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The Liquidation of the Greek Catholic Church in Communist Czechoslovakia, 1948–50

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 February 2021

Prešov University in Prešov, Slovakia
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This article examines the liquidation of the Greek Catholic Church in Czechoslovakia following the Communist takeover in February 1948. The Greek Catholic Church was to be separated from the mother Catholic Church and incorporated into the Orthodox Church. The process culminated at the irregular Sobor (synod) of Prešov held on 28 April 1950. The synod was orchestrated and headed by the ruling Communist party, which enforced its conclusions. Greek Catholics were either outlawed or compelled to become Orthodox, although their situation slightly brightened during the Prague Spring of 1968 when their Church became legal again.

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1 Coranič, J., ‘Dvesto rokov od kánonického erigovania Prešovského gréckokatolíckeho biskupstva (22 September 1818)’, Historia Ecclesiastica ix (2018/1), 94114Google Scholar.

2 The population of Czechoslovakia in 1945 was about 12 million, of which 9.5 million professed the Catholic faith. The Church had thirteen dioceses, nineteen bishops and around 6,000 diocesan priests. There were 887 students in thirteen seminaries, 2,000 priests living in 258 monasteries and 10,500 nuns in 750 convents. After the resettlement of citizens of German and Hungarian nationalities and after the liquidation of the Greek Catholic Church in 1950, the number of Catholics was reduced to 8.94 million (76.42% of the population). In 1950s Slovakia only 0.26% of population was without adherence to any faith.

3 Pešek, J., ‘Štát a katolícka cirkev na začiatku komunistickej totality’, 50 rokov od 50. rokov, Bratislava 2000, 59Google Scholar.

4 In 1945–90 Czechoslovakia, the National Front was a coalition of political parties (later also some civil society organisations) originally established to take over the governance of the state after the Second World War. It was established in March 1945 during the Moscow negotiations regarding the Košice Government Program (Košický vládny program). The Communist party, which played a crucial role in the National Front from the very beginning, used its influence to seize power in the country. After February 1948 the National Front became one of the instruments of the totalitarian political system. It was dissolved on 7 February 1990.

5 Fedor, M., Z dejín gréckokatolíckej cirkvi v Československu, 1945–50, Košice 1993, 64Google Scholar.

6 Šturák, P., Dejiny Gréckokatolíckej cirkvi v Československu v rokoch, 1945–89, Prešov 1999, 79Google Scholar.

7 Klement Gottwald, prime minister and later the president of Czechoslovakia; Rudolf Slánsky, general secretary of the of the KSČ's central committee; Alexej Čepička held several state positions: general secretary of the National Front's central action committee, head of the State Office for Religious Affairs, Minister of Justice, Minister of Defence of Czechoslovakia.

8 The ŠtB was the secret security service in Czechoslovakia that was at once an investigative, intelligence and counter-intelligence agency.

9 Vaško, V., Neumlčená: kronika Katolícke církve v Československu po druhé světové válce II, Praha 1990, 66Google Scholar.

10 This church committee of the ÚV KSČ was comprised of ministers and members of the party leadership. Since it was originally composed of six members, the committee became known as ‘the Church Six’. As Minister of Education, Sciences and Arts Zdeněk Nejedlý attended the later meetings. The Church Six would meet until the end of April 1950. In May 1950 there were some changes in the composition of the committee. Z. Fierlinger replaced A. Čepička as the chairperson; V. Clementis was replaced by J. Havelka. In June 1950, L. Holdoš joined the committee and by the end of the same year, Z. Nejedlý was replaced by V. Nosek: Balík, S. and Hanuš, J., Katolícka církev v Československu, 1945–89, Brno 2007, 20Google Scholar.

11 Vnuk, F., Pokus o schizmu, Bratislava 1996, 14Google Scholar.

12 During the forty years of the Communist totalitarian regime, two organisations of ‘progressive priests’ collaborating with the regime existed in Czechoslovakia. From 1950 to 1968 it was Mierové hnutie katolíckeho duchovenstva (The Peace Movement of the Catholic Clergy) and from 1968 to 1989 Združenie katolíckych duchovných “Pacem in Terris” (Association of the Catholic Clergy ‘Pacem in Terris’). The most prominent priests in the service of the Communist regime were Jan Mara, Bohuš Černocký, Jozef Fiala and Josef Plojhar in the Czech Republic and Alexander Horák and Jozef Lukačovič in Slovakia. See also P. Jakubčin, Pastieri v osídlach moci: komunistický režim a katolícki kňazi na Slovensku v rokoch 1948–68, Bratislava 2012, 216, and J. Haľko, ‘Niektoré aspekty vzťahu komunizmu a Cirkvi v Československu – mierové hnutie katolíckeho duchovenstva’, Deo gratias, Esztergom–Piliscsaba 2003, 75–84.

