Thursday, 24 April 2014

Volunteers helping Catholic church reclaim property

25 June 2013

Prague, June 24 (CTK) - Volunteers are helping the Czech Catholic church in its effort to get the property it must officially claim before the end of the year under the law on the return of property to churches, daily Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD) writes Monday.

The church is facing the task of assembling as accurate evidence on its former ownership of the property in question as possible by the end of the year, MfD writes.

What will be submitted later, will never be reclaimed, it adds.

The rules of the game are strict, but the prize is worth the effort, the property of the total value of 75 billion crowns, most of which is to go to the Catholic church, MfD writes.

Under the law on property settlement between the state and churches, valid since 2013, churches are to be returned land and real estate worth 75 billion crowns, confiscated from them by the communist regime, and given 59 billion crowns plus inflation in financial compensation for unreturned property during the following 30 years.

At the same time the payment of state subsidies they now receive will be gradually reduced until it is completely terminated after 17 years.

So far, no property has been returned to any church, MfD writes.

"We keep collecting more and more documents," Karel Sticha, economist of the Prague Archbishopric, is quoted as saying.

"This is a murderous deadline," he adds.

Due to the deadline, the Prague Archbishopric has introduced a special working scheme in which people from other departments are helping with the property claims, MfD writes.

"Volunteers are helping, too," Sticha said.

At the archbishopric alone, there are three of them, while others are working at various parishes, he added.

"Some of them for free, others within temporary jobs," Sticha said.

"It is rather difficult in terms of organisation," he added.

He has submitted almost 2,000 applications for the property on behalf of the Prague Archbishopric alone.

The task is to find as much evidence as possible on the property formerly owned by the church in land registers, archives and in other documents, MfD writes.

Despite the close deadline, church dignitaries believe that they will be able to finish the task before the end of the year.

They expect a "hot autumn" during which most applications will be submitted, it adds.

However, the churches will face another problem. The settlement with the churches includes the condition that in the future, the churches will live only off its own property without any state contributions as now, MfD writes.

This means that the churches will have to rapidly learn to manage its property and to have a profit to make their living, it adds.

"We are establishing a company that will be in charge of the forests in the whole diocese," Petr Suchomel, secretary of the Hradec Kralove Bishopric, tells the paper.

"This naturally involves a change in economic thinking," he adds.

The "church economists" are cautious, fearing dubious businesspeople who have started eyeing the church property since the approval of the return of property, MfD writes.

"People sensing spoils in the property are regularly contacting us," Suchomel said.

"We have dubbed them restitution vultures," he added.

However, as the church must secure financing for its future, it does not need quick money. It should be looking ahead for decades. Its profit from property should finance the church's non-profit work as well as heritage conservation, MfD writes.

Heritage conservationists are not waiting for official release of the property and have already started talks with the new owners, it adds.

The claimed property includes the UNESCO-listed Baroque church on the Zelena hora hill in Zdar nad Sazavou, south Moravia, MfD writes.

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