THIS year's £1.1-million Templeton Prize has been awarded to a
Czech Roman Catholic priest who defied Soviet rule to support the
underground Church, and who has now become an advocate of
Monsignor Tomáš Halík (above), Professor of the
Sociology of Religion at Charles University, in Prague, said on
Tuesday that it was a surprise and a "great honour" to win the
Prize. He said he would use the money to support his work.
The Templeton Prize was established in 1972 by the
philanthropist Sir John Templeton to reward "outstanding
contributions in affirming life's spiritual dimension".
The value of the prize is always set to exceed that of the Nobel
Prize, and past winners include Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama.
Mgr Halík, who is 65, said that he grew up in a secular family, and
was first drawn to faith by reading English RC writers such as
Graham Greene and G. K. Chesterton.
"Then I saw priests who had spent many years in prison [under
the Communist Czechoslovakian regime]," he said. "But they were not
broken, but mature people, and very ecumenical. They were for me
the inspiration to become a believer."
The only official seminary in Czechoslovakia was controlled by
the secret police. Mgr Halík had been labelled an "enemy of the
regime" by the Communist government; so he went underground to
study theology, and was ordained in secret in East Germany. So
dangerous was his position that he could not even tell his mother
that he had become a priest and was preparing for the fall of
Mgr Halík said: "Our intention was not just to have changes to
economic and political structures, but also of the moral climate of
society. For democracy, it is im-portant to have a moral
After the 1989 Velvet Revolution overthrew Soviet rule in
Czechoslovakia, Mgr Halík began to travel and to write, finding a
new focus on fostering dialogue between faiths. His books have been
translated into 18 languages.
He said that he had led the first joint service with an Anglican
cleric in Prague - a memorial service for Diana, Princess of
Mgr Halík also said that he longed to see the RC Church change
how it spoke to those outside it. "The Church shouldn't just be the
home of the people who have identified with Christianity, but also
with the seekers.
"When evangelism is just monologing it becomes indoctrination.
People are allergic to indoctrination after Communism - it needs to
"The Catholic Church has a problem. Both liberalism and
conservatism are wrong because they are too concentrated on the
outward structures. The Church will not be saved by changing the
structures.We should not go to the left or to the right, but go
He said, however, that he believed Pope Francis was a "great
sign of hope" for the RC Church, and was fulfilling his dream of a
pope who was "near to the people".He also condemned the recent
Russian military operation in Crimea, and the Orthodox Church in
"I think the Russian Church needs to be more critical of this
Russian nationalism and aggression, but the Orthodox Church is too
closely connected to political power," he said. "One of the reasons
I became a Catholic was because the Church was the voice against
the Communist power. It's our role to say to the people of power:
'You are not God, but just a man.'"