Thursday, 18 October 2018

Bishops view restitution as closed, see no need for debate

14 November 2017

Prague, Nov 13 (CTK) - The Czech Bishops' Conference (CBK) considers church restitution a closed affair and it will not join the current debate on a possible taxation of the sum the Catholics and other churches are to get in compensation for unreturned property, it wrote to CTK on Tuesday.

The CBK reacted to Andrej Babis, leader of the ANO movement and the probable new prime minister, who proposed that a tax be imposed on the financial compensation going to churches and that the church-related agenda be transferred from the Culture Ministry to the Finance Ministry.

The proposed taxation has been supported by two out of the other eight parties in parliament, the Communists (KSCM) and the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD).

"We consider the question of a partial property settlement (known as church restitution) closed. We fully concentrate on securing our self-financing, advantageous to [Czech] society. We have been currently informing the public about the process," CBK spokesman Frantisek Jemelka told CTK on Tuesday.

According to CBK's General Secretary Stanislav Pribyl, the CBK would not enter the current legal, political and economic debate on the taxation of the compensation sum, because the debate offers no new impulses or arguments.

"Everything has been said and supported with arguments already," Pribyl said.

Based on the restitution law from 2012, churches will 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. Simultaneously, the state will gradually cease financing churches.

Pribyl said the churches previously "held a dialogue" with the ANO movement and the Social Democrats (CSSD), the two government parties that challenged the restitution parameters as agreed upon by the churches and the preceding centre-right cabinet. It turned out within the dialogue that the restitution rules are advantageous for the state, he said.

The law, in effect since 2013, also implies a gradual separation of churches from the state and the decrease in the state subsidies to churches down to zero, Pribyl pointed out.

The CBK, in its press release, wrote that churches previously provided their explanation to the doubting political parties in a special commission established for this purpose, and that politicians, including those from ANO and the CSSD, stopped challenging the restitution parameters afterwards.

Pribyl said the suspicion that the compensation sum was overvalued was not proved, nor were "other often repeated political arguments that [politicians] use to push for changes to the restitution process."

The conclusions of the commission comprised of representatives of the CBK and political parties are available on the CBK's website.

Babis, a billionaire businessman, first proposed the taxation of the financial compensation for churches last year in his capacity as finance minister.

He said the estimate of the compensation sum based on the prices of land amounted to a fraud.

"The proposal to impose a tax on it is a certain slight compensation for the sum the state has to pay to churches for the overpriced made-up estimate," Babis said at the time.

The centre-left cabinet took no position on his plan, however, because it was opposed by the junior government partner, the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL), and by PM Bohuslav Sobotka (CSSD).

After ANO's victory in the October general election, Babis is expected to form a one-colour minority government of ANO and seek support for it in parliament.

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