Financing Churches in Slovakia: Debate and Dilemma
by Lubomir Martin Ondrasek, special contributor
A fairly large portion of the Slovak public believes that an inordinately important concern of churches — especially the dominant Roman Catholic Church — is to pursue their economic interest and extend political influence. As a result, Slovak churches face a serious challenge: In the process of negotiations with the government concerning economic security, the decline of trust could turn into a full-blown crisis of confidence, with possibly irreversible consequences for churches.
Under the current system, the state pays the wages of the clergy, even though it does not regulate the number of clergy hired each year. Over the last decade, state expenditures for registered churches that have exercised their legal right to receive funding (13 out of 18) have more than doubled. Yet, in order not to be viewed as interfering with the church’s internal affairs and thus compromising religious freedom, the state has not tried to influence policies regarding the church and its clergy.
Changing the system of direct state financing of churches and religious societies is currently the most pertinent and widely discussed issue concerning state-church relations in Slovakia. The present system of financing of churches and religious societies is problematic and untenable in the long run, but the absence of social consensus and political will has precluded its replacement with a more appropriate model. The law that governs the financing — passed shortly after the forced nationalization of church property by the Communist Party — has been in effect since 1949, though the model of direct state support of churches stretches back to the eighteenth century. This long history indicates that any fundamental change in the financing model, which would be derived from the doctrine of strict separation of church and state, is unrealistic and, to many Slovaks, also undesirable.
In February 2011, Daniel Krajcer, the Minister of Culture of the Slovak Republic, met with representatives of the registered churches, taking the first step toward fulfilling the government’s commitment, in cooperation with the churches, to “open an all-society dialogue on the problematic issues of funding the churches.” This meeting represents an official attempt to identify and implement a mutually suitable financing model. Although there is no guarantee that this effort will prove more successful than previous attempts, both the state and the churches are better equipped to bring this task to fruition than ever before. Considering the social, religious, and political contexts surrounding the debate, it may be several years before a sufficiently broad consensus is reached and a new model of financing takes effect.
Recent discussions indicate that Slovakia will not indiscriminately copy foreign financing models, even though these models — especially the European ones — are being carefully considered. Most likely, the state will continue to subsidize religious schools, restoration and preservation of church buildings that represent national cultural heritage, wages of clergy serving in the armed forces, and various public benefit activities for the foreseeable future.
The new model will probably affect the two most controversial aspects of the current system of financing: clergy salaries and financial support for the operational costs of denominational headquarters. Undoubtedly, Slovak churches will have to rely more heavily on self-financing, but their revenue will likely continue to be indirectly supplemented by the state through a church tax or tax assignation.
Since the model of financing churches through a church tax (i.e., an additional tax imposed by the state on believers) is unpopular in Slovakia, its establishment would almost certainly lead to an outflow of members from traditional churches, as recently witnessed in Germany and Austria. Thus, the most feasible model appears to be tax assignation. In this case, every citizen would be required to designate a specific percentage of their income tax to one of the recognized churches or other previously approved cultural or charitable organizations.
Though the Slovaks’ trust of the institutional church seems to be gradually declining, they are not withdrawing their church affiliation, as has happened in some Western European countries. However, the Slovak churches must now realize that the challenge is not only economic but also ethical.
About the image: The Catholic church tower in Bratislava, Slovakia. (photo: Riviera Kid/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)
This essay is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Ronan Kerr Was Not a Judas: Betrayal and Peace in Northern Ireland at Lent
by Pádraig Ó Tuama, guest contributor
Police officers carry the coffin containing the remains of Constable Ronan Kerr to the church of the Immaculate Conception in Beragh, Northern Ireland on April 6, 2011. The First Minister of the British-controlled province, the Protestant Peter Robinson, broke with decades of tradition to attend his first ever Catholic mass as Constable Kerr was laid to rest. (photo: Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images)
While working with Holy Family Parish in North Belfast over the last few weeks, I have encountered much wisdom. One woman, Ann, quoted one of her university professors who said, “Any ideology carried to its logical conclusion is a dangerous thing.”
Now, I am sure that there are library shelves worth of arguments that could add nuance and subtlety to this statement. However, the death of Constable Ronan Kerr on April 2nd has given us something more weighty than a library to consider when reflecting on Ann’s quote.
