When Communist officials first came to power in Czechoslovakia in 1948, undermining and eradicating religion became a top priority.
The Marxists tried to co-opt the Roman Catholic Church with a “patriotic” organization, loyal to the regime, known as Catholic Action.
The government began paying priests’ salaries – something not a single priest refused – in order to win their loyalty. The Office of Religious Affairs placed some of its loyal priests in positions of ecclesiastical authority. Yet the bishops maintained fidelity.
Failing at counterfeiting, the government resorted to confiscation.
During 1949 that the party leadership began planning an operation that would both bring monasteries under the control of the state and crackdown on the various holy orders in Czechoslovakia.
The orders were wound up in ‘Operation K’ (K for klastery, monasteries). On the night of 13 April 1950, State Security operatives, policemen and People’s Militia units surrounded 75 Czech and 62 Slovak monasteries.
Some clergymen were murdered, while others found themselves sharing prison cells with murderers or the insane, or they were sent to labor camps or placed in the army. Secret police planted weapons in a monastery and carried out a show trial accusing Catholic priests of spying. The ordained spent many years in prison.
Two weeks later, 2000 monks were taken off to concentration camps and subjected to forced labour.
Prague ordered all monasteries closed, resulting in a massive seizure of church property. The Communist government plundered 429 buildings belonging to male monastic orders, 670 buildings belonging to female orders, some 2,000 works of art, another 2,000 historical artifacts, and 1.8 million books.
The nunneries were similarly liquidated between June and August 1950, involving slightly over 10 000 sisters.
It was not till 18 years later, when a wind of change blew during the Prague Spring, that 8264 members of religious orders were able to request the Ministry of Culture to allow the restoration of the monasteries, mentioning in their appeal that they had collectively spent 42 763 years in prison or other internments.’
As for the bishops, they were either interned or featured in show trials with Soviet advisers behind the scenes, to receive prison sentences of about 20 years up to life imprisonment. The standard verdict was ‘espionage on behalf of the Vatican.’
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