An archbishop in Slovakia has apologized after initially making offensive comments in the wake of the murder of two gay men outside an LGBTQ+ bar in Bratislava.
On October 12th, Juraj Vankulič and Matej Horváth were murdered by a 19-year-old student outside Tepláreň, an LGBTQ+ bar that was a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community. Attacks on LGBTQ+ people are not uncommon in Slovakia, according to local police. Bloomberg News reported:
“In addition to the murders, police said it recorded several attacks against LGBTQ community members in October, including verbal and physical assaults that led to injuries.”
After the murders, thousands took to the streets to hold a candlelight vigil to pay their respects for the lives lost. Archbishop Ján Orosch of Trnava responded to the attack by sending a letter to priests stating how he despised the act of murder, yet he questioned the media’s portrayal of Vankulič and Horváth’s innocent character. According to Euractiv:
“[In the letter, Orosch] said they might have been drug addicts and wondered whether police ever raided the bar for drugs.”
When Orosch’s letter surfaced, Zuzana Čaputová, the president of Slovakia, posted a statement on her Facebook account saying:
“Families and loved ones of Juraj and Matus, two innocent people, I am with you in thoughts, and even more this evening.”
Joining Čaputová were members of Slovakia’s Catholic community who formulated a response to the archbishop’s remarks. Their response, however, included harsh criticism regarding Orosch’s status as the archbishop. Euractiv reported:
“A petition, more than 2,000 Catholics, including several influential members of the church like Orosch’s predecessor Branislav Bezák, called for Orosch’s removal – something only the Pope can do. Yet, the Conference of Bishops refused to comment. Though the Chair of the Conference of Bishops, Bernard Bober condemned the terrorist attack and intolerance after the shooting.”
The backlash from Slovakia’s Catholic community led to Orosch making a formal apology for his comments regarding the hate crime. He apologized saying, “we are sinners.”
Apologies by church leaders are a welcome step to reconciliation when harm has been done. They are, however, only a first step in a process of healing. Archbishop Orosch should make efforts now meet with LGBTQ+ people, grow his understanding of the community, and help the Slovakian church become a voice against anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination and violence.
—Anushah Sajwani (she/her), New Ways Ministry, November 25, 2022