissenters of the faith.



Terence Weldon said...

Thanks for the pointer to the Tablet, Jayden, and for your additional material. You are absolutely correct to call these people martyrs - or those who bear witness - as that is what they are: witnesses martyred not for the Church, but by the Church, and for the faith.

Heresy, they say, is often a matter of timing. For these people, the time has not yet come, but it will - and they too will be honoured when the rest of the Catholic Church finally comes to its senses, as the other denominations have already done.

Jayden Cameron said...

Terence - I'm just now reading Richard Schoenherr's very rich sociological/theological study of the priesthood, Goodbye Father, in which he argues most persuasively just this point. The church's profound sense of 'sacerdotal priesthood' is what is slowing the process of change - both in the sense of caution in initiating change in something so sacred at the core of belief and more pertinently in the sense of contributing to the attachment to the role on the part of the male clerical caste which doesn't want to give up such sacred power. Contrary to those who argue that simply admitting women and married priests to the priesthood (or partnered gays) will only contribute to the continuation of the clerical caste, he optimistically predicts that this opening will help to heal sexism in the church. He predicts that married priests will have to come within a generation, women priests several generations(I hope not so long). So the individuals in my posting are truly ahead of their times, but the grace of their own 'martyrdom' for the church is already being felt. Still...sigh...there are times when one wishes things didn't always have to be so difficult.

colkoch said...

Fr Schoenherr is very optimistic about the continued existence of the Church. If his time table holds true, there won't be much of any kind of Church in Europe and much of North America.

Demographically, he's projecting these changes to occur with in two to three generations, but the fact is the Church has already lost much of the current younger generations, and by extension all their progeny. This does not bode well for a clerical caste of any sort.

Great article Jayden. What an act of obedience on the part of Ludmila Javorova. There's a part of me that hopes she only gave up the public part of her priesthood and that she continues to say Mass privately. Hers is a unique energy with in Catholicism.

As for Fr. Roy, I have no respect left for Maryknoll. They certainly took care of enough pedophile priests of theirs, but Roy gets kicked out and to the curb. This is so unjust it makes me want to puke.

Jayden Cameron said...

I had the same thought, Colleen, two generations! There will be nobody left, and certainly women will not wait that long. Schoenherr is following the classical sociological model for change within religious institutions and it's quite a profound study. He does mention that there will be break away groups impatient with the slow process of transformation. But I feel he does not take sufficient account of the profound mutations the church is now facing and will face in the future (the study was published in 1995, but there has been nothing quite like it since, which makes it still worth reading). Mutations having to do with authority and the very sacerdotal mystery he rightly cherishes. I don't know what the future will bring, but it seems certain the boundary lines are dissolving and we will not simply have 'the same sacerdotal structure' in place, except for the inclusion of women and married priests. I think what is coming is far more profound than this, with the boundaries becoming more fluid as to who may validly celebrate the Eucharist and when and where. The sacerdotal minister will not disappear at formal celebrations of the 'whole church' in a particular region, but more and more freedom will be given to ordinary Christians to 'break bread' together in a sacerdotal manner among themselves in small familiar groups. And the Risen Lord will be amongst them in the breaking of the bread.