Prague, July 16 (CTK) – Czech President Milos Zeman and Prague Archbishop Dominik Duka signed a memorandum on the transfer of St George Convent and other houses at Prague Castle, the presidential seat, to the Catholic Church yesterday, the Prague Archbishopric has announced.
The church has received the real estate on condition that they will be repaired within a five-year period and used for public purposes, and that the Catholic Church definitively drops any other property claims regarding the Prague Castle complex.
According tot the memorandum, as of January 31, 2016 the building of the New Provost’s Residence will be released to the Metropolitan Chapter, while the Religious Foundation (Nabozenska matice) will get St George Convent, the Prague Archbishopric said in a press release.
Duka has supported the idea of the new owners reconstructing the buildings within five years as well as other points of the memorandum.
On the contrary, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, Dukas’predecessor in the posts of Prague archbishop and the primate of the Czech Catholic Church, has criticised the memorandum as anti-constitutional and unlawful.
Vlk minds the conditions of the property return. He points out that the restitution law does not specify any similar conditions.
“Such conditions are unlawful, anti-constitutional and they violate democratic principles,” Vlk said.
Jaroslav Sebek, expert in church history, says the church has made an immense concession to the state by signing the memorandum.
It has given up the buildings that could have been used commercially and the conditions of the memorandum are clearly more advantageous for the state, Sebek said, adding that Vlk’s reaction had therefore not surprised him.
Sebek noted that Duka’s team had probably given in to prevent further debates about the ownership of the real estate at Prague Castle, a symbolical place for many Czechs, and not to stir up emotions.
The negotiations between the Church and the Presidential Office, seated at Prague Castle, about the real estate return lasted several years.
The Presidential Office rejected some requests for the return of buildings at the Castle, arguing that their owner’s change might threaten the safety of the head of state. The church then withdrew most of these requests.
An agreement is to be drafted by the end of January 2016 on the basis of the memorandum, which also applies to the use of two churches, St George Basilic and All Saints Church at Prague Castle. The Roman Catholic Church will use both churches for liturgical purposes, but they will remain in state hands.
Some politicians, including current Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (Social Democrats CSSD), have repeatedly criticised the return of real estate within the Prague Castle complex to the church. Sobotka demanded that the Castle be excluded from the church restitution.
Sobotka is yet to meet Duka, according to CTK information.
CSSD deputy chairwoman Alena Gajduskova, who led the team of negotiators about the church property restitution, wrote to CTK that she was convinced the buildings at Prague Castle as a symbol of statehood should have been excluded from restitution.
The Catholic Church originally also demanded St Vitus Cathedral. On the basis of an agreement from May 2010, the state and the Catholic Church jointly administer the cathedral, but the church does not own it.
According to the real estate register, the Czech Republic is the owner of all buildings at the Prague Castle complex, except for the one Lobkowicz Palace, which was returned to the heirs of the original owners, the Lobkowicz noble family.
Under the restitution law, 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 as a financial compensation for unreturned property over the following 30 years. Simultaneously, the state will gradually cease financing churches.