Ronan Kerr was 25, involved in Gaelic Games and a member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). A Catholic, he was part of the growing sea change in the active members of the Police Service that was set up in response to the reports and enquiries and settlements and agreements of the 1980s and 90s. The organisational predecessor of the PSNI had a significant imbalance — for a 52 percent Protestant to 45 percent Catholic population, there was at times over 90 percent representation from the Protestant community. In an effort to redress this, the PSNI (formed in November 2001) had, up until two weeks ago, a 50-50 recruitment policy. A huge majority of Catholic/Nationalist/Republican groups have given backing to the organisational structure of the PSNI — but a fractionally small minority, allegedly including those who planted the bomb that killed Ronan Kerr, objected.
Ronan Kerr was possibly understood by this small minority as a traitor — someone who had abandoned the values of what it means to be Irish by joining the police service that serves a jurisdiction of Ireland that is not part of the Republic. I am guessing that this combination of Gaelic Games, formed with the dual purpose of promoting traditional Irish sports and culture, with active service as a policeman was considered a juxtaposition too far, and a contradiction that needed to be met with force.
The force that met him was placed under his car, in a small plastic container, and it exploded, killing him. The following day, on Mother’s Day, I thought about his mother. She spoke out last Monday with dignity, strength, and conviction.
Thousands of people walked in the “March for Peace” rally in Omagh, Northern Ireland on April 10, 2011. Commemorating the death of Ronan Kerr, a woman holds a sign reading “Not in My Name” with a photo of the murdered police constable. (photo: Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images)
It is Lent and, as part of my work, we are looking at unusual relationships in the gospels. This was how I met Ann. She is part of a parish group examining how Jesus of Nazareth related to people who were different, people who were marginalised, people who were on the fringes, whether because they were lowly or because they were haughty. As we meet together to discuss these narratives, we examine the characters involved and consider the question of to whom these stories might speak today, and how we might demonstrate the subtlety of relationship depicted in the interactions of the text.
Last week, a group of us considered Judas. Judas is depicted as a traitor. Matthew and Mark’s gospel accounts introduce Judas as the one who betrayed Jesus. Luke’s first mention of Judas paints him as a traitor, and John, in addition to calling him a traitor, calls him a devil.
It is safe to say that the writers of the gospels inherited the outrage of the original disciples — that one of them should betray Jesus. Yet, there is a story of Judas that we must consider. When he betrayed Jesus with a kiss, Jesus called him “Friend.” Following the death of Jesus, Judas repented, saying, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood" before ending his own life.
As we discussed Judas, we thought that his agenda may have been a more political one — to begin a revolt, to start a flame with the small spark of an arrest of Jesus of Nazareth. That he was disappointed by the outcome of death is evident. And so, we gave time to widen the character of Judas in our imagination, seeing him beyond categories.
Irish society, north and south of the border, has at times been characterised by people who have loudly declaimed each other as traitors. In order to consider the question of who the character of Judas is in the gospel, we have had to pay attention to his own actions and his own words, not just the words of those who caricature him. If we are to apply something from a close narrative reading of the text, we must recognise that the term “traitor” is too easily used, and too easily thrown.
Ronan Kerr was not a Judas, he was not a traitor. With his life, words, and body, Ronan Kerr was holding within himself identities that are symbolic of a shared and peaceful future for all on the Island of Ireland. He was one of many, Catholic and Protestant, who embody within themselves the delightful and radical combination of identities that one time were considered juxtapositional.
I believe that the character of Judas had lost his own self. He had forgotten what it meant to be in relationship with real people because his relationship with his ideology had become supreme. In some ways, I consider those responsible for the death of Ronan Kerr, who as yet have not yet claimed responsibility, to be addicted to the chaos that for so long dominated the life of society in the north of Ireland.
In light of Ronan Kerr’s death, we spent a long time speaking in a congregational group about how Jesus would speak to the bombers. We have outrage, fear, protest, desires for justice, and desires for peace each speaking loudly within us. If we are to learn from Judas, we can learn that an ideology, taken to its logical extreme, removed from the narrative of everyday, ordinary people who wish to live a peaceful life, is a frightening and dangerous thing.
