Czech churches to be financed through special fund

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The Cabinet has agreed on a proposal to create a special fund for the financing of churches. If approved, it would mean solving a problem no government has really tackled during the ten years since the fall of the communist regime: namely, the relationship between the state and churches. Churches are still financed by the state, a system introduced after the communist takeover in 1948. The churches have been calling for a change, because, they say, the contemporary system has a negative impact on state-church relations. Olga Szantova reports:

According to the proposal now approved by the Cabinet, all former church property confiscated by the communist state and still not returned would be put into a newly created fund and the profits stemming from it would be used for the financing of church activities. Only a small part of confiscated church property has been returned.

According to church spokesmen, the list of property confiscated after the 1948 communist takeover and still owned by the state contains 90,000 items, including fields and forests, churches, hospitals and various other buildings. The vast majority of them had belonged to the Catholic Church, by far the richest in this country. According to its calculations, the value of Catholic property coming into the newly created fund would amount to 112 billion crowns, that's 2.8 billion US dollars.

The spokesman for the Czech Bishops' Conference, Daniel Herman, calculates that the annual earnings on this sum would amount to one percent. Should the Catholic Church get that amount of money from the newly created fund, it would be twice the amount it has been receiving from the state under the contemporary system.

To sum up, the Catholic Church welcomes the Cabinet's proposal. As for the other churches, most of them are still waiting to see just how the fund would function. Should each church get an annual sum according to the value of its property, the smaller churches would be hard hit. The chairman of the Czech Ecumenical council, Pavel Smetana, says that four churches have already expressed outright disapproval of the plan. The rest, including the Evangelical Church of Czech Breathren, which Pavel Smetana heads, are waiting with their comment until the concrete details are known--in particular, how the money in the fund is to be distributed.

They also stress the importance of the second part of the Cabinet's plan, which would mean supplementing the churches' income from taxes. Under the new system, Czechs could stipulate how they want a part of their taxes used, and could assign that part to cultural and other institutions, including churches. Whatever the outcome, all churches welcome the fact that the Cabinet has started dealing with the problem.

Author: Olga Szantová
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