Vatican and Czech relations still not clearly defined

Jan Pavel II., photo: CTK

The position of the Catholic Church in Czech society has been controversial throughout history - even as way back as the fifteenth-century Hussite Wars. Much later, in the era of the first democratic Czechoslovak Republic, anti-Catholic sentiments also strongly resounded, and then the Communist regime heavily persecuted the Catholic Church. The result of Wednesday's parliamentary session about a proposed treaty between the Holy See and the Czech Republic certainly doesn't make things easier for the Catholic Church here.

Jan Pavel II.,  photo: CTK
Parliament rejected a proposal for a treaty that would define the relationship between the Czech Republic and the Vatican. This makes the Czech Republic the only former East Bloc country not to have such an agreement. Why did 110 of the 177 present parliamentary members refuse to support the proposal? The main argument against it is that such an agreement would give the Catholic Church too strong a position in Czech society, weakening the status of churches representing other religions. Vojtech Filip, a parliamentary member of the Communist Party, explained why he is against the agreement.

"If it's a religious marriage in a church, then the church does not recognize divorces or it acknowledges the relationship ex tunc as if the marriage had never taken place. But that complicates property claims within the family concerned."

Of an entirely different view is Father Daniel Herman, the spokesman for the Czech Bishops' Conference, who believes that Parliament's decision places the Czech Republic in an isolated position.

"I am convinced that it won't have a crucial influence on parochial life or on the life of the average worshipper. Instead it is a shame on the international legal level."

The proposal had been in the making for the last two years, and with Minister of Foreign Affairs Cyril Svoboda asserting that the Czech Republic isn't considering opening further negotiations now, it seems that the matter may be a closed issue.

Author: Tracy Burns
run audio