Tests prove remains in mass grave belonged to “miracle” priest tortured to death in 1950s

Josef Toufar, photo: Czech Television

Forensic tests have shown that remains removed a mass grave in Prague belong to a priest tortured to death by the communist secret police. Sixty-five years later, Josef Toufar is finally set to get a decent burial in the village where he was accused of faking a “miracle”.

Josef Toufar,  photo: Czech Television
Parishioners at a church in the village of Číhošť in Vysočina claimed to have witnessed a cross moving of its own volition during a mass in December 1949. News of what became known as the “Číhošť miracle” spread.

Amid a campaign of persecution against Czechoslovakia’s churches, the communist StB secret police arrested the 47-year-old Father Josef Toufar, who had officiated at the mass, the following month.

The StB brutally tortured Toufar, making him sign a confession that he had faked the moving cross under orders from Rome.

They also forced him to appear in a staged “re-enactment”, showing how he had used ropes to create the “miracle”, which later featured in a propaganda film. The priest died the next day.

His body was dumped in a mass grave in a cemetery in Prague’s Ďáblice that was reported to also contain body parts from post mortems and embryos from abortions.

Toufar’s family were not informed of the location of his remains. Nevertheless, they campaigned from 1954 for his exhumation and are now going to get the decent funeral that they have long sought.

Recent forensic tests of remains thought to be his have proven that they do indeed belong to the priest; the skeleton’s pelvic girdle showed evidence of surgery corresponding to that undergone by Toufar, while its DNA corresponded to that of family members.

Číhošť church,  photo: Tomáš Vodňanský
Priest Tomáš Petráček is overseeing moves to have the cleric beatified.

“We didn’t have many doubts. In fact we didn’t have any doubts, because there was clear archaeological proof that the remains were his. The location of the remains corresponded precisely to written records. There was also evidence of surgery of the abdominal cavity, which we know he underwent. So we were more or less sure. But still it’s a huge relief to have our expectations confirmed.”

Josef Toufar will be buried at the church in Číhošť where he served on July 12, while other events are also planned for the village in what will be a weekend of celebrations expected to draw thousands of people.

The exhumation was approved by Prague councillors after a request from the Roman Catholic Church.

It had previously begun a process to have the priest beatified on the grounds that he stood up heroically to his torture by the StB and refused to testify against the church or other members of the clergy.