Czech Republic and Vatican Sign a Church-State Treaty

Last Eastern European Country to Do So

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PRAGUE, Czech Republic, JULY 26, 2002 ( A key agreement on Church-state relations has been signed in the Czech Republic, the only Eastern European country that had not taken this step.

Archbishop Erwin Josef Ender, the apostolic nuncio in the Czech Republic, and Cyril Svoboda, the Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs, on Thursday signed the «agreement for the regulation of reciprocal relations.»

The document, which takes effect when it is ratified by the two signatory parties, «regulates the position of the Catholic Church and of its institutions in the Czech Republic,» a Vatican statement said.

According to the text, the state guarantees to the Church the free exercise of its mission, in particular as regards worship, pastoral government, education and other aspects of ecclesial life.

The agreement recognizes the civil effects of canonical matrimony, which means that the celebration of the sacrament will be enough for the marriage to be recognized by the state, without the need for a further ceremony in a town hall.

The republic also guarantees to the Church the right to offer pastoral attention to faithful in hospitals, in social care centers and in prisons.

The Church will also be able to direct works of charity, in keeping with civil legislation. Catholic schools are treated like public schools, having the same rights and duties.

The agreement regulates the teaching of religion in public schools and favors the collaboration of Church and state in preserving the historical and cultural heritage.

Lastly, the two parties committed themselves to resolve, as soon as possible, the thorny questions relating to Church property expropriated by the Communist regime.

According to Foreign Affairs Minister Svoboda, leader of the Christian Democratic Union, a solution to the problem must be found before 2006, when the mandate of the new governmental coalition expires.

The question of restitution is one of the points of the new center-left government of Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, which will be presented Aug. 6 in the Chamber of Deputies.

The Church-state treaty, given the approval of the outgoing government of Prime Minister Milos Zeman earlier this month, must be ratified by Parliament.

Minister Svoboda emphasized the «particular importance» of the treaty, the first of its kind signed between Prague and the Vatican in the history of Czechoslovakia, founded in 1918, and of the Czech Republic, which resulted from the former’s split in January 1993.

Among the nation’s 10.2 million inhabitants, 39.2% are Catholics. A full 39.8% are considered atheist by some statistics. Sunday Church attendance is one of the lowest in the world.

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