Felix Maria Davídek - founder of the underground church in Czechoslovakia

Felix Maria Davídek, photo: Enemy, CC BY-SA 3.0

January 12 marks the centenary of the birth of Felix Maria Davídek a secretly ordained bishop and founder of the underground church in Czechoslovakia. His community, the Koinotés, which was founded in the 1960s, created an alternative to the official, very closely watched Church. However in his efforts to spread the faith, he went against the wishes of the Roman Catholic Church.

Felix Maria Davídek was ordained a priest on 29 June 1945 in the Diocese of Brno, just three years before the communist coup which declared a war on the Catholic Church and persecuted its representatives. In 1950 he was tried for his spiritual activities, an alleged attempt to escape from the country and for hiding a radio transmitter and sentenced to 24 years in jail. The time spent in prison did not break his spirit, in fact when he was released prematurely in 1964, he practically had to be thrown out of jail because he refused to accept the amnesty as a form of protest against “the illegal procedure of the judiciary in his case.”

He believed strongly in the right to freedom of religion and upon his release in 1964 he was secretly ordained a bishop and founded the secret church Koinotés. He would hold secret seminars, which were primarily intended for the preparation of future priests. In 1965, these meetings spread throughout Czechoslovakia. Davidek's teaching was very complex and in many ways progressive. The bishop placed special emphasis on keeping his disciples constantly broadening their horizons through art, discussing everything from films, exhibitions, music and plays of the time. In addition to an active approach to art, he recommended that future priests take language courses and study various other disciplines. He himself was very interested in cybernetics, for example.

Dominik Duka,  photo: Adam Kebrt / Czech Radio

Davidek ordained a whole generation of priests, out of sight of the then regime, far overstepping his powers. He ordained several married men, and also three women. The Vatican ordered him to stop, but he disregarded the order allegedly believing that it was misinformation from the communist secret police. Prague Archbishop Dominik Duka says it was his way of resisting the persecution of the Communist regime.

“He harboured the fear that especially after 1968 the Russians would come and deport our priests to Siberia. That led him to err –he basically ordained anyone with a vocation, of his own free will, so that there would always be priests “in reserve”. ”

In 1978 the Vatican ordered Davídek to cease performing the duties of a bishop and the ordinations were declared invalid. Still, he continued serving the underground church, holding lectures and celebrating mass in secret locations. Although he devoted his whole life to the struggle for religious freedom he did not live to see the fall of communism in 1989 dying of heart failure at the age of 67, a year before the Velvet Revolution.