New Papal Nuncio arrives in Prague

The new Papal Nuncio, German Archbishop Erwin Josef Ender, arrived in Prague last week to become the second ever Vatican envoy to the Czech Republic. Josef Ender was born in 1937 in what was then part of Czechoslovakia and was ordained by former Czech cardinal Josef Beran. Archbishop Ender takes up his post in Prague at a time of improved relations between the Czech Republic and Vatican. However, the problem of the return of property confiscated by the Communists to the Catholic Church has as yet to be resolved. Vladimir Tax has more.

Archbishop Erwin Josef Ender replaces Monsignor Giovanni Coppa who had represented the Vatican in the Czech Republic since 1990. Archbishop Ender joined the Vatican diplomatic services in 1970 and according to Czech Cardinal Miroslav Vlk, he is a highly experienced diplomat.

Archbishop Ender worked at the state secretariat in Rome for 20 years. He then served as Papal Nuncio in Africa - in Sudan and Somalia - and later in the Baltic states, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

Cardinal Vlk told Radio Prague that relations between the Czech Republic and the Vatican were to be a priority for Archbishop Ender.

"He is supposed to complete talks on a Czech-Vatican agreement which have taken a year and a half and which his predecessor did not have time to bring to a successful end," Cardinal Vlk said.

The Czech Republic is one of the last post-communist countries to have a bilateral agreement with the Vatican. Negotiations between Prague and the Vatican have been dragging on for almost ten years because of the Czech government's reluctance to return to the Catholic Church property which was confiscated by the Communist regime. The return of property would allow the Church to be economically self-sufficient in the Czech Republic.

A draft Czech-Vatican agreement currently limits itself to such non-controversial issues, as cooperation in the fields of education, health, military, prisons and social affairs. Although it does not address any economic issues, government officials do admit that the signing of the agreement can help speed up the settlement of property and finalise, once and for all, the financial dispute between the state and church.