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State and Church



Free Church in Free Country?
 
The guests of the first discussion from the series of events of the Visegrad lounge are František Mikloško, member of the National Council of the Slovak Rebublic (Slovak Republic), Tomasz Dostatni, cleric, expert author (Poland), Miroslav Kollár, employee of the Institute for Public Issues (IVO), expert on clerical policy (Slovak Republic), Péter Buda, expert on clerical policy, former adviser to the Prime Minister (Hungarian Republic), Tamás Barabás, Chief of the Religion, Information and Education Centre (Hungarian Republic).
 
First of all let us analyze the relationship of state and church in the Visegrad countries right after the transition.
 
Péter Buda:
The Act on churches, freedom of religion and freedom of conscience was already accepted in 1990 during the transition, but that time Hungary was still ruled by one party i.e., the communists. The law reflected constitutional principles, which talk about the separation of state and church. Hence the Hungarian system is based on separation of state and church or equality of religions.
 
The law is created in the spirit of the last years of the 19th century when prominent people from the emerging Hungarian middle class formulated the same principle: the most ideal system of conditions of coexistence in the state--or rather coexistence between society and the church--is ensured by a secular model, that is, the recognition of the state. This model is surrounded by several misunderstandings in the European and Hungarian history of civilisation. Many people interpreted it as a hostile separation of the state, as if state neutrality would be followed by hostility towards believers. The original concept is clearly the opposite. It emphasises that people of different religions and opinions are able to live together in peace on the basis of historical messages, if the state does not express any opinion regarding issues like religion and world view. It does not mean a value deficit or negative attitude of the state towards values, only its neutrality. From this point of view, the biggest value of the state is neutrality, its attitude without a particular standpoint, for such a standpoint, according to lessons from history, could cause serious problems.
 
After the change in 1990, Act no. 4. came into existence. This Act stated that the state can not intervene in the establishment of churches, and struggled to put into force principles of church registrations in the spirit of OSCE criteria regarding the establishment of churches. It is necessary to have a minimum number of members to register a church. The state doesn't investigate the principles of religion of a particular church (parish) and doesn't adopt a position as to which a church (parish) is good or bad but leaves it up to the citizens to decide.
 
Hungarian political processes, after the fall of the previous regime, violated these single valued principles from several aspects. One of the reasons was the evident oppression of churches under totalitarianism as well as many counter actions from the church side or rather from the side of the former governmental elite. There were certain efforts to "buy" the churches by various financial contributions, in order to get them to support their politics. It was enabled by annual discussions about the budget, where each parish had to fight with the acting government or parliamentary majority for adequate support.
 
The government tried to change this undignified situation during the second governmental cycle after the changes in 1997, when the donation of churches became bounded on the will of taxpayers. The Act on churches talks about a really specific principle, namely that churches have to be supported by their own believers, but we have to admit that the property of churches was nationalised during the communist era. The Hungarian state gave back (or is giving back) only the actual properties. The land is not given back to churches just as it was not given back to aristocrats and landowners. In Hungary, it's a matter of common consensus. Many people were thinking about how to overcome these obstacles and how it would be possible to ensure a certain financial independence of churches. They devised "the system of 1% donation from taxes." Citizens can give one percent of their income tax to one of the churches. Although income tax is a budget income, this system called upon the will or decision of citizens who support particular churches. However, it was soon obvious that there are only few citizens with such an intention. This is a bit unusual, because compared with Germany, where donations to churches are granted outside the scope of taxes, in Hungary, people could give their money from amounts they have to pay at any rate. It became evident that the number of supporters contributing to churches is about 11%. This figure was also verified by data from surveys of churches themselves. In the case of major churches, where the membership is generated mostly by "inborn qualities" this figure is about 10-13%.
 
Many representatives of the churches considered this financial situation an outrage and tried to achieve a kind of legal security of getting a particular amount of money. Through this effort, an agreement between the Hungarian Republic and the Vatican came into existence. This agreement ensures a certain amount of undisputed financing as well as tax-relief for the Catholic Church and stipulates that this agreement and the agreed tax breaks are untouchable without the previous approval of the Catholic Church. This was already a distortion of the original ideas and a move away from the classic principle of secularization. Some regrettable events caused the degradation of the situation.
 
The leaders of certain churches are divided in relation to state power. Such differences exist also here in Hungary. Some of the churches started to search for allies in the political scene and vice versa. Particular churches started to look for allies in the "power field" of politics and this "hunting" resulted in the search for allies from the political field in the direction of churches, the goal of which was the legitimating of political power of some circles with quasi ecclesiastic rhetoric and the adoption of church as well.
 
In parallel with these activities, there were some efforts to tighten the Act on churches, which would have resulted in the marginalisation of less significant churches that did not comply with the ideas of dominant churches. These struggles were eliminated thanks to the recommendations and intervention of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Currently, State-Church relations are protected by laws which were generated at the beginning of the changes.
 
