Supreme Court overturns earlier rulings, returns famous cathedral to state

St Vitus cathedral

Many in the Czech Republic considered it "case closed" when a Prague appeals court last September confirmed the Roman Catholic Church's ownership of Prague's famous St Vitus cathedral. At the time it appeared the ruling had brought to an end a prolonged legal battle between the Church and state. More than 50 years after St Vitus was confiscated under the communists, it was returned to the Church. But its renewed ownership didn't last long: on Friday the Supreme Court annulled all earlier rulings, returning the cathedral to the state and the legal case to square one.

St Vitus cathedral
Fourteen years and counting: that is how once can sum up the continuing legal battle over St Vitus cathedral. The Church and the state have been at odds over the site since 1992, and no solution is on the horizon. While lower instance courts ruled that the Church never lost original ownership, that the communist government merely oversaw the Church's administration, the Supreme Court has now ruled otherwise. In effect, last week it acknowledged a complaint put forward by Prague Castle Administration that the lawsuit should have been thrown out. All along they have argued that the church should have filed a restitution action, rather than a determination of ownership suit. Marika Komonova is the spokeswoman for the Supreme Court:

"The Supreme Court recognised the complaint put forward by the Office of the President of the Czech Republic as grounds for annulling earlier decisions in the case."

Certainly the ruling has caught some off guard. While the Church has opted not to comment on the development so far, Petr Zdercik - representing the Church in the case - most certainly doesn't agree with the assessment. He says determination of ownership was the right lawsuit.

"We put forward the determination of ownership lawsuit because nobody is going to talk to you about anything unless your property is registered with the Land Registry! Now it goes back to square one, the case is at the start. Providing the client will wish to continue, the case will now go to the district courts, appeals court, Constitutional Court, and apparently it will have to go as far the International Court of Human Rights."

If it does go as far as Strasbourg, Mr Zdercik indicates the case would be filed on the basis the Church was discriminated against by the Czech judiciary. One thing is certain: the legal proceedings for the Gothic cathedral - the coronation site of kings - will continue. Fourteen years in, there's no end to the legal battle in sight.