Let’s not be afraid to make our shoes dirty


What do Slovakia and Argentina have in common? We could answer: pope. From the perspective of an ordinary Slovak, Francis is a foreigner in Rome. However, he is a pope for both Argentine and Slovak Catholics. And he combines the South American, European and universal experience of a person close to those who are often marginalised on the grounds of their origin, life situation, social situation, gender or geographical location. On the outskirts of a city, company or continent. Even in Slovakia, the Pope of Argentina is not afraid to walk on dusty roads.

Pope Francis experienced Europe as a Jesuit and a priest in Germany. The German cultural field was the scene of a dialogue between theologians Joseph Ratzinger and Hans Küng about what the Second Vatican Council brought about and what it was intended to. Cardinal Walter Kasper, with his Christology, tried to get to the centre of the dialogue about what kind of Church this world needs at the turn of the millennium.

The faculties of theology in the German speaking area belong to the quality academic and pedagogical workplaces. The Churches belong to big and respected employers. The Catholic media is characterised by openness, transparency and criticism. Karl Lehmann was a theologian and chairman of the Bishops’ Conference of the German Cultural Area. He represented a top view, a critical perception of the world and Christianity in it including his office in the Church.


At the time of Francis’ human and theological maturation, the Catholic Church in Western Europe was the Church of solidarity and support for those in need. Slovak emigrant dissidents, like many other Christians around the world, needed and received support in their studies, construction of churches, charities, or in the struggle for survival. In terms of expertise and volume, the German Caritas Association, together with organisations such as the European Hilfsfond, Renovabis or Kirche in NOT, was among the bearers of the idea of solidarity and help for Christians around the world.

This aid even intensified after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Hundreds of Slovak Catholic churches were built with the support of German, Austrian and Swiss financial aid. The literature or equipment of a number of newly furnished seminaries or episcopal offices and parish centres comes from this area.

Jose Maria Bergoglio experienced this solidarity and Jesuit formation as well. And today he returns it to migrants and other marginalised minorities, whom he thinks and talks about, even though many think he should keep quiet. 

Love for abandoned and strangers

Thus, the Slovak public will remember the visit to Slovakia through the emphasis that Francis applied in the formation of Argentine seminarians. He walked on dusty pavements without being afraid of making his shoes dirty. This is also the reason for his visit to the Luník IX housing estate in Košice, known for its large Roma community, which is a challenge for the Church and society in Slovakia. Generational poverty in this community remains a vicious circle and a challenge for society and the Church. The self-sacrificing Catholic priests in this settlement deserve this attention. The Eucharist in this settlement will be more than just a symbol. It will be an example of the direction which Slovak society and the Christians in it should look.

Equality of all with all

Ecology and connection of all with all leads to co-responsibility. Both Fratelli Tutti and Laudato mention that in our responsibility for the world and its people, we all should strive for cooperation, empathy and belonging. Nature, environment and human dignity are unaware of regional differences. These are the regional differences that need to be noticed in such a small country as Slovakia. During three days of his stay, the Pope will symbolically move from east to west. He will experience a poor Roma settlement and the magnificent Basilica in Šaštín. Again, it is more than a symbol. Corruption and clientelism is not the main topic of Francis’ encyclicals. However, it is injustice carried by a social system that ignores social justice, human dignity and the sense of belonging.

Solidarity with the big world

Slovakia belongs to the winners of the processes in Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain. The Czech-Slovak story of peaceful division and the creation of two states was an example to the world. Both countries are now members of the European Union being in a community of successful and prosperous countries. The economic situation makes Slovakia, despite the existing social problems and regional differences, a full-fledged member of a prosperous and rich part of the world. That is why Slovakia must get ready to learn how to help and support those who need it even more.

In the world, there are numerous mission stations, medical missions or missions during natural disasters in Asia and Africa, where Slovak doctors, teachers, health professionals and social and humanitarian workers are active. They are a symbol that it is possible. However, the migration crisis has shown that Slovak society is struggling with foreigners and new global trends. It shies away from them and cannot take part in them in a responsible way. To this end, Francis is an inspiration too.

Church as an offer

When preparing the Synod on the Family 2015, Francis started asking questions. He turned to the local Churches to find out what they thought of how the Church was pastorally working at that time and where there was the greatest potential for a better action. He asked about divorced and remarried people, as well as family legislation but also about the legislation of new forms of cohabitation of people, including same sex cohabitation. Francis personally summarized the legacy of the Synod on the family in the post-Synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia – The Joy of Love. It is 2021 that was supposed to be a year of reflection on what this most important event at the universal level in the Church during his pontificate brought about.

Under Francis’ pastoral leadership, the Church became a field hospital he spoke about when he assumed office. Victims of sexual abuse, pandemic, migration crisis or a crisis of confidence and social cohesion are issues that the Roman Catholic Church cannot address. And no one even expects it to do so.

However, the Church is in a position to offer its human face to the alienated world. Christianity with a human face is the offer that Francis is working on. And he knows that much of what needs to be done will be done by his successors.

However, his offer of courage and the way on dusty pavements is a bold and perhaps also a provocative offer. The official Slovak Church will have something to be inspired by.