The fact is that efforts to demolish--brick by brick--the wall separating the state and the church were also constantly increasing. We live in a time when the recolonisation of public sphere by the churches is observable. The special issue of the German journal, Der Spiegel dealt with this topic not long ago. Internationally accomplished research workers and experts expressed their own opinions on this topic. They drew attention to the fact that we are on the threshold of a new era, when religious conflicts and battles as well as the strengthening of religious identity will be observable during the next two decades. The American information services also predict this phenomenon. The problem is not that religion is becoming stronger, or that it's a positive process of its own accord. The problem is that it's getting into the political scene. It means that churches would like to gain political support and sources for all-society enforcement of their own religious principles as well as religious and moral ideas.
 
Tomasz Dostatni:
In the last 17 years, a very interesting compromise was made in Poland--a compromise concerning the relation between the state and the church. It can be proved by two fundamentally new documents: the new Constitution of Poland and the Concordat concluded between the Vatican and the Republic of Poland. The definition of the phenomenon to which Mr. Buda referred to as "separation of the state from the church" was summarised, in the Polish Constitution with a very interesting statement, which asserts that the church and the state "respect mutual autonomy and cooperate." Autonomy shall mean the autonomy of the state and also of the church; and, cooperation shall mean cooperation in favour of individuals, not only "general well-being." All that has been set out in the Polish Constitution, and, later it has been incorporated in the Concordat as well. Both documents specifically emphasise autonomy and cooperation. I am talking about the Roman Catholic Church, even though the Constitution refers to churches in general when it proposes autonomy and cooperation.
 
Now I will briefly tell you about a range of questions which have been, during the last seventeen years, subject to debates between the state and the church. The debate included six specific issues, and, ultimately resulted in a certain compromise-not only in legal, but also in social terms. Before I go into further details, I think I should briefly explain some differences or rather typical features of the Polish Catholic Church, because without this background it might be difficult to understand certain specifics of Poland.
 
The Catholic Church in Poland at present comprises 90% of the population claiming Polish nationality, 25,000 priests, 120 bishops and 40 dioceses. Before WWII, there was not just one, singe religion in Poland. Poland had a huge Jewish minority (3.5 million), and a large minority from the Orthodox faith represented by people belonging mainly to Ukrainian and Belarusian national minorities. Poland became a single-nation and single-church country only after 1945.
 
And now, let me get back to the problems that have been a source of tension in Poland for the last seventeen years.The first problem arose at the beginning of the 1990s and concerned the reintroduction of religious education into schools. In the communist period, religion was not taught at Polish schools. That was the first topic of the general debate, and the first source of tension. Does religion belong in schools or doesn't it? And, what should religious education look like? In fact, the church and the state agreed, in a relatively short time, in favor of religious education at schools. However, this decision was preceded by debates and polemics about the termination of religious education in churches and its reintroduction into schools.
 
The second issue concerned the Christian understanding of values, and how they should be reflected in the national legislation. The final decision was also preceded by a parliamentary as well as a public debate about values in general. What are these values and how should they be named?
 
The third and very significant debate going on in recent years has focused on the issues regarding European integration. There have been highly substantial and extensive debates on the role of Christianity and religion. This debate is yet to be completed. As you probably know, there is a pending issue in the draft of the European Constitution concerning its legislation, its relation to European heritage and history, and also to Christianity and other religions in Europe.
 
The next publicly discussed issue was the Concordat-signed, relatively quickly, between the Polish government (represented by the then Prime Minister Hanna Suchocka) and the Vatican. This Concordat has, again, waited for several years to be ratified. The government has changed, the coalitions changed as well and the debate over the Concordat became rather heated. However, the issues raised were often of a somewhat political nature and, in fact, they were only meant to halt the Concordat.
 
The next issue, which created a sharp debate involving the general public, was the issue of the right to life, which ultimately concluded with the adoption of the Law on Abortion.
 
And the last, the 6th thematic range, has been aimed at the topic we can currently see not only in Poland, but also in Slovakia and the Czech Republic--the issue of "lustration." I don't like this word at all and thus, if we talk about church, I prefer the term "to reckon with the communist past." The issues I have enumerated will, most likely, be subject to further and more thorough analysis.
 
I would also like to touch upon two more issues. Mr. Buda talked about the separation of church and state, he also mentioned the history of the current separation of church and state, pointed out the fact that this separation can also be hostile, and of an ideological nature. I have heard a some very nice thoughts and have come to the conclusion that the state should be neutral. However, neutrality can be understood in different ways. In fact neutrality in Poland--since the church has been separated from the state-requires the existence of autonomy and cooperation. Neutrality depends on our interpretation. It can also be observed at the level of the general public; however, if there are two entities--the state and the church--then it is appropriate to pay due attention to the proposal, which was actually first put forth at the Second Council of Vatican, on the relation between the church and the world or on the relation between the church and the democratic and liberal state, which, actually refers to maintaining mutual autonomy: a free church in a free state. This is a proper environment for neutrality and we can take great advantage of it for the good of other people and general well being.
 
