- Abandoned by the Vatican: My Clandestine Journey to Support Secret Priests Behind the Iron Curtain by Jack Doherty
There are some curiosities to note about this book from the outset. It is not a normal 442-page book. The type is large and double spaced, having about 250 words per page, and so it reads quickly. It is a self-published book, and this is a second curiosity. Such authors take upon themselves producing the text digitally, proofreading it themselves, and then marketing it online. (CreateSpace, an Amazon Company, helps in this endeavor.) There are surely expenses an author assumes in self-marketing a paperback before royalties might roll in but I could not discover them. Third, the title betrays a harshness, often severe, toward institutional Roman Catholicism that only becomes evident in the second portion of the book. [End Page 103]
The book’s first portion reads like a personal memoir. Doherty is an American Redemptorist priest pursuing a doctorate in theology in the late 1960s, first in Tübingen, then transferring to Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany. Beginning in March, 1969, he becomes ever more deeply involved in smuggling religious texts into Czechoslovakia, in the beginning making border crossings himself in a book-loaded car and later, when he was restricted from entering Czechoslovakia himself, by using mail. The Prague Spring of 1968 had eased postal restrictions vis-à-vis the West. I found his memoir rather heroic at this point. He had been assisting with liturgies at Patch Barracks near Stuttgart, a very large American military command facility. With the help of the service wives of the Catholic parish, he engineered an “Iron Curtain Book Project.” The parish would box for mailing thousands of religious texts, using unsuspicious Czech addresses supplied to him by the underground Czech Catholic Church. He had made a deal with the Herder Book Company for all of its “extra” books, and truck loads of Herder books morphed into 2–3 pound boxes of them shipped from the “off-base” addresses of parishioners. Thousands of books served an oppressed and persecuted Catholic Church, many of whose members never heard of the Second Vatican Council.
When he was making border crossings in 1968 bearing books, Doherty’s other aim was to make contact with the Czech and Slovak Redemptorists. This he did, especially with Father Jan Jaros, their superior in secret. These men, ministering under the Communist radar, had menial civilian jobs. Many had been imprisoned, some tortured. But all of them wanted their stories to be known and valued.
The book’s second portion is no longer first-person memoir in two senses: By September, 1971, Jack Doherty was no longer allowed into the Eastern Block, persona non grata in his words. Secondly, his tone becomes adversarial at the very outset of Part Two: “When the churches were no longer oppressed [by Communists] and the underground church became publically [sic] known, the Vatican treated with suspicion and distrust the secret bishops and priests who suffered and [End Page 104] were tortured and jailed under atheistic Marxist governments to preserve the faith. They were not offered church positions and were accused of not being ordained” properly (197).
Part One had situated three groups of Catholic priests: those few legitimately ordained and/or consecrated, acting somewhat openly, and known by the Vatican and the Communists to be Catholic clergy, such as Bishop, later Cardinal, Tomasek who participated at Vatican II; priests collaborators, either already spies when ordained or having been ordained and then making allegiance with Communism, called the “pacem in terris” clergy; and the secret bishops and priests (Doherty’s heroes) who moved so much in the shadows that not even Rome or legitimate local bishops knew most of them, and written records of their ordinations would have been too dangerous to maintain. Some of these clergy-in-secret were exposed, imprisoned, and tortured. Some married men were ordained because their family identities and secular jobs kept them undercover. Doherty relates a...