Czech government approves state-church property settlement bill

Prague, Czechoslovakia - The Czech government approved a bill on property settlement between the state and churches under which the state would pay 83 billion crowns to the churches over 60 years as compensation for their property nationalised in the past, the Government Office says on its website without giving any details.

With interests, the sum is to reach 267 billion crowns.

More details will be announced at a press conference this afternoon.

If the parliament passes the bill and the president signs it, it will take effect as of 2009.

Culture Minister Vaclav Jehlicka (junior governing Christian Democrats, KDU-CSL) said today he believed that some opposition deputies would support the bill that was drafted on the basis of the agreement achieved by the government commission with representatives of all 17 churches financed by the state.

However, some deputies from the senior government Civic Democrats (ODS) are opposed to the bill since they view the final sum as too high. It is therefore possible that they will propose certain modifications to the bill.

On the contrary, church representatives view the sum as a compromise based on many concessions, especially on churches' part.

Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, the Czech Catholic Church primate, says the conditions of the settlement are mainly advantageous to the state. He pointed to the fact that church heritage had attracted many tourists to the Czech Republic which means that the churches had considerably contributed to the profits from tourism.

Jehlicka also said the state would save money in the long run because the amount of money the state would allot to churches in the future to cover the clergy wages would continue to grow.

The annual sum allotted to the churches in the past years was about one billion crowns. In addition, the number of clergy is growing and the number of registered churches is also expected to grow, Jehlicka said.

Jehlicka today rejected, like many other KDU-CSL leaders in the past, speculations that the KDU-CSL made its support for incumbent President Vaclav Klaus, the ODS's official presidential candidate, in the February elections conditional on the ODS'S support to the bill on the state-church property settlement in parliament.

Jehlicka said it was a mere coincidence that the bill was discussed in the period before the presidential elections.

The churches will only receive compensation for the property owned by the state and state organisations, but not by municipalities, regions or private persons.

The churches have decided that 83 percent of the compensation would go to the Roman Catholic Church and the rest to other churches and religious societies.

"It is a generous gesture from the Catholic Church because its share in the church property seized by the Communists was higher," the Culture Ministry said.

(USD1=18.074 Czech crowns)