Cardinal Miloslav Vlk suggests delayed payments by the state could help ease passage of the restitution deal through parliament and quash the vocal opposition to the measure
One of the top figures in the Czech Catholic Church has suggested that it makes a gesture to the government in difficult times and delay the financial payments planned as compensation for property confiscated during the communist era.
Former Prague archbishop, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, suggested on his personal webpage that the move might help get the highly controversial restitution settlement passed through the lower house of parliament, where there is strong pressure for the long-delayed move to be deferred again.
“The government is under pressure to put off a solution. It is certainly possible to understand the pitiful situation for which the church is not responsible. But the church could possibly make a gesture and offer the government a temporary delay in the payment of compensation in order that a solution can be found today,” Vlk wrote.
The proposed restitution of 56 percent of confiscated property, estimated to be worth around Kč 75 billion, and payment of Kč 59 billion over 30 years is one of the most heated issues in Czech politics with it currently unclear whether the reset center-right coalition of Prime Minister Petr Nečas (Civic Democrat, ODS) could command a majority for the deal negotiated last year.
Nečas’ ODS are lukewarm on the move; the second biggest party in the coalition, TOP 09, strongly in favor; members of the split Public Affairs (VV) mostly opposed, with the main opposition Social Democrats (ČSSD) and communists (KSČM) are virulently against restitution. Most of Czech public opinion are also against a deal which would see the Catholic Church getting the largest share of the returned property and cash payout.
The coalition government won 105 votes in the 200-seat lower house in a confidence vote last week, but that thin majority would be tested to breaking point if church restitution were the issue. A sign of the uncertain government support for a restitution vote in parliament came this week when the government postponed the vote from the current May parliamentary session to June.
Cardinal Vlk warned that the church’s enemies are using the restitution issue to attack it. “The enemies of the church, above all the communists with others allied to them, are making full use of every opportunity to dump as much dirt, untruth, lies, and everything negative on the church as possible,” adding that an attempt to compile it all would be a 100-year task.
‘The enemies of the church, above all the communists with others allied to them, are making full use of every opportunity to dump as much dirt, untruth, lies, and everything negative on the church as possible.’
“The speeches of many of those in parliament were low, blind, emotional or at a low ideological level, below any expert, cultural or public threshold,” he added.
The Catholic Church was the main victim of confiscations after the communists took power in former Czechoslovakia in February 1948 with a targeted persecution of the church, regarded as a serious threat to its power, launched at the start of the 1950s. Church institutions were closed, show trials mounted to show a Vatican conspiracy against the state, and priests dispatched to prison or camps. The church, as well as other religious groups, have been seeking a deal with the state for 23 years since the fall of the communist regime during the “Velvet Revolution” at the end of 1989.
Some of the communist era propaganda and campaigns against the church seem to have stuck with the Czech Republic still one of the most atheistic countries in Europe and public opinion consistently opposed to any compensation for the church.
Vlk was persecuted by the communist regime, sent as a priest to small out-of-the way parishes where his influence would be limited. At one stage he was banned from being a priest and forced for a time to become a window cleaner for a state company before being transferred to work at the archives of the Czechoslovak state bank. He continued to practice as a priest in the “underground” church which sought to avoid communist persecution.