Czech restitution may unlock vast church lands, mostly for the Catholic Church

By Reuters Staff
May 14, 2012

(Jiri Jedlicka, former vice-mayor and an activist involved in the preparation of the restitution bill, walks across a courtyard of the renaissance chateau Cervena Recice, former Prague archbishop's summer residence, in the town of Cervena Recice February 26, 2012. REUTERS/David W Cerny )

Wires hang out of the walls, windows are smashed and the grass grows tall in the gardens of the once-elegant archbishop’s residence in Cervena Recice, a 16th-century chateau left to rot after the communists took over in 1948.

Bent on building a society free of religion, the communists seized the chateau, of the diocese of Prague, and thousands of other church properties and threw clergymen into labor camps and prisons or forced them into exile.

When Communist rule ended in 1989, the residence was caught up in a disagreement over who it belonged to, part of a bigger dispute that has tied up about six percent of the Czech Republic’s total forests and fields that once belonged to mostly Christian churches.

Now the government plans to return $4 billion of property and pay $3 billion in financial compensation over 30 years – about 3.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product combined – to the churches, about four-fifths of it to the Catholic church.

The plan, which a clear majority of Czechs oppose, was approved by the lower house of parliament in an initial vote in February when the government was enjoying the strongest majority in 20 years. Although a political crisis in April has reduced that majority to a handful of votes, the bill is still expected to pass.

“What has been stolen, has to be returned, otherwise there is no meaningful democracy here,” said Petr Gazdik, caucus leader of the coalition’s conservative TOP 09 party, the main backer of the restitution plan.

Read the full story by Robert Mueller here.
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