"He added that the refusal of index-linked payments had effectively frozen priests' salaries, which have been paid by the state since the eighteenth century and currently account for 80 percent of government allocations. "
From ....... Catholic International
CZECH REPUBLIC AND HUNGARY
A spokesman for the Czech Republic's Catholic Bishops' conference has warned that full Church-State separation will not solve the economic problems of the Catholic Church, whose mission is being restricted by "very modest conditions" due to government failure to return the Church's communist-seized assets.
Speaking after an early November Olomouc meeting of Czech and Slovak bishops, Father Miloslav Fiala said state subsidies currently account for only a third of the Church's $35.5 million annual budget.
He added that the refusal of index-linked payments had effectively frozen priests' salaries, which have been paid by the state since the eighteenth century and currently account for 80 percent of government allocations.
The spokesman said Church leaders were "taking account of the possibility" that there would be no agreement with the government of Vaclav Klaus in the wake of a recent vote by the premier's Civic Democratic Party not to restore Church assets.
The Czech [Roman Catholic] Church has submitted claims to 3,400 buildings and 350,000 acres of former Bohemian and Moravian holdings, out of a total of 552,000 acres listed as confiscated in state records. However, a new bill is expected to invalidate restitution demands predating the Czechoslovak Communist Party's February 1948 seizure of power.
In his statement, Fiala said the Church would try to "serve the faithful as well as possible," despite having to "economize" on various pastoral programs. He added that its key priority, beyond the return of properties, remained ensuring thar the government no longer "interfered in its affairs."
In June, the Czech government rejected a bill to regulate religious activities on the grounds that it failed to define the legal status of religious associations or specify whether Church and state were "totally or only partially separate."
A Church-State commission in neighboring Hungary held its first talks on property issues in October after a long delay over legal disputes. In a statement, Hungary's State Secretary for Religious Affairs Istvan Platthy said 170 properties would be handed back the near future, out of a total of 3,500 originally demanded back by the Church. However, he added that the government had not yet decided the level of state grants for religious associations for 1996. A net decline in state subsidy the past two years has severely restricted Church activities.
Under a 1991 law, all Hungarian Churches are entitled to submit claims for a share of the 10,000 buildings expropriated from various confessions in the late 1940s. However, although the restitution of 2 700 has been promised by the government, fewer than 1,300 had been returned by the beginning of last year, mostly to Hungary's Catholic and Reformed Churches. Church leaders say a freeze in the budget allocation to Churches has effectively cut state subsidies by 40 percent.
CI, Warsaw Bureau [Jonathan Luxmroore]
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