Miroslav Kocúr

What Church will Pope Francis find in Slovakia?

Church of John Paul II

According to the last Census in 2011, two thirds of the population in Slovakia considered themselves Catholic. Although many believers have left the Church since then, the Slovak Catholic Church is still the majority and mass one.

Pope Francis probably has no more critics in Slovakia than in other countries. But he definitely has fewer real fans here than anywhere else. Mentally, the Slovak Catholic Church is the Church of John Paul II.

The Polish pope was born just a few dozens of miles from the Slovak border. John Paul II visited Slovakia as many as three times between 1990-2003. He visited all Slovak dioceses, some repeatedly. Large outdoor masses were organised during all visits. He gave his speeches in Slovak, though not perfect, but likeably understandable. It can be said with certain exaggeration that every Slovak Catholic saw John Paul II in person, many of them more than once.

The legacy of John Paul was understandable.
He clearly defined what was good and what was bad.
What was virtue and what was sin.
This is close to the Slovak mentality.

Francis, however, is complicated.

He questions things that should be clear to any devoted Catholic.
With his attitudes, he questions “eternal truths” that should not be discussed.
He regularly meets people who are not likeable at all.
He does not have a clear answer to every question.

Challenges for the Church are the same everywhere

The Slovak Catholic Church faces the same challenges as all other Catholic churches in the world: significant decline in credibility, decrease in relevance, and loss of contact with younger generations.

Like many other Churches, the Slovak Catholic Church is unable to respond to the changes in society and to present and, in particular, live the Gospel message in a way that is comprehensible and relevant to the 21st century.
The Slovak society is also gradually finding out that the Catholic Church does not have answers to the questions that people ask about their lives.

The decline in church attendance is then only an inevitable consequence.

The tragedy of the Slovak Catholic Church is that it removes personalities who could represent hope for change.

Archbishop Bezák, who was able to appeal to both Christians and non-Christians in the media and in personal meetings and sought dialogue with society as a whole, was recalled by the Vatican authorities (with the assistance of local officials) without explanation after three years in office.

Unfortunately, the Salesian Antonio Srholec (died 2016), who survived a communist prison, cared for homeless people and even lived with them for many years, is no longer alive. He was pushed completely to the edge by his own church. Maybe that’s why he was free, open, and his interpretation of loving Christianity was understandable to everyone.

Despite the size and massiveness of the Slovak Church, no contemporary Catholic priest or bishop is a personality that could address a wider circle or have an overlap into the secular society.

What Pope Francis will find when he visits Slovakia

What will Pope Francis find when he visits Slovakia?

Traditionally oriented majority Church with leaders who are little charismatic.

Church that still plays an important role in the lives of many people, but no longer understands the modern world and is losing touch with the middle and young generation.

Church that does not want and can no longer reflect social trends and sees a solution in the return and strengthening of old traditions.

Church that indulges in mass actions and sacramentalism.

Church that is still highly clerical, underestimating the role of lay people and women and ignoring minorities.

Church that has not been able to fully deal with the dark sides of its past, is experiencing recurrences of right-wing extremism.

Church that is self-centred and has no vision for the future.

What will the visit of Pope Francis be like?

Slovak bishops tend to repeat the bon mot that the faith of Slovak Catholics is Marian and faithful to the pope.

The first is certainly true, several hundred thousand pilgrims gather on traditional Marian pilgrimages every year.

The latter is more questionable. Pope Francis does not evoke such spontaneous emotions among the people as his Polish predecessor. We can expect much lower participation of believers during Francis’s visit, partly also because of the pandemic.
Anyway, ordinary believers are likely to be looking forward to meeting the pope more than their bishops.

The President of the Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Zvolenský, declared about the Pope’s visit that he hoped that Pope Francis would bring encouragement to the Slovaks in faith.

However, some Catholics would prefer the Pope to symbolically “overturn the tables” of the stagnant waters of Slovak Catholicism.

However, it would be most beneficial for the whole Slovak Church if the visit of Francis opened the door to Jesus of the Gospel. Jesus, who is not a promoter of the ideology of conservatism or hierarchical monarchy, but who advocates those who are suffering and, above all places love to God and man.


Rastislav Kocan, Bratislava, Slovakia
Vice-chairman of ok21 – Open Christianity for 21st Century
e-mail: kocan (AT) ok21.sk

Slovakia – country to be visited by Pope Francis in September



Slovakia is quite a small country with 5 million inhabitants. It lies on the border of Eastern and Western Europe, between Russia and Germany, which has influenced its history for centuries. At present, Slovakia is a member of the European Union. Before the fall of the Soviet empire, it belonged to the communist bloc, among the so-called Soviet satellite states.   

Slovakia is a young country, gaining its independence only less than thirty years ago, in 1993. For many centuries it was part of Austria-Hungary and after its disintegration, together with the neighbouring Czech Republic, they created a joint state CzechoSlovakia.

Slovakia is still a relatively rural country, with about half of its population living outside the city. In recent years, however, it has undergone significant modernisation waves. It is currently a developed industrial country, where most per capita cars are manufactured worldwide.

