Historical Cross-section of Ten Years Long Activity of the Slovak Bishops’ Conference
 
Historical Cross-section of Ten Years Long Activity of the Slovak 30 vak Bishops’ Conference rarely and only temporarily by political events in other countries. An exception lasting for a longer time was the case of Spiš towns pawned to Poland by Sigmund of Luxemburg in 1412 which belonged under the jurisdiction of the Bishops of Krakow until the reign of Maria Teresia.
On 15 March 1776, Pope Pius VI established three new dioceses in the Slovak territory – Banská Bystrica, Spiš and Rožňava – at the request of Maria Teresia. The borders of the Diocese of Nitra were adjusted at the same time. The Diocese of Košice was established on 10 August 1804. The Greek-Catholic Diocese of Prešov was founded in 1818 separating from the Diocese of Mukačevo. This happened after the events in Uzhgorod in 1649, where the process of unification of the Eastern Christians – mostly Rusins, but also some Slovaks, Serbs and Hungarians living in 13 northern areas – with the
Catholic Church started. A model for this union was the union of the Metropoli of Kiev with the Catholic Church, which was declared during the council in Brest-Litovsk already in 1596.
After the fall of the Austro- Hungarian Monarchy and the foundation of its succeeding states in 1918, many changes happened in the Slovak ecclesiastical jurisdiction. In 1920, the filling of the bishoprics with native priests helped to put in order the situation in the Church. The Holy See gave full power of residential bishops to the newly named apostolic administrators in Trnava, Rožňava and Košice. The diocesan Bishops of Nitra, Banská Bystrica and Spiš were withdrawn from the jurisdiction
of the Metropolitas of Esztergom and Eger and they were subordinated directly to Rome. The Slovak Ecclesiastical Province was de facto established and the arch pastors (bishops) of the Slovak nation acted together in common matters as the Bishops Council of Slovakia and they were represented by the Senior Bishop with no special jurisdiction as primus inter pares. The first one was Marián Blaha followed by Karol Kmeťko after 1943.
In 1927, the treaty Modus Vivendi was concluded. Besides the setting of diocesan borders, the treaty included an accord on repealing the state administration of the Church’s property.
Voices from Slovakia demanding an independent ecclesiastical province sounded more frequently (the first attempt was made in 1919). The delimitative bull from 1937 delineating the Slovak ecclesiastical territory gave reasons to think that Slovakia would not wait for a long time for the establishment of an archdiocese and the nomination of an archbishop. The same document presupposed foundation of a Greek-Catholic Metropoli. These hopes were dashed by the events of 1938, 1939 and the WWII.
Little change was made in the Diocese of Spiš which administrated those parts of upper Orava and Spiš belonging to Slovakia from the Diocese of Krakow after the war between Germany and Poland in autumn 1939. The exemption of Slovak dioceses from the jurisdiction of the preceding archbishops and the direct subordination to Rome continued.
The Senior Bishop of the Bishops Council of Slovakia Karol Kmeťko was named Archbishop ad personam by Pope Pius XII on 20 May 1944 and the hope of establishing an ecclesiastical province grew. The Holy See waited for the War to end in the expectation of changes in political borders.
After the Viennese Arbitrage on 2 November 1938, two Slovak Bishoprics Košice and Rožňava and a big part of the territory of the Trnava Apostolic administ r a t i o n were occupied by Hungary. The Holy See established a special Apostolic administ r a t i o n from the parts of Košice, Rožňava and Szatumar Dioceses remaining in Slovakia, with a seat in Prešov.
Slovakia, without its southern parts, became an independent country on 14 March 1939 and it was led by a Catholic priest Dr. Jozef Tiso who became president on 26 October 1939. The Slovak Republic entered into diplomatic relations with the Vatican which sent its charge d’affaires Mons. Giuseppe Burzio in 1940. The Slovak state was recognized by 29 countries, including the Soviet Union.
The year 1945 brought the end of the WWII and liberation to many countries. Not so in Slovakia. The end of the war was the beginning of a long misery for Slovakia. The pressure on inhabitants and faithful was not brought by the communist “palace revolution” in 1948, but already by the partisan operation in autumn 1944 and by the new political situation after 1945. All attacks against the Catholic Church, its hierarchy and individual members in Slovakia were motivated by the identification of Slovak patriotism with faith. This hostile situation lasted until 1989, with the exception of years 1968-9.
After brutal interventions, the Church existed without its most important and vital institutions. Bishops, who were not imprisoned, were isolated in their residences and limited in their activities.
Over 300 diocesan priests were taken out of the pastoral ministry (isolation, concentration camps, prison) in 1950. There were 16 male orders with 96 monasteries and 1019 monks, and 24 female orders with 168 monasteries and 4253 nuns in Slovakia in 1950. The State precluded them from their activities and they were all sent to one central place and were not allowed to have novices.
Bishops, many priests and Christian laity acted heroically during the hard line of the atheistic regime against basic human rights.
