President Klaus rejects Czech-Vatican draft treaty

16-02-2004

Czech President Vaclav Klaus has rejected a draft treaty between Prague and the Holy See, which defines the status of the Roman Catholic Church in the Czech Republic. This makes the Czech Republic the only post-Communist state not to have such an agreement with the Vatican. In a letter addressed to Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, who has been leading negotiations with the Vatican, Mr Klaus objected to several terms in the treaty, saying it gives the Catholic Church too high a standing in the Czech Republic. Mr Klaus also opposes a pledge to look for a quick way to settle an open disagreement over church property. The draft treaty, which has already been rejected by the lower house of parliament, will now have to be re-negotiated. As the country is primarily atheist, with less than a quarter of Czechs claiming to be Catholic, it could be a long time before an agreement is reached that is suitable to all. Dita Asiedu spoke to Ivana Noble from the Ecumenical Institute of the Protestant Theological Faculty of Charles University:

"I think that there are two issues to consider. One is that the Vatican is an independent country and if it wants to have diplomatic relations with our country it's important to meet that. So for this reason, some contract or treaty is necessary. And then there is the second issue. The treaty with the Vatican is quite an important issue for the Roman Catholics because this country has gone through times of religious controversies, which I think are still present within the context of the current secular atmosphere. There was quite a strong revolt among the people against the churches and the Roman Catholic Church was seen as the most conservative, or sometimes even as the most inhumane and therefore I assume that the Roman Catholics feel by the act of the President that they are being rejected again, that they are not fully accepted as those citizens in this country who can practice their belief, which is recognised."

One of the main reasons why parliament and the President rejected the treaty is because they say that the Roman Catholic Church would be more powerful than other churches...

"Well, I think that this fear has been in this country for a long time. Fact is that the Roman Catholic Church is by far the biggest church and that the relations with other churches are supposed to be on the ecumenical level. But the treaty with the Vatican is something that has to be dealt with on the diplomatic level."

But what would you say should be taken into consideration more - the fact that the Roman Catholic Church is the biggest church or the fact that a very small percentage of Czechs is Catholic?

"I think what should be taken into consideration is that the Roman Catholics are still the strongest Christian presence in this country and that for them the contract with the Vatican is quite an important thing. I think it should really be signed."

16-02-2004