Cardinal Vlk tells Czech officials not to mentor the Catholic Church

Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, photo: Barbora Kmentová

The law on church restitutions approved by the Czech Parliament in 2012 should enable churches active in the Czech Republic to gain full independence from the state by 2030. However, changing an order that’s been in place for decades is not proving easy. In an Easter interview for Czech Radio Cardinal Miloslav Vlk slammed Czech officials for mentoring the Catholic Church and reminded them that the communist days are over.

Cardinal Miloslav Vlk,  photo: Barbora Kmentová
Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, who retired as Archbishop of Prague in 2010 on the grounds of old age, fought long and hard for the Catholic Church to see its one-time property restituted. After 20 years of deliberations, and two years after he retired from active service, the Czech Parliament finally approved a law according to which the country’s churches will receive 75 billion crowns worth of land and property confiscated by the communist regime and 59 billion crowns worth of compensation money for the rest, to be paid by the state over a period of 30 years. The process of separating churches from the state was launched, but the Archbishop Emeritus of Prague, says old habits die hard. He was visibly angered by the fact that both the president and prime minister have said that some of the restitution money gained by the Church should be used to build hospices and old age homes.

“The Church is perfectly aware of its duty and we will naturally fulfill our mission in caring for the ill and elderly, but not because politicians tell us to do so. This is a free and democratic country and it would be good if our top officials respected the constitutional order. The Church will do its duty, but it is no longer for them to order us around.”

The Catholic Church was further irritated by the fact that President Miloš Zeman who is to visit the Vatican on April 24th and will get an audience with the Pope, said in advance that he planned to talk to the Holy Father about how the Czech Catholic Church should use the money it receives in restitutions. Cardinal Vlk said he doubted that the Pope would interfere with the Czech Catholic Church’s decisions on the matter.

“The Pope has no intention of interfering in the internal affairs of dioceses. We recently had a debate on the subsidiarity principle in the Vatican and it was agreed that decisions that can be made at a lower level will be made there. So I am sure that the Pope will not bring up the matter of how we are to spend our money and if the Czech president were to bring it up it would be a sign of ignorance regarding the present working order in the Catholic Church.”

Miloš Zeman,  photo: Filip Jandourek
The ruling Social Democrats consider the scope of the church restitution law, pushed through by the former centre-right government excessive and promised their voters to push for a revision which would alleviate the burden on the state budget. But with the Christian Democratic Party in the governing coalition this has not proved possible. Cardinal Vlk says that this is behind the Social Democrats’ efforts to meddle in the internal affairs of the Church.

“The Social Democrats turned the church restitution issue into an election slogan that would draw voters. They promised to stop the restitution law and then they promised to revise it. But, because it is not in their power to do any of that, they are at least telling us how to use the money as a signal to voters that they have not given up on the matter.”