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SLOVAK WORD OF THE WEEK

Vizitácia

IF YOU had mentioned the term ‘vizitácia’ just a month ago, most people would have imagined a bunch of doctors standing around a hospital bed checking whether your appendectomy recovery was going as expected.

IF YOU had mentioned the term ‘vizitácia’ just a month ago, most people would have imagined a bunch of doctors standing around a hospital bed checking whether your appendectomy recovery was going as expected.

But although the actual process seems equally unpleasant, it turns out an actual visitation is not quite the same as the morning medical ‘vizita’. As every schoolchild (or at least the Catholic ones) now knows, the aim of a visitation is to find out whether a diocese is doing what it should. If not, it seems, the bishop has to go.

The recall of Archbishop Róbert Bezák is an exceptional phenomenon in Slovakia – never before has a high-ranking church official been removed from office. This in a country where a priest once stood at the head of a fascist system, and where collaboration with communist secret police among the clergy was later common. The lack of any explanation for why Bezák was dismissed has just added to the controversy – even insiders are still at a loss when it comes to the reasons for the unexpected move.

Which leads to the most interesting part of the entire debate: to what degree the local church hierarchy should adhere to the same standards of democracy and openness as other public institutions. Clerics say that the church has its own traditions, which should be respected. But there are two arguments for why it is not so simple.

First, the church receives state funding, which pays for the wages of priests. And second, the state has a treaty with the Vatican that guarantees the church a special status in various areas. The Bezák controversy is unlikely to lead to any shift in the relationship between the church and the state.

But perhaps more people will start asking just why they are paying for this institution. Maybe if the money went into education or health care, at least the vizitas might get a little more pleasant.

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