“It was the time of the amnesty – the first one. A great number of priests and bishops were released at that time. I was also summoned and they told me: ´So, Mr. Otčenášek (they said Mister!), we know this was no vacation time for you here, after you pull yourself together a bit, we will come to you again and we will show you evidence that Vatican commits political mistakes (we are not interested in religious ones) and you will only say: ´Well, I feel troubled by that as well, and I too regret it.´ And I told them in front of everybody: ´But I cannot say that, it will be like giving you one finger and you taking all my hand, if I did, people would not be able to trust me then…´ They began: ´You scoundrel… take him back!´ He stepped even closer to me, slapped me in my face (in the 1960s this was not done so much anymore!)- in front of everyone, in front of the whole delegation, he was probably so disappointed he could not restrain himself. After that, I was taken to the Kartouzy prison, and I had to spend two more years behind the bars for having refused to say that I was sorry that the Pope was making political mistakes. Of course, this may be possible, he makes them, he does… but to say this in all this complexity at that time would have equalled treason.”
“For some time, the Jesuit professors and pedagogues thought that I would join their order, but then they told me I rather ought to become a diocese priest, because I had very poor parents and as a diocese priest I would have a better chance to support them not only financially, but also to have them live with me in a rectory when they got old, etc. The enjoyed a long life, my mom died while I was already in prison. When they broke the news to me, they said that had I behaved, they would have allowed me to go to my mother’s funeral, but that instead that they would not let me. My daddy died even later, when I was relatively free, but still it was very difficult to obtain permissions so that I could bury him myself. They are now both buried in that new cemetery in Meziříčí.”
“In Želiv they were bringing us meals from a kitchen, where friars worked as cooks, there were many of them interned there. One day, we found in our soup an ampoule with the message that Stalin just died. We then knelt behind closed door and we prayed that God would forgive those terrible crimes, and naturally also that the situation would now get better. But suddenly a warden, who was passing by, noticed us, and he kicked into the door and said: ´All the world is now crying for having lost its father, and you here are giving thanks to that god of yours…´ He was not able to understand that we also prayed for our enemies, although what we had to endure there was difficult.”
“When I got into prison, they already kept us priests separate from lay people. For they knew we encouraged them – don’t give in, Lord God will not let it continue this way, even though God’s judgment does not come quickly, hold on! Our guards did not like to hear things like that, and therefore they isolated us completely. One time they tested me, they put me among lay prisoners for about three weeks, watching whether I would secretly ordain somebody a priest. They already knew I was a bishop. I have never admitted that, it was great secret; I was not even supposed to tell it to my parents. But then, if something was to be done, you needed to give some kind of a hint.”
“Unfortunately, there was nothing like this, not even in Rome afterward, and sometimes we were sorry that they had not prepared us more – for instance in Rome, where they have could anticipated that we would be interrogated here, or that our studies in Rome would be considered an act of conspiracy. Sometimes, when we were in prison, we thought that while we had been in the Nepomuceum college, we should have been taught at least us some boxing moves. Not that we would want to fight with those state police agents, but that in case you got hit or kicked, you would not be taken by surprise by that so much. We have never experienced any form of physical punishment since our childhood years.”
Hradec Králové - arcibiskupská rezidence, 12.05.2006
Be good, have a pure heart, and the clever ones will help you with the rest.
Karel Otčenášek was born in České Meziříčí in 1920. As he says, he felt the call for priesthood early as a child, and thanks to help of a local priest, he was accepted to the famous archbishopric secondary school in Prague-Bubeneč. After graduation he entered the seminary in Hradec Králové, where he was to spend the five years of his formation leading to priesthood. However, universities were closed down by the Nazis shortly after, and Otčenášek left for Rome to complete his studies, and remained there to the end of the war. He returned from Rome immediately after the war, already as a priest, and he began his pastoral service. He was a member of a progressive group of Catholic priests, who strove for a deeper and more genuine Christian faith and its application in daily life. Like many young priests of that time, Otčenášek was also influenced, among other, by thoughts of the Croatian Jesuit Kolakovič. Naturally, in this way he gained the attention of the communists, and after the communist takeover, his ministry was at risk. In 1950, when it was obvious that most bishops would become interned, he was as a thirty-year-old ordained a bishop by his predecessor Mořic Pícha. The ordination was to remain absolutely secret, even to his own parents. After the end of internment in Želiv, Otčenášek again refused to comply with the demands of the regime, and he became imprisoned for the second time. After several months of investigation, he was sentenced to 13 years of imprisonment for high treason. He served his sentence in prisons in Mírov, Leopoldov, and in Valdice-Kartouzy. Unlike thousands of other political prisoners, he was not released in the amnesty of 1960, and he left the prison only in 1962. Further, he was to work only in manual professions, and he was naturally not allowed to return to his diocese. After being granted the state approval for his church activity, he began his ministry as a priest in devastated border regions, and he took his legitimate bishop’s office as late as December 1989. In 1998 he passed the administration of the Hradec Králové bishopric to Dominik Duka and he was promoted by Pope John Paul II to an archbishop’s position. After the revolution of 1989 he was active in many educational and cultural projects. He also has merit in the reconstruction of the episcopal palace in Hradec Králové. He was awarded the State Decoration of 1st class (1995), and became an honorary citizen of many towns in which he had served after the war and during the totalitarian era. He died on May 23rd, 2011 in Hradec Králové.