I think there is a serious problem, which certainly takes a different form in Poland--the problem of financing the church by the state, especially since our church is rather big. During the communist period the state forced the absolute dependence of the church on the state. However, in Poland, the Christians remember perfectly the laws of Emperor Joseph II and also the situation of the Christians in the Soviet Union, and they know what it meant for a church in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and other communist countries to be financed by the state. Therefore the Polish Catholic Church refused finances from the state, and, until this day, it basically finances itself from the money raised by its members. In Poland there is no church tax as in Germany, where it is compulsory. In Italy, there is a similar tax, but it is voluntary. The Polish church lives from donations or we can say it is self-financed. However, in certain areas, where the mission of the church overlaps with state authorities (e.g. public and private universities, public and private secondary schools including those owned by the church), they are partially subsidised by the state. Moreover, the Polish tax regulation allows a taxpayer to deduct a donation to the church from their yearly income tax.
 
And the very last issue of lustrations, or the reckoning with the communist pas. Some time ago all the European and world media reported about the resignation of the Warsaw Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus after only two days in office. In Poland, there has been an ongoing and speeded up process of reckoning with the past on the political and also religious scene; 120 bishops have undergone self-lustration. They submitted their request to the standing Commission on History within the Episcopate of Poland to review their past in the documentations of the security service.
 
And, we will have to wait to see what the future holds.
 
František Mikloško:
In my opinion, the State-Religion relation or the State-Church relation is awaiting strained tensions in the near future, probably in a couple of decades. The relation of these two subjects is determined by a particular contract, a concordat. Earlier generations of politicians were conscious that these relations would be established for many years. After the Second World War some new problems occurred, which had to be taken into consideration and the state-church relation could not reckon with that.
 
The church had a dominant situation in the past. However, in the second half of the 20th century the secular state heavily established itself--at this time, establishment of the secular state gained the form of dictatorship of the laity. Recently I attended a lecture by an expert from France. When I heard that Christians cannot wear crosses, Islamic girls headscarves, or Jews stars in French schools, then I realised that this is precisely the same tone as it was under communism. At that time it was also forbidden to wear any symbols at schools. School was a place where the word 'religion' could not even be mentioned. That's something that took a completely new form. France is probably going the furthest on this issue, but also some other states (e.g. Germany) expel all the religions into the private sphere. If religion is taught at schools, it is taught only as Religious Studies, as a subject that gives a basic overview of each religion. The state in Western Europe demands to define that basic idea, which is the secular state itself. The problem becomes all the more acute when the secular state is presented by the governments that are emerging from elections. I became aware of it through the Spanish model. In Spain the populists ruled the country for eight years, then the socialists came and suddenly the entire idea of the secular state had been changed by some laws which were accepted by the parliament by the majority of votes--the whole character of the secular state has changed fundamentally.
 
In recent decades some new ethical problems have occurred in most of the countries, problems that were unknown in the past. For example, in some of these contracts, issues such as research in the field of human stem cells and the kind was not taken into consideration at all. The question was as to what extent has the state the right and responsibility to regulate these issues, including their incorporation into the school curricula. Let's say, that secular teachers with religious beliefs should lecture about state presented ideology, even though it is in conflict with their conscience. Moreover, there is a radical interference of the Islamic world, which was not taken into account by Western Europe until now. If an Islamic policeman refuses to guard the Israeli Embassy in London and the state respects that, then Western Europe--even though it claims that the state keeps absolutely everything in its hand--suddenly, under a particular pressure (e.g. terrorism), takes a step back regarding religions. Other countries where the Islamic community is significant will also face the same problem. I am convinced that the issue of conscience will become a central topic.
 
I do not really have a recipe for how to solve this issue, I only observe that this problem will come into existence. It is only a question of time before Christian churches become aware of issues like how far the state can go in determining a country's ideology and how long particular churches can influence a state's ideology. Of course, I do not think they should rule the basic ideology of the state, but search for balance between the state, church and people with conscience. Finding this balance is very complicated issue, therefore, I am not surprised that the contract about conscience-restriction is very controversial. This measure will probably be the object of huge arguments, discussions, where the balance between the conscience of man and his role in society will be observed.
 
Slovakia as part of Czechoslovakia followed the more than hundred-year-old Austro-Hungarian model, which had automatically been adopted by the Czechoslovak Republic: the state finances the wages of the clergy and the teachers of religion. This model was adopted also by the communist Czechoslovakia but the state used it as an instrument of possible extortion of the clergy and people who participated in the work of churches. After more than a hundred years of mental exploitation it would not be easy to find a reasonable model. After November 1989 this model has basically remained unchanged.
 