The country is ethnically mixed, 10% of the Hungarian minority lives in the country and 5% of the population are Roma and 1% Ruthenians.  

There is a Catholic majority in the country

Slovakia is a conservative country where Christianity is the dominant religion. According to the 2011 Census, three-quarters of the population identified themselves with some kind of Christian religion, with 62% of the population being Roman Catholic. The specificity of Slovakia is that a relatively small, but compact minority of Greek Catholic believers live in the east of the country, who make up about 4% of the population.

The Greek Catholic Church is the Eastern Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite, which is in full communion with Rome. The liturgy and the manifestations of folk piety are very similar to the orthodox liturgy.

Although many Protestant intellectuals and national revivalists (especially in the 19th century) played an important role in the history of Slovakia, Protestant Churches are currently in a significant minority. The largest of them is the traditional Evangelical Lutheran Church. The second largest is the Calvinist Reformed Church, whose believers are predominantly Slovak citizens with Hungarian nationality.

Slovakia is a religiously closed society. There are only 18 state-recognised Churches in the country. With three exceptions, they are all Christian Churches. There is a law in the country that makes it practically impossible for other (new) Churches to officially register. Therefore, no official e.g. Islamic, Hindu or other religious association is now active in Slovakia. There is no official mosque, Hindu or Buddhist temple in the country. Islamic or Buddhist believers are thus forced to organise under non-religious structures. In practice, however, the religious life of non-Christians is not disturbed in any way, although they are practically not visible in public space at all.

Dominant Catholicism

Christianity arrived in Slovakia in the early Middle Ages, through Irish-Scottish missionaries. The Byzantine mission of Constantine and Methodius (9th century), who are considered to be those who evangelised the Slavs, had a great religious and cultural influence. However, the territory of today’s Slovakia was finally incorporated into Church structures as part of Catholic Hungary and later Austria-Hungary Empire. During the Reformation, Slovakia became almost completely Protestant for several decades, but very active re-Catholicization brought Slovakia back into the arms of Rome.

The 20th century was very significant for the history of Slovakia. The World War I marked the disintegration of Austria-Hungary. Slovakia merged with the neighbouring Czech nation, establishing a new joint state, Czechoslovakia.

From the more modern, Protestant Czechia, open to new ideas, new impulses arrived in Slovakia, which slowly began to change the country.

However, the modernisation of the country was interrupted by the rise of fascism in Europe. Shortly before the beginning of World War II, Hitler achieved the breakup of Czechoslovakia. Thus, for the first time in its history, Slovakia gained independence (for less than 7 years).

Slovakia was ruled by a Catholic political party, which, however, was completely dependent on the fascist German regime. It was the Catholic priest Jozef Tiso, who became the first president of Slovakia. Thus, during the war years, the Catholic Church had significant political power in an independent state as well.

Like most countries under the influence of Hitler’s Germany, Slovakia did not escape the tragedy of the Jews being moved en masse to concentration camps. More than 60,000 Slovak Jews never returned from the concentration camps.

Faith during the totalitarian regime

After the end of World War II, the territory of Slovakia came under the influence of the communist Soviet Union. The union of Czechia and Slovakia was renewed, re-establishing Czechoslovakia.

Following the example of the Soviet Union, the communist regime began to be introduced also in Czechoslovakia. It became a totalitarian state, which very severely persecuted not only the political opposition, but also any hint of resistance or disapproval of ordinary people.

The biggest enemy of the communist regime were the Churches, especially the dominant Catholic Church.

The persecution of the Church culminated in the 1950s, when the police raided all monasteries. All property was confiscated by the state, monasteries were abolished and all monks from all over the country were concentrated in one place (separately men’s and women’s orders). Many brave priests or bishops were murdered or sentenced by state authorities to long terms of imprisonment in labour camps.

The state gained control of the entire Church structure, confiscated Church property, and individual diocesan priests became “employees” of the state. The state also controlled all seminaries; religious literature was practically not published at all. No priest or bishop could be ordained or officially act without the consent of the regime.   

The Greek Catholic Church was particularly tragically affected by the communist regime. It was officially abolished by the totalitarian regime and all churches and believers were forcibly transferred to the Orthodox Church, which, by jurisdiction, belonged to the Patriarchate in Moscow. The Greek Catholic Church was partially restored only after 20 years and fully restored only after the fall of the communist regime in 1989.

Paradoxically, the period of persecution of Christians by the communist regime in Slovakia became the period when the Catholic Church in Slovakia gained the greatest prestige. Several independent groups were secretly formed in the “underground”, trying to live the authentic Christian faith. Many of them smuggled religious literature from abroad or manually typed on typewriters books that were officially banned. An unofficial “underground” pastoral care was carried out and theological courses were organised secretly inprivate  flats.

Even though there were also organised “networks” of underground communities, many groups did not communicate with each other for security reasons and did not even have to know about each other. Therefore, the experience of faith and lived theology was quite heterogeneous between individual communities.   

