The Vatican has just ordained father of four Jan Kofroň into the Roman Catholic priesthood. This makes Mr Kofroň the Czech Republic’s first ever married Roman Catholic (Western Rite) priest. But this is not the first time that Father Kofroň has been ordained. He was originally made a priest in 1970s communist Czechoslovakia, where he subsequently worked illegally in the country’s underground church. Following the revolution, the Vatican declared his ordination invalid, but in recent weeks, it has reversed its decision. I met Father Kofroň to ask him how it was that, as an already married man, he became involved in the priesthood:
“A friend of mine who was a Salesian priest, and window cleaner on Wenceslas Square in Prague, discovered a link with a very illegal, very hidden form of the church.I was asked if I was open to the idea of priesthood, even though I was married. It was surprising, of course, to me, but nonetheless I was told that the way was open, and that permission had been granted by Pope John Paul VI.
“But after the Velvet Revolution, Rome started to have some doubts about the validity of these married priests and their ordinations.”
I heard that after the revolution, priests who were married and who found themselves in your situation were able to practice Eastern Rite Catholicism, but not Western Rite Catholicism. Why were you so adamant about practicing Western Rite Catholicism?
“It became a question of my conscience. It was strange – just imagine the situation, there are several thousand Ukrainians here who also need, of course, priests performing Greek Catholic services – but after 1998, when 18 of my colleagues accepted ordination into the Greek Catholic Church – there was an overflow of Eastern Rite priests.”
Do you think that there is an inconsistency in the Vatican’s stance on married priests? If you are an Anglican vicar who becomes a Catholic priest, you are allowed to be married, and be ordained a Catholic priest. Do you think that it is slightly unfair that for people like yourself, there are many difficulties that an Anglican vicar just wouldn’t have?
“I think it is understandable that the Catholic Church has a sort of fear of its priests not being celibate. But I think that the time for married people being ordained priests is coming. I don’t think the time for it is just yet, but it is coming. I am convinced about that.”