To find a good model is never simple, it always depends on people's mentality as well as the atmosphere of the era. In my opinion, Slovakia really needs a new model. We have small churches, which will surely need a kind of bonus. The Italian model appears to be the most acceptable starting point. According to this model the state covers the clerical sphere (church, charity).
 
Up to now, three Vatican contracts have been accepted by Slovakia. The first one is a basic contract, the other two are subcontracts (military units and the education system). The specific features of these contracts (although the media do not mention them very often) are that the Vatican contract--especially the basic and the educational one--is approved by the parliament, therefore, it is more difficult to terminate. Contracts signed with particular churches are only governmental contracts but they are secured by the Constitution of the Slovak Republic on the same level as the Vatican contract since the Constitution of the Slovak Republic stipulates the equality of all the churches and religions. If the government changed something in the law concerning only one particular church, the Constitutional Court would be obliged to cancel it without hesitation because it would be very difficult to achieve such changes towards the Catholic Church. So the fact that all the religions are equal is partly a result of the accepted Vatican contracts. Even though some of them are international and others are inter-governmental, according to the Constitution it is not possible to intervene in any of them as long as the international contract is modified as a case authority.
 
Tamás Barabás:
On the basis of this much information it is easy to respond. My colleague Péter Buda spoke about the history of the state ecclesiastical law or state ecclesiastical policy and its aspects in Hungary. As a representative of a civil organisation, I would like to present some interesting views to you. The current Hungarian policy tries to solve the issue of churches as a social phenomenon in the so-called "late Kádár-era" way, which is hardly maintainable. At present, there is a huge cleaning-up process in the Hungarian state administration. In the last sixteen years church relations were dealt with at the departmental or government office level, so the political elite transposed it several times to other levels. The reason is a very strong tendency, which also marks Visegrad countries: the state is in a phase of retreat. It cannpt manage with some of its functions, it is not able to cover plenty of social and educational facilities with the budget. At the same time, the church slowly finds its way again regarding issues like communication and functioning as well. The state retreats, while the church tries to take positions more dynamically. An example from the civil sector's point of view: the state in Hungary struggles to delimitate at least three thousand tasks for local authorities, which is obviously impossible. It seems that the church takes over more and more tasks from the state, maintains social and educational institutions. By virtue of the state's supervising power, the limits of this autonomy are evident. The institutions, e.g. a schools or hospitals, get a normative contribution. Is it necessary to withdraw the state power and functions and respect church autonomy? In our opinion, it is not. There isn't the right space for it. At the same time, regional constitutions clearly declare that the state functions separately from the church. By virtue of Hungarian law it means the deficit of supervisory rights. I think it's a dominant question also in Slovakia as well as in Poland either from the point of view of church financing or aspects of support for church institutions. Where are the limits of church autonomy?
 
Ladislav Snopko (former Minister of Culture of Slovakia):
The title of today's topic "the state and the church" does not seem clear enough for me. It gives the impression as if we are talking about one state and one church. The state is one but churches are more. The relation must be interactive. That is an interactivity where both parties are afraid of encroachment on their rights. I think that Slovakia in relation to churches is gradually normalising. During the communist era the encroachment of state on matters of religion was unprecedented. The fear of reverse encroachment is only theoretical, however, the communist state "came into being" because of people's impressions that the church exceedingly encroaches on state matters-I refer to the era before the communist regime was established in our country. If we want to avoid both of the above mentioned situations, we should remember that the state is the factor in public matters. I'm not sure if it's correct to talk about the ideology of state because it's a kind of simplification of the topic. The state shouldn't have an ideology, it should manage the coexistence of citizens with different ideologies.
 
That's what makes the difference between state and church ideology, since the church is a matter of ideology. At the same time we have to remember that the state is here for everyone, including the church. If the state and church have a definite relationship, then the church should be opened up towards tendencies which are not for everyone, but also allow people to join who don't directly belong to it. I mean, that the state doesn't contribute only to the functioning of churches, but also to the maintenance of listed ecclesiastical architecture, which is part of our cultural heritage and not only a particular church. I often meet the opinion that relics co-financed by the state aren't accessible to the general public, but only to believers (during masses). It should be resolved somehow, because this relationship isn't fairly defined. I would say that this topic we're discussing consists of old issues. We're facing a new theme, which isn't really about state-church relations but the relationship among particular churches themselves and the state where they operate. We've already heard about future problems, which aren't present in our country yet. For example, problems between Christians and Moslems in other countries-they are problems among churches. In such cases the state should serve as an arbitrator; not in the matter of one church against the other, but for those problems which are connected to the life of every citizen. A serious problem between the Greco-Roman and the Orthodox church arose after 1989-90. I suppose that the state fulfilled its mission precisely and understood that the solution of this problem can't stay only in the hands of these two churches. The state tried to solve this problem through all the possible approaches, not only legislative but also material. The result was really notable since the conflict remained only on a verbal level, although it could have ended in much worse. The same conflict was observable in the Balkans and it ended in an awfully bloody contract. We have to think ahead to the future; the state will have to solve similar problems even though it doesn't seem to affect us at this moment.
 
