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Controversial Slovak bishop may be canonized

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PRAGUE, June 13 (JTA) — Jewish-Catholic tensions in Slovakia are increasing after Catholic leaders said they would continue to press for the canonization of a Slovak bishop despite claims that he played a role in the Holocaust.

Last October, the Slovak Bishops Conference said it would investigate the background of Bishop Jan Vojtassak after five Israeli historians claimed that state records proved he was a senior official in the wartime Slovak government, which was sympathetic to the Nazis.

This week, the Bishops Conference said its investigations are almost complete — and that they would send a document to the Vatican supporting Vojtassak’s sainthood by the end of the year.

The leaders of Slovakia’s Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities said they are not surprised that Slovak Catholic leaders are going ahead with the case for canonization.

“We are concerned about this,” said the Central Union’s director, Jozef Weiss. “We intend to make a last-minute appeal to the Vatican if they decide to canonize Vojtassak. There is little else we can do.”

The chairman of the Slovak Bishops Conference, Frantisek Tondra, said his group’s report focused on Vojtassak’s behavior during his 12 years in prison under the Communists, highlighting his refusal to cooperate with the state despite being offered an opportunity to remain a bishop.

Vojtassak’s name was put forward as suitable for canonization by Pope John Paul II during a visit to Slovakia in 1995 on the grounds that he was persecuted by the former Communist regime.

Vojtassak died in 1965, two years after his release from prison.

“We have collected all the evidence into Bishop’s Vojtassak’s past and are just waiting for the paperwork to be translated into Italian. We are definitely supporting the case for his canonization,” Tondra said.

But Tondra would not comment on how thoroughly the Bishops Conference had examined claims by Israeli historians that Vojtassak was a vice chairman of the Slovak State Council in 1942, when it agreed with Nazi requests to deport up to 58,000 Jews from the country to concentrations camps.

Apparently referring to earlier remarks by Catholic leaders in Slovakia that Vojtassak did not join the country’s wartime state council until after the Nazi deportations were completed, Tondra said: The historians “have their opinion, and we have ours.”

Before the war, there were some 100,000 Jews in Slovakia; after, the total was 1,450.

Today, Slovakia’s Jewish population numbers 4,000.

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