About the image, middle: Members of the public write in a book of condolence for police constable Ronan Kerr. (photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Pádraig Ó Tuama, a native of Cork, works in Belfast, Northern Ireland as a faith & peace worker of the Irish Peace Centres. His poetry and writing can be found at Hold Your Self Together.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
When Doctrine Isn’t Enough: A Former Nun Awakens to the Responsibility of Her Own Spirituality
by Jan Phillips, guest contributor
Young girls dressed in white symbolizing purity shower flowers and rose petals before the passing of the Holy Host carried in solemnity by the parish priest. (photo: Peter Grima/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)
At an early age, I learned that God was a being who dwelled in a place far from where I ever stood. I learned to commune with the transcendent God of the above, not the immanent divine within. But over the years, as I let go of childish thinking and took responsibility for my spiritual life, my perception of God changed dramatically. I am guided now not so much by teachings that were handed down to me, but by ideas that have risen up from within — a shift that began 30 years ago when I was a young postulant nun in a religious order taking my first theology class.
The Jesuit priest stood in front of the room and asked us what we believed about God. One postulant raised her hand, stood up, and said, “God made me to show His goodness and to share His everlasting life with me in heaven.” I nodded my head in agreement, having memorized this years ago just like everyone else in the room.
The priest looked dismayed. “That’s it?” he asked.
“Sit down,” he barked, looking around for the next hand.
Up it went, and the next brave soul stood up saying, “In God there are three divine persons, really distinct, and equal in all things — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”
I nodded again, and the priest frowned. “Is that the best you can do?”
“Next,” he yelled, as she took her seat, looking around in wonder.
By now, we’re all confused, but one more raised her hand.
“God can do all things, and nothing is hard or impossible to Him.”
“Sit down,” he said.
He rolled his eyes, crossed his arms, and surveyed the whole group of us with a kind of silent disdain. By now, I’m feeling anxious and blood is rushing up my neck. I feel hot and sweaty. My first anxiety attack.
“How could he do this?” It seemed so mean. He asked for our ideas about God and yet, when we said them, it felt like he took a sledge hammer and smashed our beliefs into a thousand pieces. A tear rolled down my cheek.
It was a moment of devastating loss, incomprehensible sadness. I felt as if everything I believed in, everything on which I had based my life, was now being challenged. We sat there, 30 of us, for what seemed an eternity, reckoning with the obliteration of God as we had known Him. What if everything we believed wasn’t true? Did Father Grabys know something we didn’t know?
Finally the priest spoke. “You should be ashamed for having nothing more than catechism answers to this question. Are you just a bunch of parrots, repeating everything you’ve been taught? Hasn’t anyone here gone beyond the Baltimore Catechism in your thinking?”
The air was thick with silence. Hands were folded, eyes cast down. Tears cascaded down my face. I prayed he wouldn’t call on me.
“You must come to know what is true about God from your own experience,” said the priest. “If you are to be a nun worth your salt, you have to arrive at a faith that is deeper than your learning, one that is rooted in your ultimate concerns and rises up from the nature of who you are.”
I looked up at him, wondering how in the world to build a faith from my human nature. Wasn’t faith something I was born into — something I inherited from the outside?
I was a Catholic by default. They told me everything I was supposed to believe. That was the point, wasn’t it? I was just lucky to be born into the one true faith. I certainly didn’t have anything to say about it. That’s what infallible popes were for.
I raised my hand and asked him how someone could create a faith from the inside out, and why we even needed to since we knew what we needed to know from the catechism.
“What you believe, that is religion,” he said. “Who you are, what you live for — that is faith. And that is what we are here to explore, to create, and to declare — our faith and spirituality. You can let go of your beliefs for awhile as you learn how to create a faith that will see you through everything.”
I didn’t want to let go of any beliefs. They were all I had. And they were enough. I didn’t need anything more, or so I thought. As we continued on in the class, the biblical paradox that says we must lose our lives in order to find them suddenly began to make sense. Taking responsibility for our own spirituality was a painstaking process that lasted the entire semester as we worked to find and define our own commitments and ultimate concerns — a task that was supremely challenging for young women who had been taught all their lives what to think, but not how to think.
We never looked at another catechism, never recited another memorized belief, but step by step we built a new spirituality for ourselves that was deeply personal and rooted in our ultimate concerns. And every day during meditation there was something new and profoundly elegant to contemplate: myself as the creator of my own spiritual path.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
Steve and Cokie Roberts Discuss the Importance of Ritual for Christian and Jewish Families
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
"Marrying a Catholic, in some ways, made me more Jewish."
"When I was pregnant for our first child, I understood the meaning of Passover and wanted to have that celebration in our home and didn’t know how to go about it."