Tomasz Dostatni:
You said the church is a matter of ideology. In my opinion, Christians, Catholics, Evangelists, Orthodox people should ask themselves a question: What is the church? I don't agree with the argument that the church is a matter of ideology, the church and Christianity is a matter of religion.
 
Ladislav Snopko:
I apologise, I didn't exactly mean the concept of ideology but rather an idea.
 
Katarína Zavacká (historian):
I'm an employee of the State and Judicial Institute of Slovak Academy of Sciences, I deal with state and legal history. When I came here, I told myself I wouldn't say a word. But now it's difficult to refrain from doing so. I'm a radical opponent of Mr. Mikloško's. I can say, I'm a really strong opponent of him. Mr. Dostatni, the problems you've mentioned are really useful for me. The problem of Poland and Hungary is clear to me. With the acceptance of the Act in 1895 all churches became equal including the Jewish Church: that was a hard struggle.
 
This Act got through only with one vote, after three or four rounds, thanks to the Prime Minister, Mr. Wekerle. In so far, it was also a difficult problem to solve but it turned the progress onto a positive course. We can all be proud that it succeeded. The significance of this Act can't be denied. We can say that in Slovakia in 1939 under the governance of a Catholic clergyman as a president, this law slowly and silently went into the background. It means that Jewish and other smaller churches were liquidated and excluded from the system of protection. Also the other accepted churches (e.g. the evangelical) were persecuted as well as Catholic priests. None of them have a memorial tablet. Even those who participated in the anti-fascist movement have no memorial up to this day. Nobody patronised the Catholic Church in a proper way even after the year of 1948. Was somebody against the pursuit of priests? Maybe only on the local level. Taking into consideration the strong Catholic background of Slovakia that was absolutely "zero". Our moderator, Mr. Kolár said once, that the Catholic Church is a matter of influence. I don't agree with you. I didn't feel this influence at all. Neither did other serious churchgoers. They didn't feel that influence, they didn't have any support. Unlike the Polish Catholic Church, which collaborated with "Solidarnosť" and even after World War II and under communists supported those who were strong believers. As far as I know, in our country it wasn't like this. Why did the candle manifestation have such small support? We had an intellectual problem to go there. And why should we have done it? We didn't perceive it as being against the regime. They are important things, which are sometimes hidden and covered.
 
The basic contract with the Vatican had been signed so secretly that I had just one night to make a report about it. I made an explanatory report of the first version. I was surprised when I recognised that I've known it for a long time since I read the concordat with Mussolini before 1989. It was simply copied. Unbelievable. I knew some other contracts signed by Hitler and Austria. I'm not a fanatic, I've just read them one after another. Well, after reading this contract, including the explanatory report, you, who are sitting here, would look at the words of Mr. Mikloško about the relationship between the state and the Catholic Church in a completely different way. Also the draft contract about the retention of the conscience. He has mentioned stem cells, for instance. Regarding education, the Catholic church always gets the worst of it. The second Vatican council initiated that science and research must be accepted. The problem is that it hasn't arrived here yet. Regarding religious education: if somebody wanted to attend it he/she could. I wasn't brought up in a religious way but I myself enrolled in religion class in the seventh grade in order to have enough pupils in the class, otherwise it would have been cancelled. Recently, there's a visible hegemony of the catholic church. I heard it with my own ears, that this basic contract started the disestablishment of our country. From a certain approach, yes. The state should pay and not care about us. That way we are separated from the state. It's a great approach, isn't it? For our money... the Catholic Church doesn't have any obligations. Therefore I suggest that you study it in detail. Thank you very much for your attention.
 
František Mikloško:
I don't have to deal with history, my opinion is clear and publicly known. Scientific progress is colossal. Unbelievable scientific results have been achieved in the last ten, twenty or thirty years. The problem isn't the research of stem cells. The root of the problem lies somewhere else Let me tell you a concrete example: A teacher (Catholic, Protestant or whatever) should teach that this issue is OK--and this is a problem of conscience. The basic matter is if she/he can say her/his opinion; if it will be accepted; to what extent the state specifies the drafts which should be accepted by everyone or if she/he can make reasonable comments on it, according to her/his conscience. Under communism it wasn't possible to comment and whoever made some remarks was fired. The question is, how is it going to be nowadays. Same sex marriage has been allowed in some countries. The question is, if the mayor or someone else is obliged to marry them. If yes, then it's a problem in a sense. He, as a believer, could say: according to the ten Commandments I accept marriage only between men and women. These problems will persist. The most radical are the Moslems because they enter into it without any discussion. We are trying to find solutions and handle this issue very carefully but Moslems enter into it in a way we all will be surprised. Moslems will enforce it in the most radical way because they will support it without any discussion. We will search for solutions but Moslems will not. We would be all surprised.
 