Towards the end of the communist regime in Slovakia, “Catholic dissent” was the strongest and most massive opposition force. The network of underground Christian communities was able to organise a massive signature event for religious freedom (which was significant because individual believers came out of anonymity for the first time and thus exposed themselves to the danger of repression) or a memorable peaceful “candle” demonstration in the centre of Bratislava, where despite great resistance of public authorities more than 5,000 believers gathered. After a few minutes, this demonstration was dispersed using water cannons and the organisers were arrested.

Vdieo presents official police video recording of the event (1988) with authentic orders of police officials to dissolve the demonstration. 


The communist regime was able to effectively isolate Slovakia from happenings in the world. The Second Vatican Council took place in the sixties and despite invitations from the Vatican, the communist regime allowed only two older Slovak bishops to participate, both, however, died shortly after the council. Few revivalist ideas of the Council reached Slovakia. Apart from the reform of the liturgy, the Slovak Church practically did not change after the council at all. Slovakia thus mentally remained in the captivity of the anti-modernist spirit of the First Vatican Council, which significantly affects the situation in the Church even today.

Despite the real, highly effective isolation of underground Christian communities from modern theological currents of thought, many of them, through their own authentic living of faith, came to very similar conclusions as the greatest contemporary theologians in their theoretical theological works.

An example could be one underground Catholic community, which came to an agreement that the time came, and it was necessary for pastoral care that women were ordained as Catholic priests. Ľudmila Javorová was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1970. The ordination was performed by the secret bishop F.M. Davídek, who himself received his episcopal ordination in a secret way in the environment of the underground Church. At least 7 women were ordained as priests by Davidek. In 1996 the Vatican declared the ordinations as invalid as they were women. Javarová lives today in Brno in the Czech Republic.

Fall of the communist regime and new freedom for the Church

For all believers, the fall of the communist regime in 1989 was a huge relief. The Catholic tradition turned out to be able to survive the decades of the totalitarian communist regime. Bishop Korec (later appointed Cardinal), who was ordained as a bishop secretly during the totalitarian regime and became one of the most respected main representatives of the “underground” Church, became the main figure of the “newly-free” Catholic Church.

The first years after gaining freedom meant a huge boom for all Churches. People returned to churches on a mass scale. Hundreds of new church buildings were built (the communist regime had not allowed any new churches to be built before). A flood of religious literature appeared in bookstores. Hundreds of new candidates for the priesthood enrolled at the seminaries.

However, the Church was not able to get the most out of the newly acquired freedom. Once again, significant efforts were made to influence the country’s political direction, and the Church again aspired to dominate the society. The state returned to the Church a great portion of the property that the communist regime had deprived the Church of. However, the Church was unable to effectively manage the acquired property.

Nationalist tendencies began to manifest themselves in much of society (including the Church). Disagreements between Czechs and Slovaks culminated in 1993, when Czechoslovakia split into two independent states – the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. Probably one of the most important legacies of Czechs and Slovaks with a global impact is the fact that the division of the country took place in a peaceful manner, after mutual agreement, when it was not necessary to fire a single shot (only hundreds of bottles of champagne were popped at celebrations in the streets).

After the breakup of Czechoslovakia, the Slovak bishops gained even more influence in society than they had had before, as the share of Catholics in Slovakia was significantly higher than in the former joint state.

However, the influence of the Church played a highly positive role as well. In 2003, a referendum was held on Slovakia’s accession to the European Union, which was supported by the bishops. It can be assumed that without their support, this key referendum would not have been successful.

What is Slovakia like today?

European trends have been penetrating also Slovakia in recent years, however. The wave of secularism and the loss of credibility of the Church is causing an outflow of believers. The Church is losing contact with the younger and partly also the middle generation. However, believers do not protest against the Church, but rather “vote with their feet.”

In order to restore the lost relevance of the Church, the Slovak bishops bet on the outbreak of a cultural war in society. In 2015, the Church, through the NGOs it influences, initiated a nationwide referendum aimed at the LGBTI community to tighten the already strict state laws regarding the LGBTI area. It also organised several mass marches “for life” with a pro-life agenda, which were attended by tens of thousands of people.

However, even these mass activities, which largely polarised society, did not increase the relevance of the Church. The Church has shifted significantly to the conservative spectrum, and an unbiased observer might get the impression that being a devout Catholic in Slovakia means predominantly being a supporter of conservative ideology.

The Census, which took place in the spring of this year, is expected to show a significant decline in the population registered with the Catholic Church. In recent years, the Catholic Church has faced a great outflow of believers and a loss of trust in society.
In addition, the COVID pandemic has shown several hesitant Catholics that it is possible to live without regular church attendance as well.

This is the Church that Pope Francis will find during his visit in September.

Traditional, mass, conservative.

Church that is closed and self-centred, losing relevance to people every year.

Church that lacks a vision for the future.


Rastislav Kocan, Bratislava, Slovakia
Vice-chairman of ok21 – Open Christianity for 21st Century
e-mail: kocan (AT) ok21.sk



Traditional Church above the abyss

Compared to other European countries, Slovak society can be described as traditional and conservative.

Slovakia ranks among the most religious countries in Europe. In the 2011 Census, 76% of the Slovak population identified themselves with some kind of Church. 66% of all Slovaks identified themselves as Catholics (Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic Church together).

