Outgoing archbishop assesses years in office

Cardinal Miloslav Vlk

The outgoing Prague archbishop, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, has looked back on his career, discussing key hurdles and turning points in an interview published on his website on Tuesday. In the past, the cardinal has been strongly self-critical – this time he also assessed a number of the successes.

It’s no secret that Prague’s archbishop, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, named to office by Pope John Paul II in 1991, has rued not having been able to resolve outstanding issues between the Church and the State. Back in November, he expressed marked disappointment and now he has touched upon the issues again - even as the Vatican readies to announce his successor. So which unresolved issues have left the archbishop heavy of heart? The disputed ownership of St Vitus’s Cathedral (which the Church continues to legally contest), the failure to secure a final agreement on the restitution of Church property. And third? The inability to secure a treaty between the Czech Republic and the Vatican. As for successes, they were modest: in his interview Cardinal Vlk pointed to the creation of new well-functioning charities and community centres which have had strong roles to play. A little earlier I asked Martin C. Putna, a prominent Czech intellectual and literary historian, for his perspective:

“I think areas where the Church was more or less successful over the last 20 years was returning to a normal position in everyday life – one that it had from before the time of Communism. There were significant changes, such as the legal reinstatement of monastic orders, banned under the former regime. There were also charities and Church-run schools that work well. Of course, a lot of that simply had to do with the changes and would probably have happened under any archbishop.”

Martin C. Putna
Whoever succeeds the archbishop in the post - a decision expected within hours from the Vatican – will not necessarily have it easier, given the gravity of issues that remain. But in some ways, says Martin C. Putna, the choice of successor is not as important as people may think.

“I think that the impact of the decision is somewhat exaggerated. The reason is that there isn’t all that much leeway in the post – given the fairly fixed structure of the Church, the situation in society, and so on. In many ways, the new archbishop will be getting on a train where the route has already been set.”

Readying for retirement, Cardinal Vlk did have something of a departing warning for Czechs in his interview on Tuesday – one that grabbed headlines. In it, he expressed dismay over the looming “Islamisation” of Europe which he said had been made possible by the fact that Europe had denied or abandoned its Christian roots. In his view, Europeans - by giving up their religious traditions - have created a spiritual vacuum, which could be filled by Islam. I asked literary historian Martin C. Putna whether he agreed with that assessment:

“It is of course true that Europe has given up its Christian values and that has created a vacuum, filled by everything from New Age to Islam. And I agree with those who believe that there is no such thing as a non-religious society: even if people have left the Church, they still have religion in their lives.”

Miloslav Vlk retires at the age of 77 – and Czechs will no doubt be interested in who succeeds the archbishop in the position. Several names have been suggested in the run-up, among them Bishop Dominik Duka or the archbishop of Olomouc Jan Graubner, to name two.