13 Originally, Catholic Action was the name of a group of lay Catholics initiated by Pope Pius xi in his encyclical Ubi Arcano of December 1922.

14 AGAP, fond Bežná agenda, series Spisy, 1949, inv. no. 455, sign. 2012.

15 Šturák, Dejiny Gréckokatolíckej cirkvi, 80.

16 Kaplan, K., Nekrvavá revoluce, Praha 1993, 206Google Scholar.

17 Kuruc, J., ‘Katolícka cirkev na Slovensku od skončenia druhej svetovej vojny po pád komunizmu’, Viera a život vii (1997/2), 138Google Scholar.

18 Vnuk, Pokus o schizmu, 110.

19 Pešek, J. and Barnovský, M., Štátna moc a cirkvi na Slovensku, 1948–53, Bratislava 1997, 23Google Scholar.

20 Konečný, S., ‘K niektorým otázkam pravoslavizácie na Slovensku v roku 1950’, in Rusíni: otázky dejín a kultúry, Prešov 1994, 125Google Scholar.

21 See also Pekár, M., ‘Vplyv národných a náboženských princípov na charakter slovenskej štátnosti v r. 1939–45’, in Švorc, P. and Harbuľová, Ľ. and Schwarz, K. (eds), Cirkvi a národy strednej Európy (1800–50), Prešov 2008, 330Google Scholar.

22 The Ukrainian Insurgent Army arose out of separate militant formations of the OUN.

23 Michal Šmigeľ closely studied the activities of the Banderites in Slovakia: Banderovci na Slovensku (1945–47): Niektoré aspekty pôsobenia jednotiek Ukrajinskej povstaleckej armády na území krajiny, Banská Bystrica 2008, 232.

24 The Greek Catholic Church in Slovakia has always comprised the faithful of three main nationalities: Rusyn, Slovak and Hungarian. Their proportion gradually changed in the course of the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the seventeenth century Rusyns formed the vast majority. In the nineteenth the number of Slovaks and Hungarians rose. In the first half of the twentieth century, the number of Slovaks and Rusyns was almost the same. Hungarians accounted for 6–7% of the Greek Catholics in Slovakia.

25 G. J. Buranič was of Polish descent; his arrest by the German Gestapo in 1942 stopped him from completing his studies in theology. He was interned in several concentration camps. Following the end of the Second World War, he spent some time in Prešov. Bishop P. Gojdič persuaded him to take up a position in Prague where he helped to organise the transport of several people, mainly priests, to Bavaria.

26 A notification sent by the National Land Committee (in Prague) to the Greek Catholic Ordinariate in Prešov, dated 9 April 1947, about the detention of P. Hučko and G. J. Buranič. The Land National Committee requested Bishop Gojdič to remove Father Hučko from his office. See also AGAP, fond Bežná agenda, series Spisy, inv. no. 463, sign. 1140. The Ministry of Justice described the activities of the OUN: The organization active mainly in Poland operated also in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic where its members distributed leaflets inciting conflict with the existing establishment and encouraging the formation of an independent Ukraine which would include eastern Slovakia. The organization has centres in Poland and in Munich and uses messengers to maintain contacts in Czechoslovakia.’

27 On 28 July 1948 Bishop Gojdič sent a letter to minister Čepička objecting to their detention. In his letter, Gojdič stated that ‘it is against all laws, reason and justice, and it is a grave breach of the right to personal freedom to hold a person in police custody for such a long period of time. If the person in question did really commit a crime against the state and is found guilty based on concrete evidence, then the sentence should be imposed on him. If there is no corpus delicti, he should be released’: AGAP, Prezidiálne spisy, inv. no. 83, sign. 28.

28 Ibid. sign. 49.


29 The Union of Brest, 1595–6, brought into the Roman Catholic Church several million Ukrainian and Belorussian Orthodox living under Polish rule in Lithuania. They belonged to the Byzantine-Slavic rite and were under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan of Kiev. In 1589 Polish-Lithuanian Orthodox serfs came under the jurisdiction of the newly established Moscow Patriarchate (until then the Kiev Metropolia had been under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople). One way of avoiding dependence on the Moscow Patriarch was creating union with the Catholic Church. Polish-Lithuanian rulers supported the union for political reasons (to loosen the control of Moscow over the population in Little Russia [Ukrainians]), as well as for religious reasons (they were Catholics). The Union of Brest was permitted by Pope Clement viii in 1595. It was solemnly proclaimed at the synod in Brest held from 6 to 10 October 1596.