The faith of ordinary people is also traditional and conservative. Attending the Sunday liturgy is a common part of many people’s lifestyles. Churches are still full on Sunday mornings, not only in the countryside. Before Easter and before Christmas, long queues are formed in front of the confessional booths. Slovak believers especially like Marian pilgrimages. It is common that the main Marian pilgrimages are attended by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every year.


Marian pilgrimage in Levoča, Slovakia (2018). The biggest annual pilgrimage in Slovakia.   


At the moment, no significant shortage of priests is perceivable in Slovakia; it is still not necessary to merge parishes or to invite priests from abroad in larger numbers.

During his visit to Slovakia, Irish Redemptorist Tony Flannery noted that Slovakia is now in a similar situation as Ireland a few decades ago.

However, the situation has significantly changed in recent years. Several sociological surveys show that religion plays an important role only for approximately 25-35% of the Slovak population. Even the unofficial results of this year’s Census, which has not been officially evaluated yet, predict a very significant decrease in the number of people who identified themselves with some kind of Church. It can be said with some exaggeration that former Catholics have become the largest religious group in Slovakia.

The Church does not implement (or does not publish) any systematic statistics on the attendance of Sunday’s masses. It can range from 5% in large cities to 50% in rural areas.

However, it is clear that the Church is losing contact with the young and, in part, the middle generation of believers. Many resigned and stopped considering the Catholic Church to be their spiritual home and relevant to their lives. Some people “emigrated” from the sterile Church environment to very traditional conservative religious-political groups or to various charismatic communities. (It is interesting that even the Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic is a member of the charismatic Catholic community).

The decline in the interest in religion lived in an ecclesiastic society is also visible in the rapidly falling number of seminarians and new priests. In the seminars, the seminarians go through a “filter” that can be passed not by the most capable, but by the most obedient and loyal. 

Position of the Slovak Church

Although the Slovak Republic is officially a secular state, Slovak Churches enjoy several advantages. The Slovak Republic has concluded an intergovernmental treaty with the Holy See, which brings many privileges to the Catholic Church. However, subsequently, all other state-recognised Churches also received similar privileges.

Financing of Churches by state

In Slovakia, all Churches recognised by the state have the right to a financial contribution from the state. This contribution is not very high, but it is an essential part of the funding of every Church. Other sources include voluntary contributions from believers and property income.

Slovak believers have not yet become accustomed to financing their Church directly. Voluntary contributions are collected practically only during the liturgy and alone can cover only a small part of the total costs. However, believers sometimes support their parish priest directly with non-monetary, but also (untaxed) financial donations.

On the other hand, practically all work related to the operation of parishes (cleaning the church and parsonage, function of the beadle, organist, parish administration…) is done by believers on a voluntary basis and is not financially rewarded, or only with very symbolic sums.

The Church lags far behind in accounting transparency. The Church accounting as a whole is not published, partial data in various levels of detail are published by individual parishes. However, there is no complete list of Church property. Even in comparison with the transparency of other organisations in Slovakia, the Church is completely left behind.

Church schools and universities

Religious education or ethics are compulsory at all Slovak primary schools (parents can choose between them). When teaching religious education at all schools, children are automatically prepared to receive the sacraments. Thus, not only the teaching of religion takes place at school, but also catechesis and the transmission of faith. Teachers of religious education are employees of the state and are paid by the state in the same way as teachers of other subjects. However, it is up to the local bishop to decide who can teach religious education. The Church also operates its own network of primary and secondary schools, which are fully funded by the state.

The situation is similar at the university level as well. There are several theological faculties in Slovakia and even an independent Catholic university. Although all theological faculties, including the Catholic University, are financed by the state, in fact only the Church decides about the content of education and individual teachers.

There is no Church-independent institution operating in the Slovak Republic that would educate at the university level in the field of theology or similar.

In so doing, the Church virtually controls all theological science and theological education and does not allow any deviation from the official Catholic doctrine. However, such factual censorship does not help the quality of theological discussion. The level of theological education in Slovakia is relatively low.

Church in media

The Catholic Church owns a nationwide Catholic television and radio station, a printed Catholic weekly, and its web version. Everything that is published in these media is very strictly controlled and there is no room for a free discussion in the Catholic media. The audience of the Catholic media is largely limited to the hard core, mostly older, Catholic believers.

Public television and radio (owned by the state) also have a relatively strong position in Slovakia. As part of their broadcast, some time is also devoted to religious topics. This broadcast is also under the influence of the Catholic Church.

Clerical and strictly hierarchical

The Slovak Catholic Church is very clerical and strictly hierarchical. Lay people (not to mention women) don’t hold any important Church positions.

Especially in the countryside, and predominantly among Greek Catholic believers, the priest (and even more the bishop) has a very high social status. An ordinary believer does not dare to publicly argue with the views of the priest. The bishop cannot be virtually criticised by Catholic believers in public. He still enjoys a kind of monarchical status in the Church hierarchy.

However, none of this applies to the perception of secular society. No contemporary Slovak Catholic bishop has built an informal moral authority in society as a whole.

