Catholic Church to screen priests for collaboration with StB

Thousands of public officials have had their pasts scrutinised under a lustration or screening law adopted two years after the fall of communism. It aims to stop former senior officials, agents and collaborators reaching high office today. Now, a full decade and a half later, the Czech Republic's Roman Catholic Church is also beginning to screen its priests for evidence of collaboration with the communist-era secret police, the StB.

Petr Blazek
The head of the Czech Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, announced on Wednesday that it was setting up a joint project with the Interior Ministry under which the country's Catholic priests will be screened for evidence of collaboration with the former regime. Historian Petr Blazek, present at the ministry's StB archive during a visit by the cardinal, explains that such collaboration took various forms.

"Many priests collaborated through different pro-regime organisations. They openly worked with the regime and it was clear to believers that they were not independent. But later there were priests who collaborated with the secret police in many different ways. They were agents, they provided depended on the agency they were involved with - whether it was intelligence or counter-intelligence."

Cardinal Miloslav Vlk
Cardinal Vlk has called for measured and objective judgement of members of the clergy who collaborated, describing the methods of the StB as "very tough". But was the pressure put on them really so great?

"In some cases their methods were very, very tough. They applied pressure, sometimes using compromising materials or putting pressure on the relatives of priests. In some cases the priests came to regard collaborating as a normal part of their lives. I'd like to say also that many of the people in the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church used by the StB were lay people involved in the church."

Cardinal Vlk's new project is called Otevrena minulost - Open Past. But why didn't the church begin making its past open sooner. After all, it is over 16 years now since the fall of the former regime. Historian Petr Blazek again.

"I don't think it's anything exceptional. For instance in Germany they started a process of coming to terms with the Nazi past in the 1960s. Some distance is necessary, I think...The issue of priests collaborating isn't as important here as in Poland, but this new approach has clearly been influenced by what happened with the archbishop of Warsaw. When Cardinal Vlk was with us in the archive he said they wanted to be sure high church officials didn't have the same problems as the Polish archbishop."

While at the Interior Ministry, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk was shown the file the StB kept on him. It includes photographs secretly taken of the prelate, including at Prague's Kotva department store. He told Lidove noviny he was surprised he had been photographed at such proximity without noticing anything.