After years of alienation under the former government of Vladimír Mečiar, the Slovak Catholic church has finally found a saviour in Justice Minister Ján Čarnogurský's Christian Democratic Movement (KDH). As the strongest member party in the ruling Slovak Democratic Coalition, the KDH renewed its call in December for three proposals that guarantee the supremacy of the Catholic order in Slovakia: an official treaty with the Vatican, the foundation of a Catholic university and equal funding for state and church schools.
The KDH proposals were originally dropped from the government programme in November at the insistence of the former communist SDĽ party, causing Čarnogurský to withdraw his support for the document. But with 65% of Slovaks claiming the Catholic faith, the KDH proposals have since found new ears in the governing coalition.
On December 22, Rudolf Baláž, the Catholic chairman of the Slovak Bishops' Conference (KBS), met Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda, himself a KDH deputy, to discuss church and state relations. "We managed easily to bridge things that were unbridgeable in the past," Baláž said.
Not everyone is satisfied with the new rapport between the Catholic church and the government, however. Other Slovak churches have grumbled that the Catholic faith is being shown favoritism, while some of Čarnogurský's government colleagues say the KDH proposals are politically divisive, and should be abandoned in favour of a less incendiary law on general church and state relations.
"We lack a law that would set out the parameters for relations between the state and churches," agreed Peter Mulík, head of Institute for Relations between State and Churches. "An entirely new law should be approved which would reflect the needs of the churches on the basis of mutual cooperation among them," Mulík said.
Mulík stressed that such a law should define the church's role in society, and would reflect recent trends in church and state relations within EU countries.
Vice-premier for Human and Minority Rights Pál Csáky said he was also in favour of passing a law which would outline relations between the state and individual churches.
"I agree that first we have to set certain rules and embed them in a law," Csáky said during his meeting with the Bishop General of the Evangelical Church in Slovakia, Július Filo, on December 11. Csáky added, however, that opinion within the ruling coalition was not unanimous on the issue, and said that further negotiations would have to be held.
Čarnogurský stuck to his guns, however, saying he saw no need either to abandon his proposals or adopt a law. "The Christian churches have existed for two thousand years and they can define their roles themselves," he argued. "The churches care for the moral state of society, which is the basis for all other aspects. This cannot be defined by law: The role of the church simply exists."
Premier Dzurinda, caught between KDH and SDĽ hardliners in the coalition, attempted to pour oil on troubled waters by promising to speed up work on the Vatican treaty and the equal financing project for church schools. Regarding the Catholic university, he said, the Education Ministry would cooperate with Baláž's Bishops' Conference to produce a basic document for the foundation of the institution.
But Baláž himself stressed that it was necessary first to call a truce between the warring government factions. "If Slovakia does not have a stable government, we can draw whatever projects we want, but it will be difficult to implement them," he said.
Čarnogurský's proposals have not only divided the governing coalition, but also the Slovak church community. The Evangelical and Lutheran churches both feel that if Slovakia were to first conclude a treaty with the Vatican, any church-state legislation that was passed afterwards would be overshadowed by the Catholic bias of the Slovak state.
"If the treaty is signed before the law [is passed], internal legislation would have to be adapted to the treaty," said Evangelical Bishop Filo. "If the treaty were concluded before the law, it would grant an advantage to the Catholic Church." Filo added that the law should set conditions for concluding treaties and agreements between the state and particular churches.
The Christian Democrats' Čarnogurský, however, argued that the treaty with the Holy See should be signed as soon as possible. "I don't see any reason to postpone the signing of the Vatican treaty until the other churches can sign their bilateral treaties whether with the Slovak Republic or some other party," Čarnogurský said.
The Vatican is currently studying a draft treaty between Slovakia and the Holy See, which was originally meant to be signed by the end of 1997. The former Mečiar cabinet derailed the signing by insisting that the Vatican notify the government of bishops to be appointed in Slovakia before the appointments were made.
The independent SITA press agency reported on December 22 that a new treaty had been ready before September's national elections in Slovakia, but that the Vatican had delayed its signing until the results of elections were known. The new treaty would outline the participation of the Catholic Church in public affairs, as well as the system of church financing in Slovakia.