Rumors hinting at the existence of female priests in the Roman Catholic Church had been circulating for several years when Ludmila Javorova’s photo appeared in an Austrian magazine in 1995 over the headline “I am a Catholic priest.”
The Czech woman, who was ordained secretly in 1970 in communist Czechoslovakia, had been unwittingly “outed.”
She closeted herself in her room and knelt before a cross, summoning the strength to handle the barrage of phone calls and visits from reporters that followed.
Now, her secret having been revealed by others, Miss Javorova is giving her own account of the events that led to her ordination in a book by Medical Mission Sister Miriam Therese Winter, a professor at Hartford Seminary.
In “Out of the Depths” (Crossroad), Miss Javorova tells not only her personal story, but that of Bishop Felix Davidek, the childhood friend and leader of the underground Koinotes community who ordained her.
Bishop Davidek, whose consecration as a bishop took place secretly during the communist rule of his homeland, knew that church law prohibited the ordination of a woman. But he felt so strongly that women should be ordained that he did it anyway, even after a Koinotes council failed to reach a conclusive decision on the issue.
Insisting that canon law must not infringe on God’s law, Bishop Davidek, who died in 1988, had said that the law did not cover every life situation, particularly the needs of women in prison. While a prisoner himself from 1950 to 1964, he had been troubled to learn that the women who were being held had no priest among them.
“The people need the ordination of women,” he is reported to have said. “They are literally waiting for it and the church should not prevent it.”
Eventually, he would ordain three other women and another bishop and priest would ordain three more. All since have ceased to function as priests, Sister Miriam Therese said, and all want their identities kept secret.
After remaining silent about her own ordination for so long, Miss Javorova had to be persuaded to share her story with the world, even after she was exposed by the Austrian magazine, Sister Miriam Therese said. A delegation from the Women’s Ordination Conference, an American group, urged her to come to the United States in 1997. She agreed and spent two weeks meeting with groups in Cleveland, Baltimore, Washington and New Jersey.
It was during her visit to Cleveland that she met Sister Miriam Therese. Although she agreed with those who were encouraging Miss Javorova to publish her story, Sister Miriam Therese, who has written several books on women in the Scriptures, wasn’t especially interested in working on it herself. She was too busy, didn’t speak Miss Javorova’s language, and didn’t know the Czech culture. In other words, she said, “It was not going to be easy to write.”
After recommending that her own publisher, Crossroad, be contacted about publishing the book, Sister Miriam Therese said she began to pay attention to an inner urging that she be the one to tell Miss Javorova’s story.
“It was one of these things that my intuition had the answer before my head did. I woke up in the middle of the night. I said, ‘I have to write that book.’
“I was afraid that if she were interviewed by someone seeking a sensational story of someone ordained a priest that the point would be missed, because I knew her story was not that. It was on something far deeper.”
When she called her publisher to say she was interested in doing the book, she learned her name had just been proposed for the project at that morning’s business meeting.
By the time the group of four got started, it was August 1999. Sister Miriam Therese made five trips to Miss Javorova’s home in Brno, south of Prague, spending a week to 21/2 weeks at a time conducting interviews and going over manuscripts.
“We would work night and day. I would do preparations in advance e-mails. She would have the questions and the manuscripts. Then we would sit together with the translator and talk it through.”
Today, Miss Javorova, now 69, teaches religion in Brno and helps prepare children in her parish for First Communion. Because the church considers her ordination invalid, she is barred by her bishop from acting as a priest and no longer celebrates Mass, even privately.
Distributed by Scripps Howard