Trends in the Slovak Catholic Church

Uniformity of the Church

In recent years, Slovak bishops have decided to promote an ideologically uniform Church. Systematically, they work against the plurality of ideas within the Catholic Church. Discussions and currents of thought that are known from Catholic Churches in Western Europe are actively suppressed in Slovakia.

Every hint of a bolder (not necessarily critical) theological discussion carries the danger of ecclesiastical punishment for priests and monks. In Slovakia, even an ordinary priest cannot express himself publicly in the media without the consent of his ordinary. Practically, all clergy who dared to utter critical words about the Church in public or questioned the Church’s conservative narrative were punished or silenced.

In order to prevent the penetration of more progressive ideas, for several years now, Slovak priests have been sent to postgraduate studies primarily at Polish universities or conservative Roman theological faculties.

The Slovak Church perceives the currents of thought that are quite common in Western Catholic countries as dangerous or threatening the true Catholic faith. In Slovakia, the term “liberal” has the context “non-Catholic”, “non-orthodox”. The term “liberal” refers to enemies of the Catholic Church or Catholics who do not 100% agree with what the Bishop Conference declares.

The absence of discussion on new ideas and the lack of free reflection on the relationship of the Church in contemporary society thus means that the Slovak Church lacks inspiring impulses that would move it forward.

It thus remains locked in its status quo, which robs it of life-giving energy.

Polonisation of the Slovak Church

If something in the Slovak Church has been a trend in recent years, it is a significant “polonisation” of the Slovak Catholic Church. Polish priests work in many Slovak parishes and monasteries. Young Slovak priests are sent by their bishops to postgraduate studies at Polish universities. Polish conservative NGOs are based in Slovakia. Leading Polish bishops are invited to the Slovak (Marian) pilgrimages as the main preachers (but, for example, never Austrian bishops, who are geographically even closer to Slovakia).

Although the current Pope Francis is well-accepted in Slovakia, he would certainly be in second place in the ranking of popularity. The hearts of Slovak believers are reigned by John Paul II, a Polish pope who was born just a few dozens of miles from the Slovak border.

John Paul II visited Slovakia three times during his pontificate. He visited all Slovak dioceses, some repeatedly. Mass outdoor masses were organised during all visits. It can be said with certain exaggeration that every Slovak believer saw John Paul II in person, many of them more than once.

First visit of the pope John Paul II. to Slovakia in 1990 (few moths after fall of the communist regime). 

Loss of credibility of the Church

Cases of sexual abuse

The Slovak Catholic Church, unlike Churches in other countries, has not (yet) experienced any significant wave of sexual abuse scandals associated with clerics or ecclesiastical institutions.

There were only a few cases published. The accusation of the Greek Catholic Bishop Chautur of sexual abuse of an 8-year-old girl attracted the most attention. Although Bishop Chautur denies any guilt and the official investigation is not over, the Vatican authorities have quietly and diplomatically removed the bishop from his office. Paradoxically, Bishop Chautur was in charge of the pastoral care of families and youth within the Slovak Church.

It is symptomatic of the Slovak Church that very little attention is paid to the whole issue of sexual abuse by clergy in the Catholic media. In the Church-favoured media the narrative prevails that similar accusations are made primarily in order to discredit the Catholic Church. Rather, further victimisation of victims is usual. Among ordinary Slovak believers, there is a tendency to trust the accused clergy more than the victims who come with their testimonies.

The attitude of the Slovak Church to the whole issue is two-faced. Officially, victim-friendliness and zero tolerance to perpetrators are unambiguously communicated. In reality, however, a culture of denial and concealment prevails.   

Credibility of the Church is declining

More than sexual scandals, credibility of the Slovak Church among the faithful was undermined by the unprecedented recall of the popular Archbishop Bezák.

Archbishop Bezák was in office for only three years, but he gained great support among the faithful for his open communication, charisma and humanity. With his attitudes, Bezák contrasted greatly with other bishops who could not communicate openly and in civil language with the public without using the ecclesiastical and religious phrases.

Archbishop Bezák soon became the most trusted spokesman for the Catholic community in secular society (including the media). At the same time, the archbishop was not theologically liberal, he held common mainstream theological views typical of Catholic bishops.

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI surprisingly removed him from office. The removal was subsequently unanimously accepted by the entire Slovak Bishop Conference. None of his episcopal confreres publicly supported Bezák.

At the age of 52, Bezák became Bishop Emeritus and was even banned from serving masses in public. The removal was not substantiated in any way and the reason why Bezák had to leave is still not publicly known. Unofficially, it is rumoured that the archbishop, after his appointment, disrupted the long-term financial flows that had been flowing from abroad through Slovakia and were supposed to end up in the Vatican accounts.

The decision to remove the popular archbishop provoked spontaneous opposition from the faithful, who organised mass rallies to support him. The clergy who stood up for Bezák were punished by their superiors.

The affair immediately got beyond the Church. Many personalities of Slovak cultural and social life also expressed their support to the archbishop. 

The removal of Archbishop Bezák brought about a significant division of the Church, which has not completely healed to this day.

