Church Seeks to Smooth Relations With Czech Republic

Cardinal Bertone Talks With Premier About Property Issues

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VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 28, 2009 («> Benedict XVI and President Václav Klaus of the Czech Republic spoke of ongoing negotiations between the Holy See and the Eastern European country to reach an agreement on returning nationalized Church property.

The two met Saturday for a 15-minute private meeting at the Hradčany Castle in Prague. 

Afterward there was the traditional exchange of gifts. The Holy Father gave the president a mosaic of St. Wenceslaus, patron saint of the Czech Republic. President Klaus, accompanied by his wife, Livia Kalusova, offered the Pope a crystal cup from Bohemia along with two crystal candelabras and a piano stool.

The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and other Church officials, met with the premier of the Czech Republic, Jan Fischer.

According to Vatican Radio, the two spoke of the ongoing discussions regarding bilateral relations between the Holy See and the Czech Republic. The discussions began in April 2000. Representatives of the Church have sought legal regulations to ensure a free range of Church activities and liberty, as well as property regulations.

The question of the restitution of goods taken from the Church by the communist regime were among the themes that were touched on in the latter meeting.

In regard to the goods taken by the communist regime, Vatican Radio reported that «dialogue will not be accelerated given the present economic situation, but there is the prospect of taking it up again as soon as possible in the framework of mutual trust.»

There was also discussion of other European issues and of international solidarity with poor countries, above all in this moment of crisis, with the involvement and participation of the Church.

More than 10.2 million people reside in the Czech Republic, 26% of whom said they considered themselves Catholic in a 2001 census. Some 59% said they were unaffiliated with any religion, 2.1% said they were Protestant, and the remainder were either unspecific or claimed «other.»

Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, the archbishop of Prague, told Czech Television over the weekend that he considers his 20-year tenure in the Czech Republic to be a «failure.»

«In fact, I have achieved almost nothing during the 20 years in the Church and political sphere,» Cardinal Vlk said, according to a translation provided by

Among the failures, the cardinal noted the work of the Church to regain control over St. Vitus Cathedral.

The Church in the Czech Republic has been embroiled in dispute for the last 16 years over ownership of the Gothic cathedral, which dates back to the 14th century, and adjacent buildings. The government currently holds control of the building.

In 2008, Benedict XVI called the cathedral «a living witness to the rich cultural and religious heritage of your land, and testifies to the harmonious coexistence of Church and state.»

Other concerns for Cardinal Vlk include the failure on the part of both parties to return to the Church the property that was nationalized after the 1948 communist coup.

There was an attempt to reach a settlement last year, but it was blocked in the Chamber of Deputies.

«My success or failure arise from the political situation. On our side, which means Church, there has always been the readiness, but there was not sufficient will on the other side, that of politicians,» the cardinal lamented.

The cardinal did say he was more optimistic after Klaus spoke at a meeting of politicians with Benedict XVI, and stated that Christian values must be the foundation of life in the Czech Republic.

The Pope’s three-day trip to the nation ended today.

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