ICRN Report by Tony Flannery, Margaret Lee and Brendan Butler

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International Church Reform Network (ICRN)

Meeting in Pezinok, Bratislava, Slovakia in June 2018







Report by Tony Flannery, Margaret Lee and Brendan Butler   

Initially this was a network of priests associations, but the addition of Christine Schenk (FutureChurch) and Martha Heizer (We Are Church) proved a major bonus to have male & female, lay & clerics all represented. The ICRN has held 4 international meetings:

2013            BREGENZ                                       AUSTRIA

2015            LIMERICK                                      IRELAND

2016            CHICAGO                                       USA

2018            BRATISLAVA, PEZINOK            SLOVAKIA


At the first 3 meetings there were no presentations, only workshops. This was changed for the Bratislava meeting to learn about the situation with the church under communism.

Slovakia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire where State and Church were effectively one. After the Empire broke up the Church became more independent. During World War ll Slovakia was ruled by a Catholic Priest Dr Jozef Tiso who collaborated with the Nazis and deported Jews. In 1948 the communists took over and the Church was put down. Bishops were jailed. One seminary remained open with government approval. State funding for the Church gave the State full control. An Underground Church developed and 3 bishops went to Rome and were given “Mexican Faculties” allowing them to ordain priests and bishops without any reference to the Vatican. At least 6 bishops were ordained this way, with Bishop Felix Davidek the best know, He had been ordained a priest in 1945 and was put in prison. His time in prison convinced him of the importance of ordaining women. Davidek was released in 1964. His community called Koinotes convened a synod in 1970 with 60 attending. The key question was whether women could be ordained as priests. The synod was split 50-50. But Davidek went ahead and ordained women, saying there was no justification not to ordain women; it was purely historical when the important point was service. For confession it made a huge difference for women to attend a women priest.


Bishop Davidek stressed the importance of the Church being integrated with the world, otherwise it would lose its essence. He disagreed with Humanae Vitae. He ordained some 6 women, the best known being Ludmila Javarová, whose story has been widely told. Bishop Davidek also ordained married men. Bishop Davidek died in 1988, the year before the fall of communism.

After the fall of communism the Official Church insisted that all priests ordained during communism should be re-ordained. The Married men who had been ordained were excluded; they were asked to report how many masses they had said and what stipends they had received for these masses; the Official Church said they would take 20% of those stipends and let the men keep the balance. The ordained women had no hope at all with the Official Church. The Underground Church felt betrayed. They had an emotional attachment to the Church and looked up to them. Now they were oppressed by the Official Catholic Church. Pope John Paul ll had been bishop of Krakov in Poland and was close to the people of Slovakia.

A Theological Forum was set up in 1993 (4 years after the fall of communism) to provide a bulwark against traditional teaching. The Forum supported Austria’s Fr Helmut Schueller in 2012, causing some priests to withdraw. Those who remained founded OK21 (the group who organized the ICRN meeting in Bratislava). Hermann Haering spoke about the Dutch Church in the 1970’s having similar problems to the Underground Church in Czechoslovakia at the end of the 1980’s – both felt betrayed.

There were 2 bishops at the ICRN meeting, one of whom had returned his Episcopal appointment to Rome.

Margaret Lee was impressed by the risks they took for their faith. At times of crisis new things can happen. When communism fell, church attendance dropped. Is religion usually a minority interest?

It is strange and ironic that the Eucharist is so often a source of divisiveness in our church. The good news from Bratislava was that the Eucharist was a great success. Bishops, priests, men and women all took part. It was celebrated with joy. This had not been the case in Limerick (nor Chicago). In Limerick the suggestion of a traditional mass with a priest at the altar and everyone else in the congregation caused uproar with the women who wanted a Eucharist where all could participate equally. Several of the priests were concerned their bishops would get to hear of this and would take action against them. A committee was formed. But both the priests and the women stuck to their positions. In the end they had a glorified prayer service. The women felt isolated and betrayed. Many of those priests did not come to Bratislava and that is why it was a fantastic success.

In the Early Church the Eucharist was led by a presider. The invocation of the Holy Spirit happened through the Eucharist. But the Counter-Reformation led to tight control of all the words and HIC EST CORPUS MEUM were declared key. Canon 907 declares that deacons and lay people could not say the Eucharistic prayer or join in the actions. The Vatican in 1967 declared that lay people must understand their proper role. Only the priests voice must be heard. There are penalties for those who breach these laws.

Tony Flannery noted that he was already suspended by the Vatican at the time of the Limerick meeting. But other priests were also very upset and one broke down in tears. It was agreed that whatever their decision was about the Eucharist it could not be kept secret.

Apart from the Eucharist, the Bratislava meeting also continued work on 5 other issues:

  1. Charter for Fundamental Rights of all Catholics
  2. Justice in the Church
  3. LGBT
  4. Women
  5. How to manage without celibate male priests


Colm Holmes

10 September 2018

Some comments during the Q & A:

  1. Lobinger model. Book by Hirmer.
  2. Ordination is not a theological matter. It is a profession minding its profession.
  3. No basis for women priests nor men priests in the bible.
  4. Important to preserve mass as it is.
  5. When 2 or more are gathered in my name. Canon Law vs the Gospel  [Images: canon vs dove]
  6. Under Constantine the church became a corporation.
  7. Agape meals in catacombs shows all present as equals.
  8. Important to choose a presider with some qualifications.
  9. Cross section of community should be involved in the Eucharist.
  10. “The People Speak Out” – Clyde Christofferson. We are called to be the change.