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'Morality pact' to boost Catholic influence in Slovakia

Slovakia has brokered an agreement with the Vatican on conscientious objection, increasing the influence of the Church in the country's schools, hospitals, courts, and security structures.

The law on freedom of conscience would be the first such pact between a European state and the Vatican. It would allow doctors to refuse abortions on religious grounds, judges to throw out divorce applications because of their faith, and teachers to decline to take part in sex education classes because, as well as allowing conscientious objection to military service on religious grounds.

The small central European country is expected to pass the law next month, well ahead of a visit by Pope John Paul II scheduled for September.

Commentators suggest the move is part of the Pope's strategy has been to "re-evangelise" Europe by concentrating primarily on the eastern half of the continent, where religion was repressed for half a century under the communists.

In the current debate over a European Union constitution, the Vatican is pressing the future members from eastern Europe to insist on a reference to a Christian God. The Slovak parliament has just instructed the government to support the reference to the divine and, like Catholic Poland, is demanding opt-out clauses in its EU membership on cultural and ethical issues which, for example, would enable it to proscribe equal rights for gays.

Critics contend that the series of agreements with the Vatican contravenes notions of the separation of church and state, while other denominations in Slovakia complain that the Catholic church enjoys a privileged position.

The Guardiani

European Union's anti-God stance could draw churches together (26/2/03)
EU snubs Pope with no reference to God (19/2/03)
Pope's 2003 travel plans taking shape (4/12/02)

23 Apr 2003