Cardinal slams “black comedy” of Communists’ compensation taxation move

01-02-2019

The head of the Czech Roman Catholic Church has hit back at a Communist Party bill aimed at taxing compensation paid to churches for property seized under the previous regime. Cardinal Dominik Duka has described the Communists’ move as a “black comedy” and says a Senate vote on the matter will determine how faith groups proceed.

Dominik Duka, photo: Adam Kebrt / Czech RadioDominik Duka, photo: Adam Kebrt / Czech Radio In 2013, after years of often rancorous debate, a centre-right Czech government passed legislation compensating the country’s churches for properties seized from them during the Communist regime.

Tens of billions of crowns worth of property is being returned directly. However, not all assets can be handed back and the churches are receiving equivalent financial compensation over a number of decades.

Last week the Chamber of Deputies approved a Communist Party bill under which this money would be subject to taxation. The Communists say the move would save the state almost CZK 400 million a year.

On Thursday the matter was discussed by the Czech Bishops’ Conference, a top Roman Catholic organisation.

Afterwards the head of the Catholic Church in the Czech Republic, Cardinal Dominik Duka, told the media that the legislation would most impact smaller faith groups.

“This particularly concerns the Jewish community, who lost their property to the Nazis. Communism came along and they lost more of their property. We have to say that we also regard this as a transgression of decent behaviour, contracts and the law. Because compensation is not taxed.”

The primate said the Communist Party had been responsible for a “black comedy” in the lower house of Parliament.

Imposing a tax on compensation paid out under the church restitution bill was one of the conditions the Communists set for backing the current minority cabinet of ANO and the Social Democrats on key votes.

Cardinal Duka said on Thursday that the Communists were not in fact “tolerating” the government, as its members have stated. Rather, he suggested, the Communist Party is a silent partner with a deciding vote.

The church leader was a political prisoner during the Communist regime and said that the party’s return to power was going to give him nightmares.

Photo: Jana Šustová / Czech RadioPhoto: Jana Šustová / Czech Radio Cardinal Duka told reporters that after 1989 his church had not demanded revenge or compelled anybody to take responsibility.

Now, however, the smiling faces of Communist MPs were reminding him of prison guards, he said.

As for what next, the cardinal said he wished to discuss the matter with Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, leader of the ANO party, and other cabinet members.

He has also scheduled discussions on a coordinated approach with Protestant and Jewish leaders.

Duka, who is archbishop of Prague, says any decision on how to proceed will depend on a vote on the Communists’ bill in the Senate at the end of this month.

Senators are expected to veto the legislation, which opposition figures have dubbed unconstitutional.

01-02-2019