Archbishop Zvolensky Slams Lengthy Public Worship Ban in Slovakia

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Archbishop of Bratislava Stanislav Zvolensky. (Photo by TASR)

Bratislava, March 26 (TASR) – Chairman of the Slovak Bishops Conference (KBS), Archbishop of Bratislava Stanislav Zvolensky, on Friday wrote a letter to acting health minister Eduard Heger (OLANO), in which he seemed to have lost patience with the lengthy ban on public religious services in Slovakia due to COVID-19.

Zvolensky stressed that religious communities have been doing their utmost for a year to help the state to contain the pandemic. “Our pleas to be given at least the most basic scope for spiritual service haven’t brought any result. The [requested] meeting with the prime minister [Igor Matovic/OLANO] didn’t take place due to political problems,” said Zvolensky, who deems the restriction of religious freedom in Slovakia inappropriate.

“While doctors and scientists from advisory teams have understanding for legitimate expressions of religious freedom even in state of emergency, the issue has probably become a bargaining chip in political struggles,” said the archbishop.

He noted that religious communities have endured even inappropriate treatment, as they wanted to help with tackling the pandemic. “We didn’t view the slogan ‘We’ll Do It Together’ as an empty one. We’ve been refraining from criticism for a year, although we weren’t happy to hear many statements,” wrote Zvolensky. He added that the treatment of religious people has already become unsustainable, as the state has freshly refused to allow even individual pastoral care.

Public religious services were banned in Slovakia in March 2020 by then outgoing government of Peter Pellegrini (then Smer-SD, now Voice-SD), soon after the first coronavirus infections were reported. The ban was in place until early May, when Slovakia was experiencing single-digit figures of new daily infections and the overall death count was two dozen.

The current Government of Igor Matovic restricted the number of people allowed to attend religious services as of October 1 and banned them altogether as of October 15. The complete ban was later relaxed for a few weeks, but it was reintroduced in many areas before Christmas and in the rest of the country on New Year’s Day. At the same time there’s a stay-at-home order in the country, with the state prohibiting priests even to hear confessions, except for deathbed cases.

The death toll in Slovakia (pop. 5.5 million) from COVID-19 has exceeded 9,000.