30 Vaško, Neumlčená II, 170.

31 These accusations were published in 1948 in a series of press releases in the magazine Ľud (The People) entitled ‘Pozadie jedného politického procesu’ (Behind the scenes of one political trial).

32 AGAP, Prezidiálne spisy, inv. no. 82, sign. 5.

33 SNA, fond: ÚV KSS – predsedníctvo, box 789.

34 The National Security Corps (Slovak: ZNB; Czech: SNB) – police armed force; it was a repressive unit of the executive power in Czechoslovakia. The ZNB comprised two separate organisations: Verejná Bezpečnosť (Public Security) and Štátna Bezpečnosť (State Security).

35 AGAP, Prezidiálne spisy, inv. no. 83, sign. 28.

36 Ibid. inv. no. 82, sign. 33.


37 Ibid.


38 Ibid.


39 Ibid.


40 Ibid.


41 Ibid.


42 P. Šturák, ‘50 rokov od 50 rokov’, 50 rokov od 50–tých rokov, Bratislava 2000, 42.

43 Š. Šutaj, ‘Akcia P’, Národná Obroda xxvii (1990), 38, 9.

44 K. Kaplan, Stát a církev v Československu, 1948–53, Brno 1993, 115.

45 V. Vaško, Likvidace řeckokatolické církve, Kostelní Vydří 2007, 23–4.

46 Marie Bulínová, Milena Janišová and K. Kaplan, Církevní komise ÚV KSČ, 1949–1951, Brno 1994, 387.

47 The UNRP; Ukrainian: Українська Народна Рада Пряшівщини [Ukrainian National Assembly of Prjaševčina] was a political organisation in post-war Czechoslovakia uniting Ukrainian or Rusyn population in northeast Slovakia (the UNRP avoided using a term Rusyn; they believed that the Rusyn identity was just an artificial construct). The UNRP was established in Prešov on 1 March 1945 and was headed by Vasil Karaman. Other leading figures were Ivan Rohaľ-Iľkiv, Vasiľ Kapišovský and Peter Babej. The magazine Prjaševčina, published in Russian, became an official printed journal prioritising the Orthodox Church, praising the remarkable success of the USSR, and promoting Stalin's cult of personality.

48 Bulínová, Janišová and Kaplan, Církevní komise ÚV KSČ, 152.

49 SNA, fond: ÚV KSS, box 7. Zasadnutie Sekretariátu ÚV KSS 30. 3. 1950; see also Pešek and Barnovský, Štátna moc a cirkvi na Slovensku, 151.

50 Priaševčina vi, 27 Apr. 1950.

51 J. Bobák, Rusíni a akcia P, <>, 5–6.

52 Borza, P., Blahoslavený Vasiľ Hopko prešovský pomocný biskup (1904–76), Prešov 2003, 61Google Scholar.

53 SNA, fond ÚV KSS, box 795.

54 Fedor, Z dejín gréckokatolíckej cirkvi, 197.

55 The ŠtB frequently picked several priests and tried to ‘win’ them over for their own goals. It used various methods of persuasion, for example priests were promised high positions within the future church hierarchy. They believed that the conversion of some priests could encourage others and the ordinary faithful would follow. However, the ŠtB managed to ‘persuade’ only a few such priests, for instance Fr Michal Knapp (Maškovce parish), Dezider Schudich (Ďurďoš), Eliáš Kačur (Vyšný Mirošov), Anton Havrila (Michalovce), Pavol Bobalík (Hrabovčík) and Jozef Molčan (Kyjov).

56 Letz, Róbert, ‘Postavenie gréckokatolíckej cirkvi v Česko–Slovensku v rokoch 1945–68’, Historický časopis xliv (1996/2), 274Google Scholar.

57 Správa o sobore v Prešove od V. Ekarta z 29. apríla 1950: Státni ústřední archiv, Archiv Ústředního výboru KSČ, Praha (SÚA, AÚV KSČ), fond 100/24, vol. 49, archival unit 871; cf. Istoričeskij sobor duchovenstva i mirjan v Prjaševi: Svet pravoslávia, 3, 1950, no. 5, 67– 9; cf. Manifest gréckokatolíckych duchovných a veriacich, prijatý na sobore dňa 28. apríla 1950 v Prešove. Prešov 1950; cf. Spontánne rozhodnutie právoplatných zástupcov grécko – katolíckej cirkvi. Grécko-katolícki veriaci sa vrátili do lona pravoslávnej cirkvi: Hlas ľudu, 7. 5. 1950, 4–5.

