PARLIAMENTARY speaker and KDH chairman Pavol Hrušovský met Pope John Paul II in the Vatican at the end of March.
The Justice Ministry recently announced that it has prepared a draft of the so-called conscientious objectors treaty between Slovakia and the Vatican to secure religious Slovaks the right to refuse work that puts them in conflict with their faith and conscience.
Under the terms of the treaty, employees could refuse to work on Sundays and Christian holidays, gynaecologists could refuse to carry out abortions or prescribe contraception, judges would be able to refuse divorce cases, and teachers to refuse to teach sex education.
The treaty, however, needs the support of the cabinet and parliament before it becomes effective, and first reactions to the draft have shown that reaching agreement on the treaty - which is strongly backed by the ruling Christian Democratic Party (KDH) - may not be easy.
Robert Fico, head of the influential parliamentary opposition party Smer, said he would not support the proposal. He said the initiative was all about introducing ideology into politics and had no support in the constitution.
"It is another attempt to bring a narrow KDH agenda into state politics," Fico said.
The Catholic Church has a strong position in Slovakia, where 83 per cent of the population are believers. Of that group, nearly 70 per cent say they are Catholic, according to the 2001 national census.
Fico insisted that despite its high number of Catholics, Slovakia is a country where people still believe in the right to think freely.
Nevertheless, Catholic Church officials and the KDH insist that the treaty would improve the lives of most Slovaks.
"I am convinced that the treaty would be advantageous for all Slovak citizens," the speaker of parliament and KDH chairman Pavol Hrušovský said on the private TV channel Markíza on April 15.
Marián Gavenda, spokesman for the Conference of Slovak Bishops (KBS) told The Slovak Spectator he hoped the legislative process could be completed by autumn this year, when Pope John Paul II is scheduled to visit Slovakia.
"I think the treaty [preparation] is coming along well, and we hope it will be ready by September to coincide with Pope John Paul II's visit to Slovakia," Gavenda said.
"The treaty is designed to help faithful people who are citizens but sometimes encounter various problems regarding their faith and [work] requirements," he added.
But representatives of some organisations, whose work would be influenced by the treaty, have already voiced their concerns.
Juraj Majchrák, head of the Association of Slovak Judges (ZSS), said: "According to Slovak law, judges are not allowed to go on strike or otherwise undermine the workings of the courts."
If a judge decided not to take a divorce case because of his religion, problems could arise in courts, Majchrák said.
"If someone decides to be a judge and later comes and says I have conscientious objection to carrying out divorces, that would create problems.
"We will most certainly present our objections to the proposal," he said.
Another potentially problematic area is the medical sphere, where doctors would be able to refuse to carry out abortions or prescribe contraception.
Gynaecologist Peter Trajanov said he thought it was "a matter for each doctor's conscience" whether he or she wanted to carry out abortions or prescribe contraception, with or without the proposed treaty.
"If a doctor does not want to carry out [an abortion], I accept it," he said.
He also said he had never heard of a doctor who refused to prescribe contraception for religious reasons, although he admitted such doctors probably existed.
Trajanov said that all doctors should bear in mind that they are obliged to help people in need whenever they required medical help.
"I think a patient has a right to be treated whenever treatment is needed. That means that it is not appropriate for a doctor to choose whether he will or will not see patients on Sundays, for example. I am convinced that above all I am here to provide care and treatment to people."
If approved, the treaty would cause fewer problems in schools, experts predicted.
Cecília Gunišová, deputy principal of Bratislava's combined elementary and secondary grammar school in Košická Street, said: "Teachers have never refused to teach sex education for religious reasons, and I don't think that would happen even if the treaty was signed."
Problems, however, could arise in the general employment sphere, as under the treaty employers would be forced to grant their employees days off on Sundays and Christian holidays.
If the treaty is approved, Slovakia would be the first state to have such an agreement with the Holy See.
28. Apr 2003 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová