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Papal photo-op for the next concordat (2003)

In 2003 Pope John Paul II visited Eastern Europe for the last time. His aim was to discourage any liberalisation of Slovakia’s abortion laws, for that would have made it harder to push through the upcoming concordat on “freedom of conscience”. This papal visit, his third to Slovakian territory, was planned as an anti-abortion campaign.

 For the Vatican, of course, the marketing was free, since the pope, as a foreign "head of state”, [1] could count on having his £1.2 million ($2.1 million) trip funded by the Slovak taxpayers. [2]

Also free of charge, it turned out, were the services of the child actors, identical twin girls from a village in a valley in south-eastern Slovakia. Their mother, Melita Tothova, agreed to lead them to the pope on his dais, explaining later, “We’re Catholic, even if we don’t go to church very often”. At an open-air mass in nearby Roznava the pope was presented with dolls dressed in traditional Slovakian costumes by the pretty blond five-year-old girls.

The little girls had been born as Siamese twins, joined at the hip. When they were only a month old they underwent the first of the operations needed to separate them and to correct deformities in several organs. Eight rounds of surgery were required to reconstruct their tiny bodies.

A couple of days before the Pope arrived it was announced in the international press that “two five-year-old Siamese twins, now successfully separated, will be presented at a papal mass to reinforce the argument against abortion” [3], yet apparently their parents had not been informed. Only during the papal mass itself did their mother learn the real purpose. As Bishop Kojnok of Roznava explained, "The Siamese [twin] sisters were chosen to show people that the mother would have killed two beautiful, healthy children if she had decided to abort.”

Their mother protested afterwards at what she felt was the “instrumentalisation” of her children by the Church. She claimed that "Catholic priests came to ask us if we wanted to show our daughters to the pope. They said nothing about abortion."

She was surprised to hear herself held up as an example, ostensibly “because she refused to abort even though she knew she was bearing Siamese twins” [4] and disputed this vigorously. She had not for a moment considered having a termination for the simple reason that the girls' condition was only discovered when they were born. And she indicated she might have reacted differently. “If I had realised, I would not have exposed them to such suffering”. [5]


1. ”The Vatican’s triple crown: church, government and country”, Concordat Watch, 2005.

2. “Pope's health status competes with message: In Slovakia, he honors martyrs under communism, stresses right to life”, John L. Allen Jr., National Catholic Reporter, 26 September 2003.

3. “Pope's visit to Slovakia a health test: aides“, Agence France Presse, 11 September 2003.

4. “The pope appears weak on his Slovak tour“, Reuters, 13 September 2003.

5. “Siamese twins meet pope in Slovakian anti-abortion campaign”, Katarina Rysova, Agence France Presse (via ClariNet), 13 September 2003.


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