Katarína Zavacká:
Each survey should be communicated to the public. The teacher doesn't have to make comments, he/she has to inform about scientific results. It's possible to misuse anything if it's suppressed. It is not a restriction. If the mayor refuses to marry someone, he shouldn't run for election since he's the mayor of all the citizens, not only Catholics.
 
Péter Buda:
I'm also convinced that the neutrality of the state educational system and the state administration result in the strong presence (existence) of public school institutions, where there are no church doctrines and principles. Anyone who wants to hear and learn about them can enrol in a church school--recently also in the Visegrad Four countries. Nobody's conscience will be aggrieved, because there's the possibility of school selection in accordance with his/her own belief. I think the same about bioethical issues or marriages of the same sex. I, as a religious and conservative man, consider it correct that everyone should adopt an attitude according to his/her morality and world view. In my opinion, the state shouldn't criticise the cohabitation of people with the same sex, its "task" is just to legally affirm it. That's out of its line. That's the reason why there are in secular democracies secular, civil marriage ceremonies. Of course, everyone can take part in a church wedding too and it doesn't have any civil consequences. The state claims the right to legal registration of two people's cohabitation. If this cohabitation refers to people of the same sex, anyone can morally disagree with it but the state is not right to assume a moral position on this matter. At least according to the principles of a neutral state. The issue of the concordat between Slovakia and the Vatican caused a great stir all over Europe, indeed. It was also a programme point in the working group for ecclesiastical policy of the EP where I work. Some people vehemently criticised it because of its standpoints, which are--according to their opinion-in conflict with church and state separation. They referred to tasks of the church in the past, e.g. during communism; collaboration and its mission before communism as well. That's a serious problem also in Hungary. In Poland as well as in former East Germany they took the "monitoring" of the church very seriously. In Poland, the Catholic Church was the leading fighter in the anti-communist rebellion. In Hungary, it wasn't like this. The clergy remained the most faithful and devoted ideological supporters of the government until the year 1989. In Hungary, the screening of the church wasn't accomplished even up to this day, although it's requested also by believers who were the victims of it.
 
I suppose that the church-state relation has to be perceived in historical context. It's necessary to recognise historical influences. These are defining elements these questions. Without taking them into consideration it isn't possible to approach the problem adequately. The role of the church during the last centuries also belongs to it. Its task consisted of the discrimination and degradation of people with a different attitude to ideology and church. It refers to churches in every country. In our country it was the law of 1895, which meant a huge step towards the solution of the situation. In Hungary, in the thirties and forties the Catholic Church was the biggest barrier against the acknowledgement of equality of other religions.
 
This fact raises further questions, for instance, blasphemy. I have no idea how many of you are aware of the fact that the Blasphemy acts are valid in several countries of Europe even today, that anyone who offends God can be persecuted. It is a criminal act judged similarly as massacres. These acts are still valid but inactive. They aren't active due to the strong secularisation of society. Until the last few years, it wasn't really common to persecute somebody because he/she offended someone's religious sensitivities with his or her work of art or literary work. However, there were some attempts towards it in recent years. It's also thanks to the appearance of Islamic fundamentalism in Europe.
 
An extreme example: one of the commercial chains in Great Britain had to withdraw the fairy piglet from one of its packaging because of Islamic protests. The piglet as an animal offends the "Moslems sensitivity". Therefore they protested against selling and exhibiting it on shelves. The chain bowed to the will of these protestors and withdrew the piglet from its packaging. There are some less ridiculous cases, e.g. prohibition of art, theatrical and literary works, which were investigated by the European Court of Human Rights.
 
Until we notice that it's a rising tendency, we move on an abstract and theoretical level, that means we discuss the size of the grant particular churches should get from the state. Unfortunately we talk about tendencies, which vitalise those from the past centuries and I think there are lot of people who are afraid of that. We are scared of the resurrection of blasphemy acts as a consequence of fundamentalist tendencies.
 
The most important set of questions the states should deal with are European values, European integration and the European Constitution. The leaders of the EU issue the so-called "Berlin Declaration" during the spring, where they take a stand regarding these issues. At the background there is enormous lobbying from both the church and secular sides. From the church's point of view, it's necessary to remember the subject and seriousness of these struggles. It isn't only about having a reference to Christian heritage in the European Constitution. It's clear to everyone that European spiritual and historical heritage have a mostly Christian background. What we mean by Christianity, is a different question. We all know, that until recently there was cutthroat competition between at least two streams, I mean the conflict between Protestants and Roman Catholics. The subject of efforts is pragmatic. I could appeal to the declaration of the recent Pope. As a cardinal he said that it depends on whether God and our responsibility in the face of Him would be an organic part of the EU Constitution or not. As a matter of fact, it's about the change of paradigm, the goal of which is the ecclesiastical legitimating of the actual secular European political community. It has already been formulated by other, protestant and orthodox, organisations. They declared the necessity of decisive steps towards "putting clothes on" European law by religious dimensions. It would be important to discuss the opinion of the intellectual society and the political elite of our countries regarding this issue. It would be interesting to know their standpoint.
 
