Bishops' gospel branded as heresy by angry government

An April 23 open letter signed by nine out of 13 Slovak bishops addressed the moral climate in Slovakia and criticized the government's handling of public issues. The bishops claimed that they had only wanted to express the concerns of the communities they served, but Premier Vladimír Mečiar dismissed the appeal as one-sided interference in the state's affairs.
"We ask and expect [that the government] respect the Constitutional Court's decisions without reservations, that it hold democratic elections...[and] let people elect their president," the letter stated. The bishops blamed the government and parliament for Slovakia's corrupt privatization process, artificially nurtured ethnic hatreds, manipulative election law amendment, dubious amnesties, and held all sides responsible for not addressing Slovakia's general social decline.

An April 23 open letter signed by nine out of 13 Slovak bishops addressed the moral climate in Slovakia and criticized the government's handling of public issues. The bishops claimed that they had only wanted to express the concerns of the communities they served, but Premier Vladimír Mečiar dismissed the appeal as one-sided interference in the state's affairs.

"We ask and expect [that the government] respect the Constitutional Court's decisions without reservations, that it hold democratic elections...[and] let people elect their president," the letter stated. The bishops blamed the government and parliament for Slovakia's corrupt privatization process, artificially nurtured ethnic hatreds, manipulative election law amendment, dubious amnesties, and held all sides responsible for not addressing Slovakia's general social decline.

The government acted quickly to prevent the new gospel from spreading by branding it the work of individuals rather than an entire institution. Mečiar said that the bishops had been wrong to present "their call as the opinion of the entire Slovak Church, because the leading church officials, Archbishop Ján Sokol and Cardinal Ján Korec, didn't sign the letter."

Although Mečiar promised that his cabinet would deal officially with the letter, the government's response has so far been only unofficial. "The letter...interprets the Slovak political situation from one side only and increases the tension and polarization of society," a cabinet statement said.

Bringing heavier artillery into service, HZDS Vice-Chairman Augustín Marián Húska charged that the bishops' formulations had been "unfortunately chosen and hysteria-provoking," while adding he appreciated the fact that some bishops refused to be "manipulated into [signing it]."

Peter Sokol, Secretary General of the governing coalition SNS party, supported Huska by saying that his party respected Archbishop Sokol and Cardinal Korec for not signing the letter. "We appreciate more the standpoint which was not expressed," he said, implying that by remaining silent, the Church's highest officials had expressed disagreement with the contents of the letter.

In fact, the nine bishops who signed the document never claimed to speak for the whole Church, but instead wrote the letter in the name of "the community of believers who [they] represent and whose interests [they] defend," as the letter puts it.

Addressing the issue of the bishops who did not sign the appeal, Anton Neuwirth, Slovakia's former ambassador to the Vatican, said "those who didn't sign it will surely do something else to prevent the appearance of such shortcomings [as those mentioned in the letter]."

His belief was corroborated by Cardinal Korec's office, which in a separate statement stressed that Korec had taken a stand on public matters, expressing his opinion on three various occasions in the Slovak media since last December. By doing so, the statement read, Korec addressed "the most serious questions of our life...clearly and critically."

Unlike government representatives, almost all opposition parties praised the letter. "Their letter is not harsh, like some people say, it is only truthful," wrote František Šebej, the Democratic Party (DU) Vice-Chairman, in an official statement.

Mikuláš Dzurinda, leader of the largest opposition coalition, the SDK, said the letter had been a turning point, explaining that the current situation in Slovakia was so serious that nobody could afford to stand silent. "The bishops addressed those who have the remedy for public issues in their hands. And that's undoubtedly the government and parliament," Dzurinda added.

Ján Budaj, another DU Vice-Chairman, said the government could not deny the letter's truthfulness. "There are many decent people who breathed a sigh of relief when they heard that the bishops had enough courage and insight to identify the problems around them correctly," he said.

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