Who knew that listening to two veteran power journalists discuss their “mixed” marriage, the meaning of Passover, and the importance of the Seder could be so delightful and entertaining? If you’re looking for apleasant 20 minutes to spend this weekend morning, listen to Sara Ivry’s interview with Cokie and Steve Roberts for Vox Tablet. Ivry’s style and demeanor are relaxed and comfortable, which makes you feel like you’re participating in a dinner table discussion rather than a question-and-answer session.
For me personally, I know that as my wife and I transition our boys from preschool at a Jewish community center to a Catholic elementary school (both foreign worlds to me), I don’t want to lose some of the gifts and rituals present in both of these faiths and people. This conversation is a refreshing, uplifting perspective that I found quite helpful in making the most of one’s own journey.
Frances Kissling on the Limits of Common Ground: A Sneak Preview
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
Frances Kissling, Charles Camosy of Fordham University, Jennifer Miller of Bioethics International, and Peter Singer of Princeton University at the Open Hearts, Open Minds and Fair Minded Words conference at Princeton University in October 2010. (photo: Ricardo Barros)
The audio above is an excerpt from our upcoming show with Frances Kissling, “Listening Beyond Life and Choice,” which we’re almost finished producing for a January 20th release. In the excerpt above, Kissling, a longtime voice in the public conversation about abortion and former president of Catholics for Choice, says she doesn’t believe there’s much promise in finding common ground with people whose views and ideology we fundamentally oppose: “the pressure of coming to agreement works against really understanding each other.”
Cracking open our deepest divisions requires a willingness to be courageous and alsoto be vulnerable:
"…when people who disagree with each other come together with a goal of gaining a better understanding of why the other believes what they do, good things come of that. … I have changed my views on some aspects of abortion over the last ten years based upon having a deeper understanding of the values and concerns of people who disagree with me. And I have an interest in trying to find a way that I can honor some of their values without giving up mine."
Bob Sheppard’s Stadium Cathedral
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
Bob Sheppard was the vocal embodiment of Yankee baseball. For many players and fans, he elevated the game into a kind of religious experience. The iconic announcer, who served as the public voice of the Yankees for over 50 years, died this week at the age of 99.
"The Voice of God," as he was fondly called, announced each player’s name "clearly, concisely, and correctly." Former Yankees player Paul O’Neill once likened Sheppard’s voice to "the organ at church." Sheppard himself described Yankee Stadium as "a cathedral for baseball people."
For Sheppard, this kind of metaphor wasn’t just rhetoric. He led a deeply spiritual life as a cradle Catholic who was active as a lector in his Long Island church. Even as he became frail with illness and age, he continued to take daily communion at home. His decision to pursue speech as a vocation was encouraged by Vincentian priests while attending a Catholic high school in Brooklyn. He reflected on his faith in an interview with Busted Halo:
"I have a very special love for the Blessed Mother and always have had, it started when I was young I think and I can remember many times at St. John’s Prep Chapel going in to the church there before a baseball game and asking the Blessed Mother to allow me to get a couple of hits that afternoon (laughs). And she did! (laughs) She was good, very good to me."
Sheppard loved reading and wrote poetry. In 2008, he drafted this poem in commemoration of the last baseball game ever to be played at the old Yankee Stadium:
Farewell, old Yankee Stadium, farewell
What a wonderful story you can tell
DiMaggio, Mantle, Gehrig and Ruth
A baseball cathedral in truth.
(Photo: Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)
Last Protestant on the Supreme Court?
Shubha Bala, associate producer
Members of the U.S. Supreme Court pose for a group photograph on September 29, 2009.
Front row (l-r): Anthony M. Kennedy, John Paul Stevens, John G. Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas. Back row (l-r): Samuel Alito Jr., Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor. (photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
On April 9th, Justice Stevens announced his upcoming retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court. The loss of the lone Protestant on the Court, in a country with 51% Protestants, has sparked a vigorous media discussion. Pundits and journalists are asking how, and if, this will impact future Court discussions, and if religion should even be a consideration when selecting Justice Stevens’ replacement.
