Velehrad, South Moravia, July 7 (CTK) – Czech bishops decided to withdraw all complaints claiming former church property that is now owned by regions and they called on Catholic orders and congregations to follow suit, Bishop Tomas Holub said after a meeting of the Czech Bishops’ Conference (CBK) yesterday.
“This decision has been made unanimously by the dioceses. The CBK has appealed on representatives of orders and congregations to take the same step as it cannot order it to them,” Holub, CBK’s general secretary, told journalists.
However, Holub said representatives of Catholic religious orders took part in the meeting and they supported this stance.
Michal Hasek (Social Democrats, CSSD), head of the Association of Czech Regions, welcomed the decision of the bishops. He said this would help calm down the relations between the churches and regions.
But the complaints claiming property owned by Czech municipalities will not be withdrawn, the bishops decided, arguing that the transfer of church property to regions was a different process than the transfer of such real estate to municipalities.
The representatives of the Czech regions and municipalities have recently called on the Catholic Church to withdraw the complaints. They claimed that the church cannot be returned its former property for which it will get financial compensation. Some left-wing regional governors wanted to impose taxation on the financial compensation that the state has been paying to churches for the property not returned to them within the restitution.
Hasek said “the regions and their governors did not fight the church, they only defended the public property that was entrusted to the regions, and I am glad that our defence was successful.”
Holub said there were dozens or even hundreds of church complaints against regional authorities. Neither the exact number nor the value of the property is known, he added.
He said the complaints first of all concerned precious movable property from galleries.
“The artistic value is enormous and very hard to set financially. One of the typical examples are the exhibits from Mikolas Ales Gallery in southern Bohemia,” he said.
The Czech bishops believe that their claims of movable property are legitimate, but they wanted to take a responsive step in the tense situation. “We don’t want to contribute to the further escalation of these issues before the autumn elections,” Holub said.
The Czech regional elections will be held in early October.
The CBK writes that the Catholic Church wants to effectively cooperate with regions in heritage conservation, social care, education and culture.
The CBK pointed out that only a recent Supreme Court ruling on the Opocno monastery applied the law on the property settlement between the state and churches to movable property. As there was no binding interpretation until then, some church bodies asked courts to assess the issue, the CBK said.
The Supreme Court ruled that the church restitution does not concern the property of regions and that their ownership cannot be challenged within the church restitution.
Hasek said further church complaints or insisting on the claims of the property of regions would be unjustifiable and morally untenable after this court ruling.
According to the law which took effect in 2013, churches are to be returned land and real estate worth 75 billion crowns, stolen 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. The Catholic Church will get most of the total sum, or 47.2 billion crowns plus inflation.