<3.1 billion in compensation pledged
<Baptists refuse to sign deal
By BosNewsLife News Center with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
PRAGUE/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– The Czech government has signed a historic agreement with the Catholic Church and 15 other religious groups to pay them billions of dollars in compensation for properties that were seized by the Czech Republic’s Communist regime.
Friday’s deal was signed despite a legal challenge against it by the left-wing opposition, in what is the European Union’s most atheistic nation.
The Baptists were the only church that refused to sign the accord, saying they preferred to fund their activities with contributions from members. Baptists were to receive some 228 million koruna ($11.8 million), said Milan Kern, who heads the 2,500-member Baptist Union in the Czech Republic.
The Czech Republic pledged to pay 59 billion koruna ($3.1 billion) in financial compensation to the churches over a period of 30 years for confiscated properties that cannot be returned.
Some properties were destroyed or given to third parties.
Those who signed the agreement – including Catholics, Protestants and Jews – will only be able to get back just over half of their former properties now held by the state – valued at 75 billion Czech koruna ($3.9 billion).
As the largest denomination, the Catholic Church receives most money and properties under the arrangement, which also includes a provision that the state gradually stops covering priests’ salaries and other church expenses over the next 17 years.
Prime Minister Petr Necas told reporters he is pleased the deal was signed, more than 20 years after the collapse of Communism. “This is an act of justice”, he said, adding that it will improve relations between the religious community and the state, following the suffering they endured “under the Communist regime”.
He recalled that in 1948, when the Communists came to power in what was then Czechoslovakia, Communists seized all properties owned by churches.
The regime also persecuted church leaders. At least 65 Catholic priests, monks and nuns were executed or killed in prisons, while others were driven to suicide by the harsh conditions, historians said.
Churches were allowed to function only under Communist-control and priests’ salaries were paid by the state.
Though Parliament adopted the church compensation last year, the leftist Social Democrats now oppose it, said party leader Bohuslav Sobotka. “There is no reason for the deal,” he added.
The Social Democrats claim the churches receive too much compensation in a nation that has Europe’s largest number of atheists — 30 percent of the population, according to polls — and asked the Constitutional Court to intervene.
Joel Ruml, who is president of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Czech Republic, disagrees.
He called the compensation deal a way to establish a “modern relationship between churches and the state” and that he “is sorry the Social Democrats move towards populism.”
A Constitutional Court secretary reportedly urged the government to postpone signing the deal, after the last-minute opposition complaint, but the prime minister refused to wait.
While the Constitutional Court’s verdict is still unknown, churches made clear they hope to write a new chapter in their often difficult history.
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