There have been plenty of interesting media reports during the past week: Nina Totenberg on NPR, Dahlia Lithwick in Slate, Adam Liptak in The New York Times, which gets called out by Ashby Jones in the Wall Street Journal. However, we were holding out for a thoughtful, well-informed theological voice — specifically looking out for Martin E. Marty, who weighed in Monday with a piece in Sightings:
"… To grant a para-constitutional point, most ‘religious tests’ are ‘cultural tests’ or ‘power tests.’ On the positive side of that case, it is true that people steeped in a religious culture might well hear religious nuances in cases, and can adjudicate them more sensitively than the spiritually tone-deaf might. Others do and will clearly use their ‘nuances’ as weapons of judicial power. Overall, it might be best if the public said, ‘We are reassured you justices are religious; just don’t "use" that religion too much.’"
Later on, Marty references Geoffrey Stone, whose comments on religion in the Supreme Court over the past several years have often been cited. In 2007, the University of Chicago law professor created some controversy when he pointed out that religious belief may have swayed the Court’s ruling in Gonzales v. Carhart and his analysis of Catholic Justices on the Court after Sotomayor was appointed.
However, Stone’s recent statements that religion should not be a focus in the selection process prompts Marty to ask:
"Can the one who makes an appointment satisfy the people called Protestant? Most are, top to bottom, at odds with each other. From a satellite distance, they come in three large tribes: ‘Mainstream’ or ‘mainline,’ ‘Evangelical,’ and ‘African-American.’ Most citizens in any of these three groups will neither say ‘Hurrah for our side!’ nor feel represented by any representative of the other two.
Thus would evangelicals Charles Colson, James Dobson, or Marvin Olasky, who enthused about the ill-fated appointment of ‘evangelical’ Harriet Miers during the Bush administration, have been satisfied with any mainstream sort, and vice versa? Stone has only two criteria, or wishes, for the next appointment: The nominee ‘must have the intellect, temperament and experience necessary to fulfill the responsibilities,’ as many Protestants do and other Protestants don’t; and he or she ‘should have the vision of the law…that is consonant with the president’s own aspirations.’ For Stone, that should be it – but no one expects that will be.”
I had started my research thinking I had a point of view, but sifting through different analyses I find myself more confused than ever with this complex issue. I welcome any sources or ideas that you’ve found that helps illuminate the topic!
Longing for Passovers and Memories Missed: Pesach 5770 (2010)
by Mary Moos, guest contributor
At Monday night’s Passover Seder we used hard-covered, bound copies of a Haggadah with a copyright date of 1923. The first user of the book — a relative or friend of our host family — had carefully inscribed his name on the inside cover.
In the many years since my conversion from Roman Catholicism to Judaism, I’ve used a variety of Haggadot but none like the one we used last night.
Some of them were faded blue, mimeographed copies, dog-eared and stained with wine and brisket gravy. Others were stapled and patched together with cracking glue and brittle cellophane that incorporated feminist interpretations. A few years ago, we enjoyed the company of a blind guest at our Seder. She used a Braille Haggadah in Hebrew. When it was her turn to read, she simultaneously translated the text into English. Amazing.
Reading from an almost 90 year-old Haggadah, with the name of the octogenarian sitting next to me written in childlike cursive on the inside cover, was an extraordinary experience. It struck me that he had been Jewish 60 years longer than I had been. It filled me with a deep longing for the Passovers and memories I’d missed. At the same time, I felt tremendous gratitude for the spiritual home I’d finally found.
Celebration of Passover is a biblical command for all Jews worldwide to come together as a community to singularly and collectively remember: What the Eternal One did for me when I came out from Egypt. At Passover, I am — along with the ancient Israelites enslaved in Egypt. I am with them redeemed from bondage, and I am promised the care and love the Eternal One blessed be He.
Growing up in a large observant Roman Catholic family, I often felt spiritually displaced. Praying and having a relationship with G-d was always important to me, but I struggled with how to do it within the structure of my birth-religion. The idea of Christ and His divinity got in the way of the personal relationship I wanted to have with G-d.
Holy Week was the only time I felt intimacy and safety with Christ. And then it was as a supremely saintly man who modeled how we are to have a relationship with G-d. Holy Week was the only time Christ became real. From His ride into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the Passover dinner with His disciples, the Stations, and His death on the Cross on Good Friday, I felt comfortable with Christ.
Now that I have found my spiritual home in Judaism, I no longer struggle with Christ. I understand Christ and His teachings from a Jewish perspective. I see Him as a wise and holy Rabbi falsely accused and killed by the Romans like another of our other Jewish saints, Rabbi Akiva.
I am grateful to have found Judaism and the community to which I can belong. I am no longer in Diaspora… I am home.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on SOF Observed. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.