Magazine article Commonweal

Slovakia Embraces the Past

Magazine article Commonweal

Slovakia Embraces the Past

Article excerpt

The Catholic church in what is now Slovakia has historically been associated with the suppression of liberty. Monsignor Jozef Tiso's attempt to create a theocratic Nazi puppet state in 1939 ultimately failed and the church fell easy prey to the Communist revolution in 1948. After forty years of Communist indoctrination, the perception of the church as reactionary would have been hard to erase; instead it is now being reinforced.

The majority of Catholics who clung to their religion in postwar Czechoslovakia regarded their church primarily as a refuge and remained psychologically in a pre-Vatican II time warp. Most priests were selected by state officials for their mediocrity and were trained by theological nonentities; the best theologians, after years in prison, were restricted to the underground. Now in the post-Communist society it is essentially the same mediocrities running the church. They are proving incapable of responding to the challenges of a pluralist society or delegating to the laity.

Scared by the inrush of Western materialism, Western sects, and Western theology, today the Slovak church appears to be trying to turn the clock back and insulate Catholics from what it regards as contamination. "We must bar our doors to the West"--Slovak archbishop, Cardinal Jan Sokol's dictum--is supported by many Catholics genuinely distressed by the corruption of values in the West. Catholic seminaries in Slovakia, long starved of theology, have rejected gifts of libraries from German Catholic faculties for fear of heresy. But most Slovaks I met, including people who are not radicals, rate the church's attitude as mistaken if not disastrous.

In Slovakia, where the hierarchy is particularly conservative, I heard disturbing reports about the toll regimentation and suppression of intellectual freedom are having on the mental health of seminarians. …

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