One of the most senior figures in the Czech Catholic Church - former dissident Bishop Vaclav Maly - has created a major stir by speaking out in favour of legalising prostitution in the Czech Republic. As a rule, prostitution and related issues get only sporadic attention from the media but the fact that it is a Catholic bishop who has spoken out has given the issue unprecedented publicity. Daniela Lazarova has the story.
Since making the statement Bishop Maly and the Czech Bishops' Conference have been bombarded with questions from the media. The Bishops Conference has refrained from comment while Bishop Maly himself has made repeated attempts to explain that he does not condone prostitution or approve of it.
"I am not making a moral judgment here. I see prostitution as a reality of the modern world. The chances of eliminating it are practically nil. Under those circumstances it is better to keep it in check and under control by giving it a legal framework. This is not to say that I approve of brothels - but it seems to me that it would be better to have prostitution take place there - with medical check-ups and prostitutes paying taxes. It would be the lesser of two evils."
The number of prostitutes in the Czech Republic is said to be over 6,000. It is a serious problem especially in Prague and the border regions, where two thirds of clients are foreigners. Prostitutes in the Czech Republic are estimated to make over six billion crowns a year - and the state loses out on an estimated two billion in unpaid taxes. But what is more important is that while it remains part of the underworld, prostitution is closely linked to crime, and problems such as child prostitution and trafficking in women are not easily targeted.
In making his views known Bishop Maly emphasized that he spoke on his own behalf, but it is no secret that many Czech bishops are of the same opinion. The fact that a dignitary of the Catholic Church should be the one to call attention to these issues - especially in pre-election time - is a slap in the face for Czech politicians. Bishop Maly again:
"We have been living in a parliamentary democracy for twelve years now and the responsibility of dealing with problems relating to prostitution has been passed on to the local authorities - to deal with it as best they can. I feel truly sorry for them because it is a major burden and I do not think it is fair to just throw the problem at them and ignore it."
Meanwhile, Czech politicians remain at odds over whether or not prostitution should be legalised. Some say legalisation is not such a bad idea and should be given consideration, others have slammed the Bishop for allegedly "promoting nonsensical ideas", but whatever their position, none of them have shown a serious inclination to take the matter further and act on it.
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