After intensive negotiations between the Holy See and the government of the Czechoslovak Socialist
Republic, on 30 December 1977, Pope Paul VI, with the Constitution Praescriptionum Sacrosancti, separated the territory of Trnava administration from the Archdiocese of Esztergom, set the borders of dioceses in Slovakia, as well as the borders of the Diocese of Olomouc. He established the Slovak Ecclesiastical Province with the Apostolic Constitution Qui Divino. The Apostolic Administration was promoted to an Archdiocese.
The situation after November 1989 adjusted the relationship between the State and the Church. The naming of new bishops for the unoccupied dioceses was the first sign of this.
Naming Ján Chryzostom Korec a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church was a big expression of love to the Church in Slovakia, as well as personal appreciation for his loyalty to the Roman See and to Christian values. Ján Chryzostom Korec – “bishop in dungarees” – could not carry out his episcopal duties publicly from the time of his consecration in 1951. We can state with thankfulness that, thanks to the Holy See, to which Slovaks have always shown their loyalty, already before 2000, Slovakia had two cardinals (Jozef Tomko in Rome and Ján Chryzostom Korec in Nitra) and four archbishops (Ján Sokol and Alojz Tkáč in Slovakia; Dominik Hrušovský and Ján Bukovský working in the diplomatic service of the Vatican) and the highest number of bishops (17) in its history.
The historical first visit of the Holy Father to the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic took place on 21
and 22 April 1990. After the solemn divine services in Prague and Velehrad, John Paul II visited Bratislava and celebrated holy mass at the airport in Vajnory. A short period of time before his visit, a common Bishops Conference of the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic was established. An Apostolic Nuncio for the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic, Giovanni Coppa, was named on 30 June 1990.
On 1 January 1993, an independent Slovak Republic was founded. Slovak bishops represented by Cardinal Korec (from 23 April 1990 until 4 May 1993) asked the Holy See to establish an independent Slovak Bishops’ Conference. The bishops of Slovakia were realizing the uniqueness of many pastoral problems which were specific to Slovakia and very different from the situation in Bohemia.
The Holy See accepted the request and the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Bernardinus Gautin, approved the Slovak Bishops’ Conference on 23 March 1993. Nuncio Coppa announced this joyful news to Cardinal Korec, President of the Slovak Bishops’ Conference and Bishop of
Nitra, on 2 April 1993. Several reasons were mentioned by the Holy See including: “For the good of the Church in the beloved Slovak nation… for its further development.”
The Slovak Bishops’ Conference as a permanent institution is the assembly of the Bishops of Slovakia, exercising together certain pastoral offices for Christ’s faithful of that territory. By forms and means of apostolate suited to the circumstances of time and place, it is to promote, in accordance with the law, that greater good which the Church offers to all people (comp. CCL can. 447).
Mons. František Tondra, Bishop of Spiš, was elected the first President of the Slovak Bishops’ Conference (4 May 1993 – 13 April 1994). On 13 April 1994, Mons. Rudolf Baláž was elected the new President and reelected on 29 April 1997. Mons. Tondra was elected again on 31 August 2000.
The first assembly of the Slovak bishops, at that time still members of the common federarive bishops’ conference, took place in Nitra on 19-20 January 1993 in the presence of the apostolic nuncio G. Coppa and all fourteen Slovak bishops.
The ten year long activity of The Slovak Bishops’ Conference has been very rich. Bishops and their helpers had to deal with many problems which were consequences of the unblest heritage of more than 40-years of the communist atheistic regime, the main aim of which was the liquidation of the Church and
of religious life as such. With the new social order and by opening ourselves to the world, there are new possibilities for the faithful in Slovakia. They are not, however, protected from new dangers.
Rich activities of the Slovak Bishops’ Conference were marked by the Decade of Spiritual Revival of
Slovakia which was a preparation for the Jubilee Year 2000. The Bishops of Slovakia communicate with the faithful through regular pastoral letters (at the beginning of the new ecclesiastical year, World Day of Communications, before elections, etc) and published an extensive Pastoral Letter on European Integration in 2002.
Particular councils and committees work within the Slovak Bishops’ Conference. These are trying to work inside the Church, as well as developing the relationship of Church and society and spreading Christian values in every sphere of life.
Emeritius Bishops (Mons. Peter Dubovský, Mons. Jozef Feranec, Mons. Ján Hirka) as well as the Slovak Bishops living abroad (Jozef kardinál Tomko, Mons. Michal Rusnák, Mons. Pavol Hnilica, Mons. Dominik Kaľata, Mons. Andrej Grutka, Mons. Jozef Adamec, Mons. Dominik Hrušovský, Mons. Ján Bukovský, Mons. Jozef Zlatňanský, Mons. John Pazak, Mons. Milan Šášik, Mons. Ladislav Hučko) also belong to the spiritual community of the Slovak hierarchy.

Prof. Viliam Judák
Dean of Faculty of Theology of
Comenius University in Bratislava