The President of the Slovak Republic Kiska and his successor in office, President Čaputová, have already discussed his case with the new Pope Francis on several occasions. After these interventions, Pope Francis expressed sympathy for Archbishop Bezák with several unofficial gestures, and even met him several times. However, no official rehabilitation of Bezák has taken place yet.

The upcoming visit of Pope Francis to Slovakia might bring a turning point in the whole case. Pope Francis is generally expected to meet again with Archbishop Emeritus Bezák during his stay in Slovakia. Pope Francis has a reputation as a man who can surprise, so the expectations of many believers are set high.


Removal of widely popular Archbishop Robert Bezak  from the office in 2012 caused great division within the Slovak Catholic Church


Helplessness during the pandemic

The COVID pandemic revealed emptiness of the Church, lack of creativity of official structures and misunderstanding of contemporary society.

The state authorities in Slovakia have introduced a relatively strict lock-down. For several months, all public gatherings above 6 people were banned, including masses. Thus, during two Easter and one Christmas, though the masses in Slovakia were public, they were celebrated without a physical attendance of believers.

By expelling a lot of more creative clergy from crucial places and replacing them with the “loyal” ones, the Slovak Catholic Church reduced the spiritual life to television broadcasts of masses and video streams from individual parishes during the pandemic. However, the video transmissions of the liturgy generally did not take into account the specifics of the online space, thus leading believers to passive watching. Many believers lacked any interaction and gradually stopped watching mass broadcasts.    

The Catholic Church initially accepted the state anti-pandemic regulations as “painful, but necessary”. Over time, however, the willingness to accept measures declined, and the Bishop´s Conference began to increase pressure on state authorities to grant exemptions to Churches, so that believers could attend the masses. Paradoxically, the call and request of the Bishops’ Conference for an exemption from the anti-pandemic rules for masses came at a time when Slovakia was at the very top of the global ranking of COVID victims per million inhabitants.

Many priests tried to circumvent the prohibitions of gathering and served secret masses, some with the (false) message that it is again necessary to protect their faith and hide from the state power underground.

There was a nice effort of several dozen young priests who volunteered in hospitals in the covid wards to fight the pandemic.

On the other hand, the Internet was flooded with images and videos of priests and (even a bishop) who, with monstrance or relics in cars and planes, blessed the country, thus “protecting” it from the COVID pandemic.

What ideas are topical in the Slovak Church

The Slovak Church is systematically trying to combat the ideas and trends that are common in the Catholic Churches of Western Europe.

In Slovakia, there is practically no reflection on sexual abuse scandals within the Church. There is no open or honest discussion about the administration of the sacraments to divorced people.

On the contrary, LGBTI topics have become central, however from the position of the “orthodox Catholics” fighting against sinful behaviour and misguided LGBTI ideology. There is practically no discussion about the position of women in the Church or about making celibacy optional. When a pair of priests decided to open a public debate by publishing a book on celibacy in 2018, they were released from the priestly ministry.

The Catholic Church has staked in support of a conservative ideology and even in the outbreak of a cultural war in society. In 2015, through non-governmental organizations under its influence, it initiated a nationwide referendum aimed at the LGBTI community with the aim to tighten already strict state laws. It also organised several mass marches “For Life” with a pro-life agenda, which were attended by tens of thousands of people.

The Slovak Catholic Church looks like a traditionalist parish with a pre-conciliar liturgy with the difference that the parish has the dimensions of the whole country and the fact what liturgy is celebrated is of no importance.

The bishops managed to almost completely eliminate liberal or more open currents of thought. The few clergy and laity who sought to formulate them in public were silenced, punished, or expelled from the Church.

Paradoxically, the “right-wing opposition” was formed in the Catholic Church. Fawning over the hard conservative core got back to the Church by awakening the extremist scene, which under the guise of the “true Catholic faith” criticises not only Slovak bishops, but also Pope Francis. Political parties and candidates who profess the Catholic faith, proclaim radical pro-life attitudes and at the same time sympathise with extremist and fascist ideas succeeded on the political scene in the national elections.

However, harsh conservatism and traditionalism are no stranger to the Slovak bishops as such.

In 2019, the Archbishop of Trnava, Orosch, invited the ideological opponent of Pope Francis, Cardinal Burke, to visit his archdiocese. Archbishop Orosch even wrote a preface to the Slovak edition of the book by the historian de Mattei, who directly accuses Pope Francis of heresy.


Archbishop of Trnava Jan Orosch invited cardinal Burke to visit his archdiocese in 2019 and celebrated Tridentine Mess together.

For more than two decades, the Slovak Church has been trying to begin the process of beatification of Bishop Vojtaššák, who on the one hand was a real martyr of the totalitarian communist regime, but a few years before he was an influential political figure of the fascist regime during World War II, actively taking part in the process of dispossession of the Jews, by which, under the laws of the fascist regime, the Jewish property was transferred into the hands of Christians, usually Catholics and loyal nationalists.

Church without vision

Hardly anything would better characterize the Slovak Catholic Church than that it is Church without a vision.

