Electing a new Old Catholic Bishop for the Czech Republic

Želiv Monastery © Ricky Yates

Želiv Monastery © Ricky Yates

As I have explained previously in this blog, the Prague Anglican congregation legally functions as the English-speaking parish of the Old Catholic Church in the Czech Republic or Farní obec Starokatolické církve pro vericí anglického jazyka v Praze. This came about as the result of a covenant signed in September 2000 by Bishop John Hind, the then Anglican Bishop of the Diocese in Europe, and Bishop Dušan Hejbal of the Old Catholic Church in the Czech Republic.

Under the covenant, we are treated both as a Chaplaincy in the Anglican Diocese in Europe, and as a constituent parish of the Czech Old Catholic Church. One consequence of this is that I am expected, along with one lay person from my congregation, to attend any meeting of the Synod of the Old Catholic Church in the Czech Republic when they take place. Fortunately, this is normally only once every three years as the meetings, which usually take place over a couple of days, are conducted entirely in Czech 🙁

Back in October 2010, Sybille I broke into our holiday to attend a Synod meeting held in Moravia, as mentioned in this post, whilst three years later in 2013, I attended the next Synod meeting, along with a lay representative, which was conveniently held in Prague. But last year, Bishop Dušan called an extra Synod meeting, in order to gain approval for his proposal to stay on as Bishop for a further three years beyond his sixty-fifth birthday in July 2016, exercising a provision within the Church’s constitution. Unfortunately, the date of that Synod meeting fell in the middle of our previously booked holiday in Poland, so I was unable to attend, nor could we find a lay representative to go either.

At that meeting in October 2015, the Synod decided not to accept Bishop Dušan’s proposal. Thus was set in motion, a procedure that had not happened for over twenty years – a further Synod meeting was called to take place in April 2016, to elect a new Old Catholic Bishop. As I have said numerous times, I do realise that ‘a new Old Catholic Bishop’, does sound like a contradiction in terms 🙂

This Synod meeting took place between the evening of Thursday 7th and the morning of Saturday 9th April at Želiv Monastery, located in the Vysocina/Highlands, about 100km south-east of Prague. I was accompanied by one of my Churchwardens, Stephen Weeks, who the Church Council had previously elected to be their lay representative. After an opening Eucharist, followed by our evening meal, the Synod meeting began.

Fortunately, whilst having supper, Stephen and I were overheard speaking to each other in English, by a lay member of the Synod called Vlad’ka. Like many of the Old Catholic laity, she had no idea of our existence as an English-speaking parish in the Czech Old Catholic Church and asked us in English, who we were and what we were doing there. Once we had explained, she kindly offered to interpret for us as she is a teacher of English to vocational students in Brno. She sat between us, interpreting all that was being said, enabling Stephen and I to follow the proceedings.

The evening session began with the two candidates to be the new Bishop, each making a presentation as to their understanding of the role and what they hoped to achieve if elected. There was then a short break, during which time written questions could be submitted to the moderator for the candidates to answer in the following session. Stephen and I compiled a couple of questions which we wanted to ask, which Vlad’ka kindly translated into Czech for us to submit.

The question and answer session went on until it was 22.00 which had previously been agreed as the finishing time for that evening. But it resumed again after breakfast, the following morning. Issues raised included the candidates attitude to same-sex blessings, what was the first things they would do upon becoming bishop and the question of the ordination of women as priests. Currently, the Czech Old Catholic Church only ordain women deacon, unlike their fellow Old Catholics in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Switzerland who do ordain women as priest.

We raised the specific question of their attitude to us being able to advertise for a successor to me, being open to ordained Anglican priests of either gender. My Church Council are unanimous that this should be the case, and fortunately we now have an Archdeacon and Bishop who are committed to supporting us in this. We did not get as clear an answer as we would like from the candidates, but we certainly did not get an outright rejection on the issue.

By the middle of Friday morning, there were no further questions. So we moved to a coffee break, to be followed by the election of the new Bishop. However, before the election could take place, a technical issue was raised. There were meant to be fifty-six Synod delegates but only fifty-five were present. The constitution provides that to be elected, a candidate needs a three fifths majority. Was it to be three fifths of fifty-five or fifty-six? After some debate, we voted that it should be three fifths of fifty-six 🙂

It took three rounds of voting before a conclusive result was achieved. The Synod elected Pavel Stránský, currently the Old Catholic priest in Zlín, to be their new Bishop. He was given a standing ovation and presented with a chain and crucifix, showing him to be the Bishop-elect. He then made a formal declaration, signed various papers and both he and Bishop Dušan were presented with flowers.