Tomasz Dostatni:
I am familiar with this situation from recent years in Poland. The expression of the dictatorship of the laity was mentioned here not long ago. As the topic of this round-table discussion is the state and the church, we Slovaks, Hungarians and Czechs should take into consideration our own history, e.g. the state-church relation in Slovakia within Czechoslovakia. I learned here how this relationship looked and how the Slovak state worked during World War II. Well, how was it during communism? In Poland we had a completely different experience. Poland as a state didn't exist for 127 years. The Russian tzar ruled over the country. The Orthodox church had a dominant position, the Catholic church was oppressed. If we take a look at the German occupation, it was the same with Prussian Protestantism. The point is that we have to detach the secular state and the religious state. Let's have a look at the development of today's Russia, how does president Putin perceive the role of the Orthodox Church and compare it with Greece or Israel, where most of the citizens are atheists and in spite of this fact it's a religious state. Mrs. Zavadská, what you consider to be a church, Christianity, is not my church and Christianity. In so far that I would recommend you to investigate how Catholics or other faiths look at the state-church relationship. Since the second Vatican Council the Catholic Church has not agreed with the concept of the religious or secular state as an ideological state but accepts the terms autonomy and collaboration.
 
Gábor Zászlós (former director of TriGránit Development for Slovakia):
The remark about the state-church relation to globalisation was very interesting. European globalisation shouldn't be overestimated. If we intend to discuss it, we can't avoid the concept of economic interest. It's dominant in every field. Whether we study the matter in religious and philosophical or economic and philosophical terms or any other aspect, economic interest would always be extremely influential. I suppose that the church, in the process of globalisation, could organise a kind of unlimited global manifestation. Such a process would be really effective. Historical churches might form a circle, where they would be able to represent their common interests. We know there isn't an incorporate law yet, so we can't be very optimistic at the present. Regarding state-church relations as well as issues of tolerance (e.g. the church doesn't accept but tolerates the marriage of people of the same sex) I want to remind you that legal acts by the church has their own consequences. Lately we are witness to individual political and social factionalism both in Hungary and Slovakia. It's also visible to everyone what's going on in the area of property management, property partition or how chief clergy representatives express themselves in the field of socio-philosophical, spiritual and social life issues. I would like to hear your brief opinions. Thank you very much.
 
František Mikloško:
This material question today gains neither a symbolic nor a principal character. The church can rent fields and forests and get a lot of money for it but it isn't enough to support the whole church. The situation is the same with returned buildings and buildings reconstructed by the church. On the other hand, we talk about the fact that the state covers the salary of priests, pays people for public service. The church has to finance the reconstruction of churches, schools, etc. from its own money. I think that it's only a supplementary issue, which relates to the church. The church refuses to make an audit of its property because it should include also the monuments, monstrances and goblets. These are incalculable values, but what does the church financially gain from it? They can't be sold.
 
Péter Buda:
In relation to the material background of the church I would like to cite the decree of Paul the Apostle from the Bible: the servants of the gospel should live from the gospel. That means, the one who sets out on the road to spread the gospel should be sustained by believers. It's an obvious and a logical idea. I would feel very badly if I had to take money from people of a different religious faith and live on their work and moreover they don't even agree with me and have completely different ideas. I would consider it dishonest and feel really ashamed. Of course, it's necessary to take into consideration the fact of communist nationalisation. A kind of compensation system was elaborated in Hungary, which is still accompanied by heated discussion. It's necessary to draw the line at a particular point. It isn't normal, if the state supports the churches. The origin of church property is really a serious issue. In the past it was about gifts of rulers or tithes; that was obviously not a spontaneous system but formed the basis of church property. It's necessary to take that into consideration. The church in Hungary, after nationalisation, was enormously in debt. The state assumed the debts. It would be also interesting to calculate and define--without any ideological or other rage--how long it would take for churches to recover from this situation. Everyone is struggling through problems, even private entrepreneurs can hardly survive. These problems should be solved individually and nobody should count on the support of the state.
 
