Church funding proposal raises ire

Foto: Autorin

Minister Cyril Svoboda, of the Christian Democrats, has come up with a proposal which should improve the funding of the Catholic Church in the Czech Republic. According to the proposal, each church-goer should pay one percent of their monthly income for the benefit of the church. The suggestion has provoked some negative reactions both from party colleagues and from the Catholic clergy, as it seems to address deeper issues than just the problem of tithes.

Cyril Svoboda
Each year, the Catholic Church receives about 850 million crowns (more than USD 41 million) from the state but most of this amount is used to pay for the salaries of the clergy. According to Cyril Svoboda's proposal, more resources could be raised if every Czech Catholic paid one percent of their monthly salary to the church. While the system appears to be working fine in the Minister's local parish in Prague 4, his idea met with some negative reactions from fellow Christian Democrats as well as from the Church itself. I asked Mr Svoboda whether this was a surprise for him.

"I am not surprised at all because I do understand that my proposal is a little provocative, but I believe that I am right. This is a starting point of the discussion and I received many positive reflections, many positive comments coming from ordinary people."

The Czech Bishops' Conference, an official body of the Czech Catholic Church, dismissed Mr Svoboda's proposal claiming his numbers were wrong. Instead of an estimated 500,000 Catholics coming to the church every Sunday who could potentially take part in the fund-raising program, the bishops say a mere 130,000 follow the Third Commandment today in the Czech Republic, a country of 10 million. And, the bishops add, they already raise some 600 million crowns through non-government organisations, charities, and schools every year. But more importantly, some Czech clergymen as well as Christian Democratic politicians fear that Cyril Svoboda's proposal takes the eye off one persisting issue: the restitution of the Catholic property that was confiscated by the Communist regime in 1949 and has not ever been given back. Stanislav Novotny is the director of the Czech Christian Academy, a Catholic think-tank.

"As far as the contribution is concerned, there is nothing outrageous about it. But if the proposal is not meant to be accompanied by property settlement and a complex solution on the funding of the church, it hardly makes sense. This would mean that a similar attitude would have to be required from the beneficiaries of all cultural services. The principles of the free market would have to determine the functioning of theatres, concert ensembles, and so on."

Unlike in Poland or Slovakia where most of the property taken away from the church was given back, Czech politicians have been extremely reluctant to deal with the problem. Arguably one of the most atheist societies in the world, Czechs are most unlikely to approve of such property settlements and politicians anticipate they could demonstrate their disapproval at the polls. Cyril Svoboda says that such allegations are unfair.

"The problem is very easy because this is a never ending discussion. Me, I am behind the idea. Me, I wrote the first act on the restitution - me personally. So I have done a lot for the restitution of church property, and I believe that we need to continue. We need to continue and we need to be successful. But at the same time, we should encourage people to be more independent, to demonstrate that there is a new kind of unity among Christians; that Christians are ready to live together."