58 Bishop Alexy (Alexander Petrovich Dekhterev) (2 May 1889–19 April 1959). When young, he worked in sea navigation, later as a journalist or a director of orphanages in the USSR. In 1934 he came to Slovakia, where he worked as an editor of the Prešovská Rus magazine. In 1935 he took religious vows in the village of Ladomirová. In 1938 he was ordained a priest at the age of forty-nine. During the Second World War Dekhterev worked as pastor in several places, such as Yugoslavia and Egypt. In 1949 the Moscow Patriarch Alexij relieved him for work in ČSR. On 30 December 1949 he was appointed bishop of the Orthodox Eparchy of Prešov. He stayed there until 1950. When he returned to the USSR, he was appointed as bishop in Vilnius (present-day Lithuania).

59 SÚA, AÚV KSČ, fond 100/24, vol. 49, archival unit 871.

60 Babjak, J., P. Michal Lacko, SJ informátor a formátor gréckokatolíkov, Trnava 1997, 81Google Scholar.

61 It is difficult to determine the exact number of delegates present at the sobor, since the numbers provided in various sources differ. The Communist press mentioned 820 delegates, 100 Greek Catholic priests and around 4,000 others. Vaško refers to 720 delegates, out of whom 40 were the Greek Catholic priests: Neumlčená II, 172; Kaplan mentions 73 priests: Stát a církev, 116. The Orthodox writers Š. Horkaj and Š. Pružinský mention 88 clergymen, though their list only contains 87 names: Pravoslávna cirkev na Slovensku v 19. a 20. storočí, Prešov 1998, 174–6.

62 Pešek and Barnovský, Štátna moc a cirkvi na Slovensku, 154.

63 There are several sources providing overall figures of Greek Catholic clergy in 1950. The figures vary. The primary church sources could be the most reliable. The last schematism (list of priests) of the Eparchy of Prešov was issued for the year 1948. As of 1948 there were 312 clergymen in public service in the whole eparchy (in pastoral service, teaching and administration, retired assisting priests, etc.). This means that for the year 1950 it is necessary to add new priests ordained in 1949 and 1950, and take into account that some priests would have died.

64 Michal Knap, Eliáš Kačúr, Ján Bihún, Anton Havrila, Andrej Tóth and Professor Dribňák from Humenné participated in the discussion: Pešek and Barnovský, Štátna moc a cirkvi na Slovensku, 154.

65 ‘Opis zápisnice zo soboru zaslaný exarchom Jelevferijom Z. Fierlingerovi 2. mája 1950’, SNA, fond SÚC, box 116.

66 Šturák, P., Otec biskup Pavol Gojdič, OSBM, Prešov 1997, 99Google Scholar.

67 Idem, Dejiny Gréckokatolíckej cirkvi, 80.

68 J. Babjak, Zostali verní: osudy gréckokatolíckych kňazov VIII, Košice 2001, 109, cf. his Michal Lacko, 82. Other published documents analysing the situation before, during and after the sobor are to be found in Mandzák, D. A., Dokumenty k akcii P: Prešovský sobor, Bratislava 2014, 759fGoogle Scholar.

69 Horňáček, J., Konfesné právo upravujúce postavenie gréckokatolíckej cirkvi na území Slovenska po roku 1918, Bratislava 2011, 110Google Scholar, cf. his ‘Prešovský sobor – jeho zákonnosť a právne následky’, in J. Coranič, P. Šturák and J. Koprivňáková (eds), Cirkev v okovách totalitného režimu, Prešov 2010, 116.

70 The number of Greek Catholics according to the census held in Czechoslovakia on 1 March 1950 was 225,495 in Slovakia and 32,862 in the Czech Republic: SNA, fond SŠÚ (Slovak Statistical Office), box 79, inv. no. 128.

71 Fedor, Z dejín Gréckokatolíckej cirkvi, 293.

72 Pešek and Barnovský, Štátna moc a cirkvi, 244–6.

73 Ibid. 247.


74 ‘Správa L. Holdoša Komisii pre cirkevné otázky pri Predsedníctve ÚV KSČ zo dňa 7. 11. 1950’, SNA, Bratislava, fond SIÚC, box 220.

75 ‘Správa o niektorých otázkach cirkevnej politiky na Slovensku, 5. 4. 1951’, SNA, Bratislava, fond ÚV KSS–sekr., box 17.

76 Ibid. box 239.


77 P. Marek, ‘Pokus dokončit likvidaci Řeckokatolícke církve v Československu: Akce 100’, in Coranič, Šturák and Koprivňáková, Cirkev v okovách totalitného režimu, 162.

78 In 1968 a referendum was held in 210 parishes. Of these 205 decided that their religious allegiance was Greek Catholic and only five wished to remain Orthodox. In 31 parishes, the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact armies delayed the referendum.

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