It is as if it were puzzled before all changes that are obviously already taking place and that will continue more and more intensely. Although the Slovak Church is still mass, the trend of secularisation of society has already begun and has a significant impact on it.

People of the older and partly also of the middle generation have become accustomed to the “inflexible” Church and live a kind of double life – they go to church on Sundays and live their lives “during the week”. However, the Church is rapidly losing younger people and people from cities.

Its impact on society is visibly diminishing too.

The Church’s answer is to close its eyes to change, to return to the “good old past,” when everything was clear. Much of the Church can see the future in conservative ideology and in the emphasis of liturgical rituals, preferably of a mass nature.

In a certain part of the Slovak Church, there is even a belief that the Slovak Church will rescue the “de-Catholicised” Western Church by preserving the true Catholic faith in our country.

This narrative is also supported by the mythologisation of the Slovak present and past. According to this romantic idea, God has great plans for Slovakia and the Catholic Church in it. This theory has been dusted off in Slovakia for more than 30 years since the fall of the communist regime until today.


Rastislav Kocan, Bratislava, Slovakia
Vice-chairman of ok21 – Open Christianity for 21st Century
e-mail: kocan (AT) ok21.sk

Ministering to LGBT* people

Sister Jeannine Gramick in Bratislava, photo: Branislav Wáclav/Aktuality.sk

Sister Jeannine Gramick, an American nun, has been ministering to LGBT* people for over 40 years and has fought for their full acceptance within the Catholic Church. She is a co-founder of the New Ways Ministry pastoral service.

In the recording of a discussion with Sr Jeannine Gramick that took place on 14 June on the premises of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Bratislava, you’ll learn – among many other things – about how she got involved in LGBT ministry, how she unexpectedly met Pope Benedict XVI (who knew her name from a case record), find out the stance of the majority of Catholic moral theologians and what she draws her strength from.

Many thanks to the organizing team and their co-workers (GayChristians Slovakia and ok21) for inviting Sr Gramick, who kindly agreed to come and discuss the ways in which the Church can be welcoming and become the home of the non-heterosexual faithful as well. The host of the talk was Veronika Holíková and interpreting was provided by Martin Kolenič. Thank you all.

Uniting for a Positive Resistance in Support for Pope Francis

Fifty Catholics from 18 countries and 4 continents gathered near Bratislava, Slovakia from June 11 – 15, 2018. Formed as the International Catholic Reform Network (icrn.info) in 2013, the participants of this year’s conference learned from members of the former Czechoslovak Underground Church about positive resistance.

The group was inspired by the testimonials of the people who endured severe oppression under the communist regime of that time. “We value the courageous acts of Bishop Davidek and others who recognized the pastoral need to bring the sacraments to communities of faith,” said Peter Krizan of the group OK21 – Society for Open Christianity for the 21st Century. “We need to endure and be vigilant, so that we do not miss 21st Century’s Pentecost.”, Krizan added.

“Their courage, integrity, and willingness to take risks for freedom and the ongoing life of the Church is awe inspiring,” said Deborah Rose-Milavec, executive director of FutureChurch, a reform organization in the United States.

“We are pained by the double oppression these people of conscience suffered at the hands of their government and the Church, particularly the women who were ordained during this time” said Kate McElwee, Executive Director of Women’s Ordination Conference in the United States.

“By refusing to collaborate with the regime, these people found new ways to be church together and to live the works of the Gospel,” said Martha Heizer, board member of We Are Church International. “We strive to follow in their footsteps.”

Following the Revolution of 1989, as political freedom became a growing reality, the official Church regressed to its discriminatory practices and refused to recognize the faculties of several of those ordained in the Underground Church, particularly followers of Bishop Davidek.

“Inspired by the Underground Church movement we seek to realize a more radical, inclusive, synodal, ecumenical, and justice-seeking Church,” said Markus Heil, Chair of the Pfarrei-Initiative in Switzerland and moderator of the conference. “In our discussions, some were still hoping that the church will change and others have given up on the current institution but are still engaged for the faith of the people.”

“In a two-fold strategy, the reform movements will continue to support Pope Francis’ reform approach and at the same time, foster new ways of leading Christian parishes as equals on a grass root level,” said Christian Weisner, board member of We Are Church Germany. “We strongly support the substantial reforms Pope Francis is implementing against strong resistance within the church hierarchy.”, he emphasized.

The ICRN members, in order to meet the needs of the People of God, commit to the work of women’s equality in the Church, LGBTQI rights and inclusion, empowering Catholics to claim their fundamental rights and responsibilities, and support the creation of new models for parish and Christian community life.

“I am impressed and glad to see that the working groups will continue their work and cooperation across such great distances,” said Fr. Helmut Schueller, Speaker of the Austrian Parish Priests Initiative.

Participants of the Conference came from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Great Britain, India, Ireland, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, South Korea, Switzerland, Ukraine and the United States. Italy and Kenia had to cancel their prearranged attendance at short notice.

Media Contacts:

Peter Križan
ok21 – Society for Open Christianity for the 21st Century
mail: peter.krizan@outlook.sk
cell: +421 910 951 595

Helmut Schüller
mail: h.schueller@edw.or.at