Expert: New head of Czech Catholic Church “transitional”

Jan Graubner

After a four-year search for a new Prague archbishop, the Vatican announced that the post would be filled by Jan Graubner, the current archbishop of Olomouc. But given the fact that Mr Graubner turns 75 next year, the age at which church dignitaries traditionally retire, it is most likely just a temporary solution, says expert Petr Kratochvíl, head of the Institute of International relations in Prague.

“The election’s result was certainly a surprise, especially because the choice was so prolonged. We had been waiting for years and everybody hoped that there would be a new strong name for a longer period of time to stabilize the Czech Church, which is clearly not the case.

“This is a transitional Archbishop and I am sure that the search for his replacement has already started. So it is really just a transitional time and we are again waiting for his successor.”

Why do is it taking the Catholic Church so long to find a proper successor, not just a temporary one?

“There are multiple problems to this. The first of those is that the selection procedure is very secretive, so nobody really knows what stage of the selection we are in at a particular moment in time.

“Number two, which is also important, is that for the global Catholic Church and for Pope Francis, the Czech Church is not particularly important. Francis’s interest and focus is elsewhere, it’s on the global, in particular the Southern Church.

Dominik Duka,  Jan Graubner | Photo: Michal Krumphanzl,  ČTK

“The third is that the previous Nuncio, Monsignor Balvo, who was here in Prague, made a proposal which was rejected, so we had to go for another round and that extended the process even beyond what we expected.”

Can Jan Graubner make any difference in the Czech Catholic Church, given the fact that he will probably serve in the post only for a temporary period?

“I think the important thing is that this choice is not really about making radical changes, it is more about continuity. The important thing is that Cardinal Duka and Archbishop Graubner are quite close ideologically speaking. They belong to the same conservative wing which is very dominant among the Czech catholic hierarchy.

“I also think that the idea is that the only difference between him and Cardinal Duka is probably related to how politically exposed he is. Cardinal Duka has very strong and very personal ties to some far-right political parties, movements and politicians. This is not really the case with Archbishop Graubner.

“I believe the idea is to keep a low profile, to partially depoliticize the Czech Catholic leadership but also not really introduce any radical changes whatsoever.”

What are the biggest challenges awaiting Jan Graubner in the post of Prague Archbishop?

“For me it is really the big question which will await any future Archbishop of Prague and that is the tension that is I think visible these days to everyone between the rhetoric and focus and ideas of Pope Francis, who is a reformer Pope, on the one hand and on the other the views of Czech bishops, including Archbishop Graubner, which are much more conservative, much more in line in what we had in Czech Catholicism in the last decade.

“So this tension I think will become more and more visible in the coming years so the big question is how this tension can be addressed.

“Again, my answer would be we cannot really expect any radically new answer from Archbishop Graubner and will have to wait for his successor with the big answer if any is forthcoming.”