VISIT most Slovak towns and you will see that the most expensive, impressive, well-kept buildings belong to banks and insurance companies.
A look in most Slovak villages would show that the churches hold that position there.
But whilst banks and insurance companies finance the buildings from their profits, the village churches are financed by the state combined with donations from their congregations, those people living in the tumbledown houses around it.
It seems unfair that the 30 percent of non-Catholics in Slovakia should be paying for the upkeep of a religion they do not believe in. However, there is no problem with those who do believe in contributing to the church, as they already presumably do through donations at Sunday services.
As the state has already promised the Vatican (however unwisely) it will provide funds for the church, perhaps another mechanism could be used - one that already provides a way that this could be done without forcing non-believers to contribute.
The current tax system allows taxpayers to donate 1 percent of their taxes to a charity of their choice. If necessary, that percentage could be raised. Either way, this mechanism gives people the opportunity to finance churches through their taxes. And it gives those who do not want their taxes to support the church, a way of escaping it.
The Conference of Slovak Bishops spokesperson, Marián Gavanda, has commented that the church improves the nation's culture through organising concerts and cultural events. On those grounds, then, the church should be treated in the same way as all other cultural organisations, applying to the Culture Ministry for grants for particular events.
Finally, if you believe that the church is deserving of the current tax input, just look at an eastern Slovak village with crumbling housing and its church and ask yourself whether it is better for the church to get tax money or for the cash to reach the congregation in other ways. Social programmes would have more direct advantages for Slovak citizens than the trickledown benefits church officials claim state payments to the church produce.
5. May 2003 at 0:00