After lunch, the Synod meeting elected a new Synodal Council, who with the new bishop, will run the Church for the next three years. Various other committees were also elected and then, with no further business to conduct, the meeting ended with the singing of the Te Deum.

Exactly when Bishop-elect Pavel will be consecrated has yet to be decided but I’ve been told informally that it will probably be sometime in September or October.

Yours Truly with the Bishop-elect, Pavel Stránský © Ricky Yates

Yours Truly with the Bishop-elect, Pavel Stránský © Ricky Yates

7 comments to Electing a new Old Catholic Bishop for the Czech Republic

  • I hadn’t realized that the Old Catholics had such autonomous regions that some could or could not decide to admit women to various orders, etc. I’m glad for your sake — and ours, as your readers! — that you stumbled onto a willing translator to help you follow the discussion(s). Very interesting!

    • Ricky

      Yes – the Old Catholics of the Union of Utrecht function very much like the individual Anglican provinces. And yes – our willing translator was an absolute godsend 🙂

  • Greetings!
    Here is a comment from an ordained women priest in the Swedish church. I am only in the very beginning of learning how the Anglican church work in the Anglican world, now I learn that it works in quite different ways abroad. The Swedish church, my church, does have parishes in several countries, 19 I think. In many of them there is a close ecumenical focus, sometimes with some catholic or orthodox church. In those cases, a woman priest is unthinkable. I’m glad to hear about this new bishop!

    And it was a story so interesting that I’m sorry it ended. We selected a new bishop in our diocese last year, that was a different story altogether. Prague is a very beautiful city, as is the Czech countryside. If I may, I’ll be happy to look into your other posts so that I can understand how it all works out and how you came to be in Prague!! Blessings!!

    • Ricky

      Welcome Solveig! It is nice to have you here, commenting for the first time. Having just visited your linked blog, I guess you’ve found me via my friend & former ministerial colleague Perpetua, of ‘Perpetually in Transit’.

      I know the Church of Sweden does have congregations outside of Sweden. I’ve met the Swedish priest in Vienna who is an ordained woman!

      Please do explore the blog where you will find out more about me & how I arrived in Prague, seven & a half years ago. It does now have 350 posts! And there will be more here about Bishop-elect Pavel in due course, I’m sure.

  • Hello again!!

    Yes, there are women priests, and I’m glad to hear that things have changed a bit. In some of those parishes the vicar is male and if there is another ministry, that can be either or. Those that I know of say that some catholic parishes prefers speaking to the male vicar. If that is about to change, I’m happy about it, although I’ve never been bothered by priests with a different view concerning ordination. Some of my best friends are opposed to women as priests. We have fyi one of the old vicars from Vienna living in our parish, and HE is troubled by it but never would hold it against me, we can have very good contact as siblings in Christ.

    Yes, I found this blog via Perpetua, such a wonderful person , and I am glad to be here!!! The Swedish blogsites really offers nothing of value for the middle-aged. There are priest sites, but I like to write about other things as well, trying not to preach……Thank you for this warm welcome!!

  • Sean Mccann

    Hi Ricky,
    I enjoyed reading this post in the light of our visit to Wroclaw last year and a conversation Kate and I had with two gentlemen of the Polish Old Catholic Church. They left us in no doubt as to their churches views on the ordination of women!! ‘We are in communion with the Anglican Church – in some matters, but not this, not this!’. Hopefully their Czech counterparts will be more open to facilitating the appointment of a priest of whichever sex. Forgive my long silence, a bout of ill health over the past 6 weeks left me without the energy or the mental ability to string words together coherently. I’ve been enjoying your posts as much as ever and while I was ‘laid up’ I couldn’t help wondering (yet again) where you get the time and energy to post such interesting articles, thank you for the enjoyment they bring.

    • Ricky

      Hi Sean,

      It is nice to have you back commenting here. I did wonder where you were & I’m very sorry to hear of your recent ill health 🙁

      Yes – the Polish Old Catholics tend to be even more conservative than the Czech Old Catholics, when it comes to the ordination of women. I don’t think they even ordain women to the diaconate. The issue Stephen I raised was the attitude of the Czech episcopal candidates to us advertising for an existing ordained Anglican priest of either gender. We were not asking them to ordain a female, should she be the best candidate. To be fair to Bishop-elect Pavel, he did say that he had no problem working with female Old Catholic priests at international gatherings of Old Catholics.