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Vague Vatican treaty only defers debate

Vatican state secretary Angelo Sodano and Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda signed a treaty between Slovakia and the Vatican on November 24, an act the PM dubbed a "milestone" in Slovak history which would "strengthen the international position of Slovakia".
The treaty defines the general legal position of the Catholic Church in Slovakia and protects the right of Catholic priests to keep confessional secrets from state organs like the police. But apart from such gains, the document was viewed as very general by legal analysts and parliamentary politicians who said that the vagueness of the treaty presaged future sub-treaties promising to be both more specific and more controversial.

Vatican state secretary Angelo Sodano and Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda signed a treaty between Slovakia and the Vatican on November 24, an act the PM dubbed a "milestone" in Slovak history which would "strengthen the international position of Slovakia".

The treaty defines the general legal position of the Catholic Church in Slovakia and protects the right of Catholic priests to keep confessional secrets from state organs like the police. But apart from such gains, the document was viewed as very general by legal analysts and parliamentary politicians who said that the vagueness of the treaty presaged future sub-treaties promising to be both more specific and more controversial.

The expected sub-treaties are to deal with issues such as state-financing of the Catholic Church, Catholic education in state schools, spiritual services in the army and police, and issues of 'objections of conscience', relating particularly to medical employees and their protection from prosecution if, for example, they refused to perform abortions on religious grounds.

These issues were included in the original Vatican Treaty, but were omitted in the final draft after being hotly debated in parliament. Similarly, the treaty avoids the issues of divorce and homosexuality.

Although the ruling coalition has agreed to support ratification of the treaty, scheduled for November 30, several politicians have already warned that future discussions on the sub-treaties could be contested.

"We will support this general treaty," said Peter Weiss, an MP for the reformed communist Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ). "But we won't sign blank checks to say that we'll support the following sub-treaties. There will surely be big discussions in the future."

Pavol Hamžík, head of the coalition Party of Civic Reconciliation (SOP) added on November 29 that his party "sees certain risks in the future with respect to these sub-treaties. Many questions remain open."

Dzurinda, for his part, stressed the importance of the treaty, which Pope John Paul II described as "creat[ing] an atmosphere which will contribute to the common good of all Slovaks". Slovak legal analysts, meanwhile, questioned the signing, saying that it would not improve Slovakia's international image and would likely result in the necessity to change existing laws on religions.

"International treaties have preference over domestic laws, and we'll have to adjust Slovak laws to be in line with this [Vatican] treaty," said Katarína Závacká, head of the Institute of State and Law in Bratislava. "My question is, why do we need this document at all?"

But representatives of the Christian Democrats (KDH) party stood by the signing of the treaty. KDH member František Mikloško said the treaty should not be viewed as a legal document, but rather a symbol of Slovakia's respect for the Catholic Church.

"This treaty is not a treaty with another state, but a treaty with a generally accepted moral institution," he said. "It confirms another aspect of Slovakia, that we respect authority."

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