Greek Catholicism was the only large Slovak church to see a rise in membership over the past decade. This Greek Catholic church in Kezmarok was consecrated in 2008. Photo by Ronnie Macdonald via Wikimedia Commons.

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Church budgets will not be cut despite the significant fall in those declaring membership of a religious faith. From Dennik N.

Last year’s census in Slovakia recorded the largest number of non-believers ever. First results of the population count show that almost 1.3 million people said they had no religious beliefs.

In the two previous censuses in 2001 and 2011, some 700,000 people said they had no religious beliefs, or around 13 percent of Slovakia’s population. Last year’s count showed a significant increase in this category to 23.8 percent of the country’s 5.5 million population.

Much of that rise came at the expense of the Roman Catholic church, the largest in the country: the number of self-declared Catholics fell by 300,000 compared to 2011.

Out of Slovakia’s total population, “only” some 56 percent now say they are Catholic.

The town of Namestovo [in northern Slovakia] can be considered the “most Catholic” town in the country. More than 90% of its inhabitants   said they belonged to the Catholic faith.

Churches Will Not Lose Money

Given the decrease in the number of believers, churches faced the threat of losing a part of the funds they receive from the national budget. Slovak law, however, specifies that in order for that to happen, the number of church members would have to fall by at least 10% census-to-census, which was not the case. In spite of the very significant increase in the number of non-believers, amounting to almost 11% compared to 2011, the number of believers did not diminish quite as much. Those declaring themselves to belong to one of the official churches “only” declined by 7.6%.

Breaking the results down by denomination, the number of Roman Catholics fell from more than 3.3 million (62%) in 2011 to 3 million (56%) in 2021, a 9.2% decline. The Lutheran church saw a similar trend, with a decline of 30,000 people, or 9.3%, over the last 10 years. Among the large churches, the only one recording an increase in followers was the Greek Catholics, who rose by 5.5% from 207,000 to 218,000.

The mismatch in figures for the rising number of non-believers and the decrease in believers might be due to the smaller number of people who did not answer the question about religious belief. While in 2011, 11% did not provide an answer, that figure fell to 6.5% in 2021.

A comparison of data for 2011 and 2021 needs to take into account that a campaign against the census took place 10 years ago, so that in some towns no real data was actually collected. It is possible that a number of people who did not participate in the 2011 census may have reported themselves as non-believers in 2021.

Stanislav Zvolensky, head of the Conference of Bishops of Slovakia representing the Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic churches, thanked everyone who declared their religious belief in the census.

“In this way, believers express their presence in society, which they are helping to form in the spirit of the values of their faith. It is precisely religious belief that motivates many to devote themselves to work in the areas of charity, healthcare, education, and elsewhere, in order to promote the common good,” he said.

According to Zvolensky, church records of christenings show something of a rising trend over the last few years, the only exception being 2020, the first year of the pandemic.

Thousands Claim Membership in Prank Church

More than 14,000 people declared themselves members of a “church” started by comedian Gabo Zifcak, “Ethanol’s Witnesses” [Svedkovia Liehovovi, a play on the Slovak name for the Jehovah’s Witnesses].

The number of people declaring themselves to be actual Jehovah’s Witnesses was 16,000.

Zifcak is currently working on getting Ethanol’s Witnesses registered as an official church, which would allow the organization to apply for a financial contribution from the national budget. He is trying to raise awareness of how strict current Slovak legislation is for movements that would like to get registered as official churches. Most registered religious groups now count fewer than 50,000 members and would no longer meet the current legal criteria for registration.

Almost 1,400 people declared themselves members of the Order of the Jedi Knights, and 590 people claimed to be “pastafarians.”

Ria Gehrerova and Daniel Kerekes are journalists at Dennik N, an independent news outlet in Slovakia. This article originally appeared on Dennik N. Reprinted by permission.

Translated by Matus Nemeth.