There was a question raised if chief representatives of churches should respond to social questions. If yes, then what kind of interests should they stand for? I belong to those who say that churches have the right to talk politics and express their opinion. On the other hand, it's difficult to say if it's blissful and how it affects the behaviour of believers. In Hungary, for instance, 90% of the population rejects the presence of the church in politics. The aim of all religion is to try to guide and control the life of believers in their daily life as well as to convince them (also atheists) to follow those particular church doctrines. In my opinion, it isn't bad at this level. It's quite normal for the church, and society can benefit from it too. The moral navigation they get could probably help them. Beyond this level, when it changes into the formulation of laws and these religious-political views become obligatory for the whole society, that is a huge problem. It's also a problem when in a democratic society some churches try to shift the competition among "normal" parties into the metaphysical position and struggle to make a kind of space war as if the fight between the right and left wing was a fight between good and bad. Unfortunately, there are very concrete examples of it in Hungary, where it is the fundamental point of political factionalism. Believers belonging to the two main parties hate each other with practically transcendental rage since they are told that the other is the reincarnation of the Satan itself, who wants to destroy God and religion, though it isn't like this, of course. In my opinion, it's one of the biggest problems if religion or the church identifies with a political party. I don't want to cosy up to any political party, they are all the same. Democracy is about changes, so I think it would be necessary to replace them from time to time. It's better than absolute dictatorship or monarchy. Therefore if the church pulls itself together and says: this party represents the Land of God, it results in awful political factionalism on one hand as well as qualifies itself on the other hand. What is that system of moral values of the church that should be followed by the particular party and represent the divine law? Well, we all know political parties, they represent whatever, but not divine law. That's the core of the problem when churches try to raise social fights to a metaphysical and transcendental level. It's necessary to find the limit.
 
Miroslav Kollár:
In Slovakia, only two thirds of the public rejects the direct interference of church representatives in the elections or the government's activity. We have two different experiences. In 1998, when it was all about getting back to anti-democratic development, representatives of churches clearly declared their opinion, which significantly influenced the society at this time. In the elections in 2002 or 2006, when we thought the basic problem of democracy had already been solved, the voice of the church was perceived much more carefully and negatively. At this time it was considered to be the voice of a specific political party.
 
We've spent two hours together. It was only enough to open the topic and put forth some questions. We spoke about key problems in particular countries as well as common challenges being solved by churches or particular national states. I would like to ask the participating members to make a brief summary of the most serious problems in their own country.
 
Tomasz Dostatni:
In Poland it's going to be the question of coming to terms with the communist past. The resignation of the Warsaw archbishop just a few days ago is only the beginning. I suppose everything will fall together and the Polish church and Polish Christianism will find an internal strength to be able to settle the problems. During the communist era the church in Poland more or less didn't fail. It has resources and a base. The Gospel tells us what we have to do. It means we have to live with the past, we have to apologise and we have to ask society and the church to help us settle the past. I hope it will happen in Poland as soon as possible.
 
František Mikloško:
I think the church in Slovakia, as well as all the churches will have to find their own identity within the free society in the near future. Churches during communism had only one goal, that is to protect the faith and basic structures. Now, in the free state they have to search for new problems and speak about them. I have a feeling that this process has not yet started. But life will force each church to look for their own identity. Of course, problems will occur since that identity will be in a specific community, state.
 
Péter Buda:
I guess that the most important issues in all three countries are the problems related to EU integration and religious questions of integration. It's conceivable that from the religious and church policy point of view they will be determining factors during the next few years in all three states. In my opinion, first of all it's necessary to be aware of the issues of the history of neutrality of the state. What were the reasons and historical contexts of its creation? Which hindsight gave rise to the opinion that in order to achieve the greatest possible peace among completely different people it is important to assume the principle of secularisation of the state? I think that it's important to develop religious education in these states in order to understand the problem. The most serious problem in Hungary is moving conflicts into a transcendental position. Unfortunately, this tendency can be observed all over the world. It's because of increasing anti-modernist and fundamental tendencies. It isn't equal to the sudden attack of the church, but it's obviously about political, religious and fundamental tendencies, which contribute to the radicalisation of real political conflicts. If we overcome prejudices, we will realise that those who don't appreciate other opinions can't be either religious or mere Galilean. If somebody takes his/her own faith seriously, he/she knows how holy and sensitive the conscience is. It doesn't even enter his/her mind to ask other churches or differently thinking people to support his/her own religion and doesn't expect anybody to take on different moral principles. In this issue, I think we're still in the Middle Ages. The change didn't come, there is nothing new under the sun, we fight our battles, which remained here, in European civilisation for us. We have the constitution, which talks about state-church separation but is useless, because there are always some struggles which want to link them together. We have a criminal statute, which deals with criminal consequences, criminals don't disappear because they don't care about it. It's a pity that we can never establish an ideal society. The first principle, in my opinion should be tolerance. However, this doesn't mean either neutrality or indifference any more. We can find values, which we consider to be holy and absolute also in our own life.
 

Guests:
Péter Buda (expert on clerical policy, Hungary), Tamás Barabás (Chief of the Religion, Information and Education Centre, Hungary), František Mikloško (member of the National Council of the Slovak Rebublic, for the Christian Democratic Party), Tomasz Dostatni (cleric, expert author, Poland); moderator: Miroslav Kollár (expert on clerical policy, researcher of the Institute for Public Affairs, Slovakia)
 

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