In 1995 published the astonishing news that some Catholic women had been ordained priests in the Czech Republic during the Communist regime. Ludmila Javorová was one of them. It was the first published account of her ordination to the priesthood.
This is a translation of a recent interview with Ludmila entitled “We must fight patiently for the ordination of women” by Rudolph Schermann in Kirche Intern vol. 13 (1999) no 6, pp. 10-11.
Translated by Mary Dittrich and published on www.womenpriests.org with permission of the author and publisher.
KIRCHE-INTERN Interview with the Czech national Ludmila Javorová, ordained by the Roman Catholic confessor Bishop Felix Davidek during the Communist dictatorship as the first Roman Catholic woman priest, and appointed his Vicar-General by Davidek. The interviewer was Father Rudolf Schermann
Fr. Schermann: Mrs. Javorova, the exclusive KIRCHE INTERN report in which in November 1995 you first acknowledged your priestly ordination – till then it had only been surmised – went round the world. Did this report cause you problems?
Javorová: And how! Certainly, not only negative stuff. I was overwhelmed by innumerable letters and invitations from all over the world. So that I just couldn’t cope with it. In the end I had to stop going into it all.
Fr. Schermann: I am bringing you an invitation from women in Austria and Germany to let them visit you nevertheless and discuss in the light of your experience prospects for the diaconate for women or priesthood for women.
Javorová: I’m happy to accept this invitation, but I do see great difficulties in the path to the priesthood for women, simply because the social background is lacking. That’s the main difficulty. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t fight for this aim, but my own experience tells me that in time one burns out. As always in life, pressure causes counter-pressure. If one wants to force an issue, opposition to it grows. During my trip to the States I saw that there women have a different place in society. Over there one gets ahead in such matters faster. Here in Europe things are not the same. Maybe men, too, should engage with much more conviction in these matters.
Fr. Schermann: In ordaining women to the priesthood Bishop Davidek set a prophetic marker which, because this ordination took place under the knout of godless repression, acquired enormous authenticity and outstanding symbolism; but Rome, we most unfortunately find, is blind to this. So you, an ordained woman priest and former Vicar-General to Bishop Davidek, can help us a great deal from your experience.
Javorová: I am aware of the endeavours of the various groups. Only I don’t believe that one can force a thing through, especially outside the Church. That, I feel, would be the wrong way. The fundamental question is: How does the Church – both its leadership and the people – accept the pastoral involvement of women? Are women respected in this regard in your circles?
Fr. Schermann: Apart from a few exceptions, there is widespread acceptance. The diaconate for women is very much on the horizon, and ordination for women an ongoing topic. We just have to press on.
Javorová: Of course we can’t just wait. To me, the problem is acceptance. In theory much is possible, but in practice things look different. When we women were ordained, that was simply accepted. For thirty years nobody objected. When at last we obtained our freedom many people changed their minds.
Fr. Schermann: This problem of acceptance, which is, rather, a psychological one, is also present in secular society. There, too, women are far from being accepted everywhere as human beings of equal value to men. Thus the Anglican Church, too, had great difficulties over ordaining women. Many Anglican priests sought asylum in the Roman Catholic Church, the last stronghold of fear of women. By now many have reviewed their attitude and realised that ordination cannot be made to depend on a person’s sex.
Javorová: As for fundamental acceptance by the people of God, I’m not worried. The difficulties tend to be in the hierarchy.
Fr. Schermann: For how long did Rome set its face against women altar servers, even though they had long been accepted by people! But thanks to persistent discussions we have at least reached a point where girls are put up with, even at Papal Masses. Well, women managed, even in the Roman Catholic Church, to get as far as the steps of the altar. So we must firmly fight on for women’s ordination too.
Javorová: That’s right, and its good. With us, consciousness must first be awakened that all of us are the Church, that each of us must contribute to it. Here we are still far from the goal.
Fr. Schermann: What motivated Bishop Davidek to ordain women to the priesthood?
Javorová: Necessity. Bishop Davidek saw the need, and saw no difficulty in ordaining women. He saw in that a sign of the times. Communication with Rome was not possible. He acted according to his conscience.
Fr. Schermann: Once freedom was achieved, why was Davidek’s process suddenly openly criticised, even by former underground bishops?
Javorová: When Bishop Davidek summoned a pastoral synod in 1970, and brought the ordination of women into the discussion, a number of people broke away from him. Interestingly enough, in the preparatory body there had been no dissenting voices. When it came to the vote, some people turned away and no longer collaborated with Bishop Davidek. I tried to mediate. Davidek issued pastoral letters and suspended initially these bishops he had ordained, who were only auxiliary bishops; however, three months later he revoked the suspension. The group, backed by Peter Dunovsky, did not wish to resume working with Davidek. And up to his death they did not visit him.
Fr. Schermann: Recently a book by Ondrej Liska on the Czechoslovak underground church came out. What do you think of it?
Javorová: Liska is a young politology student. He paid me a brief visit, but was not interested in matters of detail. All the archives were opened up to him, so that he was able to have a look at documents which even the people involved were still unable to see. Some events are correctly described. But he draws hasty conclusions pretending almost 100% certainty. Many details are missing, or presented wrongly. The book – which, incidentally, was sent to all priests – is on the whole misleading.
Fr. Schermann: But you were Bishop Davidek’s Vicar-General, were you not?
Javorová: Yes. It was a very interesting task. But of course one can’t compare it with today’s circumstances.
Fr. Schermann: How are your relations with the present Bishop of Brno?
Javorová: Favourable. But that is all one can say on that subject.
Fr. Schermann: Mrs Javorova, thank you for this talk.
- Report on a private visit of Ludmila Javorova to the USA, (1997)
- Interview with Ludmila Javorová (1999)
- Secret No More, story leading to publication of biography of Javorova, 2001.
- Ordained a Priest in the Catacombs, review of biography of Javorova, 2001.
- Woman Says First Mass in Secret, excerpts from biography of Javorova, 2001.
- Article in The Tablet(2003)
- Letter to www.womenpriests.org network (2007)
- Bishop Felix Davidek
- Visit our Czech language section
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