This week the Associated Press reported on a situation in the Slovak Republic involving the Mormon Church. The LDS Church is seeking Slovak support, which would allow the church to register as an official religious group in that nation. But bishops of the dominant Catholic church don’t like the idea.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) – Roman Catholic bishops are fighting efforts by the Mormon church to earn official recognition as a religious group in Slovakia.The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is urging Slovaks “who care about religious liberty” to sign a petition that would allow the denomination to be officially recognized. Slovak law requires 20,000 signatures for a church to be registered.
But the Catholic bishops are telling parishioners that signing the document would “betray” Catholicism. The bishops said in a statement that Mormon doctrine “is not in line with the doctrine of the Catholic Church.”
“We call on all Catholics…not to sign this petition,” the bishops said.
According to the International Religious Freedom Report 2003 found on the U.S. Department of State web site, the Slovakian constitution provides for freedom of religion. A religious group is not required to register (there are currently 16 registered religious groups), but those who do are eligible for Government benefits including subsidies for clergymen and office expenses, funding for religious schools, and partial exemption from paying taxes. Furthermore,
…only registered religious groups have the explicit right to conduct public worship services and other activities, although no specific religions or practices are banned or discouraged by the authorities in practice.
Indeed, in 1999 the LDS Church conducted an open house for a new church building in Bratislava which was attended by the President of the Slovak Republic.
The Religious Freedom Report also states there are no restrictions on missionaries of non-registered groups:
There are no specific licensing or registration requirements for foreign missionaries or religious organizations. The law allows all religious groups to send out their representatives as well as to receive foreign missionaries without limitation. Missionaries neither need special permission to stay in the country, nor are their activities regulated in any way.
So why is the LDS Church intent on becoming registered? According to the U.S. State Department, Slovakian registration requires submission of a list of 20,000 permanent residents who adhere to the religion seeking recognition. There are only 100-120 Mormons in Slovakia; therefore, the LDS Church is sponsoring a petition in place of the required membership list.
The Mormon church said Monday that it was not seeking to convert Catholics.”We respect the decision of every citizen, and the petition was in no way meant to convert anybody to our faith,” Mormon spokesman Petr Valnicek said. “Religious liberty is all we had in mind.”
The citizens of Slovakia already enjoy religious liberty, as does the LDS Church entity within that country. Perhaps the Church wants these religious rights backed up with official recognition to ensure they are not at a disadvantage in the future. This is fully understandable.
What I can’t understand is the statement, “The Mormon church said Monday that it was not seeking to convert Catholics.” I understand that the actual petition is not directly aimed at converting Catholics, but to claim that the LDS Church has no interest in or plans to convert people from that faith in a country that is 68.9% Roman Catholic — how can that be?
Missionary work began in what is now the Slovak Republic in 1929. The 2006 [LDS] Church Almanac says that missionary work there was suspended for many years, but in 1992 LDS missionaries arrived in the city of Trencin to begin work in earnest. Today there are three LDS branches, located in Trencin, Bratislava and Zilina.
And of course, where LDS missionaries are, there is proselytizing. The LDS web site says:
According to Church president Hinckley, the Church has “a commission to go in the world and teach the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue and people.”
Would this not include Catholics?
The LDS web site also says:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is well known for the missionaries it sends throughout the world to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ…Currently, some 56,000 Latter-day Saints are participating in proselytizing missions around the world.
To “proselytize” is to convert or attempt to convert someone from one religion to another. What on earth is the Mormon Church thinking when it says it is not seeking to convert Catholics?
There’s one final point I’d like to bring to your attention. The AP did not report that the Slovakian Catholic bishops were concerned about conversions of Catholics to Mormonism. The bishops called on Catholics to refrain from signing the petition because Mormon doctrine “is not in line with the doctrine of the Catholic Church.” Signing the petition — giving aid and support to a religion that doctrinally opposes Catholicism — would be an act of betrayal against the Catholic Church and the faith it proclaims.
Rather than deal with the actual concern the Catholic bishops expressed, the LDS spokesman managed to divert attention away from the real issue, answer a question that had not been raised, and come out smelling like a rose.