BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (ChurchMilitant.com) - The prime minister of Slovakia, a devout Catholic, has ordered a ban on the public celebration of Holy Mass and other church services, blaming a rise in China virus infections.
Slovakia's bishops said they were "very bitter" that the ban beginning Thursday "should happen again in a situation in which many other areas of life remain open," as Slovakia became the first European nation to reintroduce a ban on public worship.
"The re-lockdown is a great disappointment," the bishops lamented. "Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Bishops' Conference of Slovakia has supported both adherence and vaccination for all those who allow it."
The prelates accused the government of reneging on its promise that "public services would no longer be banned and a blanket ban on public worship could be avoided" and demanded an end to the shutdown "as soon as possible."
Catholics launched a petition arguing "the total ban on worship has been condemned as illegal by courts in many countries around the world" as it "constitutes a disproportionate curtailment of religious freedom and a violation of the principle of proportionality."
"If appropriate hygiene measures are followed, churches are not a place of coronavirus spread. This is one of the reasons why there is no total ban on services in any country other than Slovakia," the petitioners stated.
Fr. L'ubomír Urbančok, a traditionalist Slovak priest, told Church Militant the ban has shocked Catholics since it has been imposed by prime minister Eduard Heger, who claims to be a charismatic Catholic and converted from atheism to Catholicism after his father's death in 1999.
"They are many so-called Catholic politicians who are in fact not Catholic anymore, voting for liberal laws [and] not considering what are true Catholic moral values," the priest said, citing the abortion law imposed during communism and continuing to remain in force.
"These so-called Catholic politicians are looking for their own political and personal interests without any connection to reality," he added, calling into question Heger's commitment to the Church.
"Heger is better known for his role in popularizing the Double Cross luxury vodka brand, which is filtered through diamond dust, and has captured the American market, than for his faithfulness to Catholic teaching," the priest remarked.
In an official statement, Fr. Urbančok described the government ban on Holy Mass as "an absolute interference with the freedom of the Church, emblematically reminiscent of the interventions of the communists in its functioning."
"Slovakia is currently perhaps the only country in Europe where churches are closing," the priest said. "A lockdown has been imposed on Austria, but it does not apply to churches."
There is currently a lively debate in the United States about denying Holy Communion to politicians who act contrary to their faith. We should debate the topic of how so-called Catholics in politics violate religious freedom or do not stand up for the rights of the least, as in the last vote on the abortion law.
Many Catholics in Slovak politics are an outrage to the whole nation and give the worst possible testimony of the Faith when they practically deny the importance of eternal life.
He emphasized the Slovak nation "cannot allow or forget this oppression of religious freedom, which goes beyond communist reprisals."
The ban on Mass is also casting doubts on the effectiveness of the recent papal visit to Slovakia and Francis' close relationship with leftist pro-abortion president Zuzana Čaputová and her predecessor Andrej Kiska, who both lobbied the pope for the rehabilitation of disgraced "homo mafia" prelate Róbert Bezák.
Pope Francis visited Slovakia in September for three and a half days after a mere seven-hour stopover in Hungary to celebrate the closing Mass at the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress being held in Budapest.
"It is no secret that as an adult I believed in God, and since then I have helped in the Church in various ways in addition to my work," prime minister Heger told media after his meeting with the pontiff.
Vatican commentators interpreted the pope's itinerary as "a gigantic slap in the face" of the policies of populist conservative prime minister of Hungary Viktor Orbán and an affirmation of leftist Slovakian president Zuzana Čaputová.
A Budapest Churchman compared the papal snub to Francis "spending half a day in Israel and then three and a half days in Iran, or half a day in Poland and then traveling to Russia for a few days."