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The Excommunication of Father Gromon


Those, who regard our times as a period of religious tolerance and dialogue were rather surprised at the news that the Primate of the Hungarian Catholic Church excommunicated a parish priest from the Church. Fortunately, this type of punishment does not any longer involve physical torture or the stake. However, it does signify even today just how narrow the tolerance limit of the Church is in dogmatic matters. What was then the belief that warranted excommunication in the case of the Budapest priest?

„And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain,” wrote the Apostle Paul in his First Epistle to the Corinthians (15:14). A few lines further down he adds that, with the resurrection of Christ, „the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death (15:26).” The firm faith of early Christians that death can be overcome and was overcome with the resurrection of Christ has ever since then been one of the most fundamental doctrines – dogmas, dogmata in Greek – of devout Christians. Many Christians define themselves precisely by their belief in resurrection – in addition to beliefs in corporeal manifestation of God, the divinity of Christ, or the Holy Trinity.

Apart from the Unitarians, who deny the Holy Trinity and whose Christianity therefore doubted by some, all the Christian denominations confess and teach these dogmas. The Catholic Church – different from the Protestants – makes it compulsory for its adherents to believe in the dogmas, and in fact declares that whosoever does not accept them is guilty of heresy, and, as an heretic, excommunitaces himself from the Church.

Excommunication is what is happening in Hungary today to András Gromon (Gromon András in Hungarian), a 45-year-old parish priest of the Budapest-Széphalom parish in Budapest.  A few weeks ago, he recieved a letter from Archbishop László Paskai of the Esztergom-Budapest diocese, calling him to give up serving as a Catholic priest because „that demands professing and preaching Catholic teachings, whereas he is propagating tenets that are sharply contradictory to the teachings of the Church”.

The parish priest was not willing to do so. He said that his congregation voted on the matter, and the decisive majority of the congregation – 319 out of 328 – would like him to stay.

At that point, the above mentioned Archbishop, proceeding in accordance with the laws of the Catholic Church (Codex Iuris Canonici, or CIC) established after consultation with two parish priests that, since Gromon had been preaching views – chiefly his denial of the ressurrection of Christ – in conflict with the teachings of the Catholic Church, he was an heretic by definition. The Archbishop cited Canon 751 of the CIC that says: „Heresy is the obstinate denial or doubting, after baptism, of some truth to be accepted by devine and Catholic faith.” Heresy is to be automatically followed – as stated in Canon 1364 of the CIC and also quoted by the Primate – by excommunication (excommunicatio latae sententiae). In the case of a priest this involves – on the basis of Canon 1331 – a ban on operating as a priest and the loss of all church offices.

The offence of the priest thus excommunicated from the Church, but refusing the decision and continuing to confess himself a Catholic, was that he translated, published and distributed The Real Jesus (Der wirkliche Jesus), a book published in 1988 by the now 80-year-old Catholic Theologian, the German Karl Herbst, and even preached the tenets therein contained from the pulpit. The Budapest parish priest – like the German author who pictured Jesus as a man, only a man seeking God and whom he translated – obstinately doubts that on the third day after his crucifixion he rose from the dead. Gromon (like Herbst) states that Jesus had not died, but due to fortunate combination of chance occurrances, he survived crucifixion and came to live from apparent death in the grave.

Since the Second Vatican Council in 1962-1965, which went on record as a pastoral council that proclaimed renewal and did not create dogmas, Gromon is probably the first man to be excommunicated from the Church for rejecting a fundamental canon. At least no similar case was discovered in the documents available.

The comment of András Máté-Tóth, a professor of religious studies and editor-in-chief of the Catholic periodical Egyházfórum (Church Forum) was: „This probably does not mean that elsewhere bishops refrain from passing similar decisions, but rather that priests rarely confess believes like those postulated by Gromon.”  A most prominent Hungarian expert in Church law voices the opinion that, „according to the records in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, the official publication of the Holy See, there heve been altogether fewer than one-hundred Catholics excommunicated from the Church since the Second Vatican Council”.

According to information of Kathpress, a Catholic news agency based in Vienna, church officials announced excommunications, or threatened with excommunication, for the following reasons: abortion, activity as a maffioso, fraternicide, blasphemy or sacrilege, revishing or desecrating a cemetery, traiding in weapons or drugs, tape-recording of confessions, conversion to a different religion, and – as in the case of the French Bishop Marcel LeFebvre – the forbidden consecration of a bishop. (The fact that LeFebvre regularly contested the statements of the Second Vatican Council and of the Pope, calling them ’traitors’, did not in itself entail such a severe sentence.)

In Hungary excommunication as a punishment „specially reserved for the competence of the Apostolic Holy See” was imposed, after 1956, on the communist collaborator „peace priests” Miklós Beresztóczy and Richárd Horváth, both of them Members of Parliament, as, despite te express prohibition by Cardinal József Mindszenty and the Congregation of Faith of the Vatican, they had pursued political activity. However, because of pressure from the State Office of Religious Affairs, these excommunication sentences were not oficially announced in Hungary. Richard Horvath, for instance, was not prevented from officiating as a parish priest in Saint Stephen’s Cathedral in Budapest, and was actually absolved in 1971, after Mindszenty left for the West. Similarly, political considerations were in the background of the suspension from preastly duties – a punishment significantly milder than the excommunication – of the Nicaraguan priest Ernesto Cardenal, who acted as minister of culture in the Sandinista government, and in the case of several other Latin-American priests who adhered to the school of „Liberation Theology”.

Deprivation of the right of teaching on behalf of the Church is a punishment that has become applicable only to theologians. (nem priests??). This sentence was imposed on the Tübingen theologian Hans Küng, originally Swiss, who voiced his own opinion on the divinity of Jesus; and, a decade later, on Eugen Drewermann of Paderborn, a theologian any psychoanalist who doubted the immaculate conception of the Holy Mary.

In Hungary in 1981 two priests belonging to the Catholic Grassroot Community „Bokor” were suspended for half a year each, moreover they were ousted from their field of work. Laszlo Kovacs, since then pensioned, was given the punishment, because, having recieved the supporting votes of the young people, he preached at a youth gathering at Hajós despite the prohibition by Archbishop József Ijjas of Kalocsa. About two weeks afterwards, another Bokor Community member was suspended because, as a pacifist, he had criticized the festive sermon by Archbishop László Lékai of Esztergom, who preached on the occasion of August 20th (a national and Church holiday in Hungary) that the defence of the country was a sacred duty. The suspended pacifist was the same András Gromon who has now been excommunicated.

The Budapest-Széphalom parish priest who holds views different from the official church doctrine about resurrection and who was now for this excommunicated with final effect, himself admits that according to Church law – though not according to the Gospel – he counts for an heretic. However, refusing to recognize the „inquisition proceedings” as he called them, he has no intention either to appeal to decision, or to  found a new denomination. Neither does he wish to join the Unitarians whose faith is similar to his. What he wants least of all, he says, is to withraw anything he preached. He continues to consider himself a Catholic priest who still enjoys the support of his parish. He regards excommunication as unchristian as „Jesus himself did not excommunicate anyone, in fact he forgave even Peter and Judas, the disciples who denied or betrayed him”. Nonetheless, he says, if he is forcibly removed, he will, of course, leave, though he will want to continue meeting those of his adherents who wish to hear his teachings, though then he will not address them as a priest but just as an ordinary layman.

Ferenc Gerloczy (Gerlóczy Ferenc in Hungarian)

(HVG, 4th May, 1996) 


related article:

Faith today

Hungarian versions:

Gromon plébános kiközösítése

Hit és most

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