Roman Catholics and Lutherans in Slovakia have signed an agreement to recognize each other's baptism.

But while a spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Church in Slovakia said the agreement would help Catholics to "see Lutherans on the same level," a prominent Lutheran theologian has accused Roman Catholic leaders of acting "hypocritically."

Inter-church relations have frequently been strained in Slovakia, where, according to the 1991 census, 60 percent of the country's 5.4 million citizens are Catholic, while 6 percent belong to the (Lutheran) Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in the Slovak Republic.

The six-point agreement on the mutual recognition of baptism was signed in a chapel of Bratislava's presidential palace on June 4 by Roman Catholic and Lutheran leaders. The agreement sets out a commonly agreed biblical basis for baptism.

The country's president, Rudolf Schuster, praised the agreement as a "good example for politicians moving in the opposite direction."

According to the Lutherans' general bishop, Julius Filo, the agreement is the "first major ecumenical step" between Lutherans and Roman Catholics in Slovakia.

Marian Gavenda, a Roman Catholic spokesperson, said "after a history of tensions between our churches, this agreement will greatly help our mutual ties." The agreement cleared the way for the common celebration of marriage and other inter-church accords, Gavenda said.

He said that Lutherans in Slovakia would now administer baptism in the same way as the Catholic Church—by pouring or immersion—rather than making the sign of the cross with a single finger, a method judged "insufficient" by the Catholic Church. (According to the agreement, "the fundamental signs of baptism" are immersion of the candidate ...

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