Church concedes battle for St. Vitus

The Catholic Church has conceded its battle for ownership of Prague’s iconic St. Vitus cathedral, ending 17 years of bitter disputes with the Czech state over control of the historic site.

In a landmark move by Prague Archbishop Dominik Duka and President Václav Klaus May 24, the church agreed the government would be the sole owner but both powers would jointly manage the cathedral.

“The state and the Catholic Church will join forces, as was the case for a long time, to take care of the cathedral, which they both see as an extraordinary national symbol in its historical, spiritual and cultural significance,” Klaus said. “I would like to say thank you for resolving the disagreement, which for a long time divided society and disturbed the relationship between church and state.”

Under the move, a joint council will be created for the “balanced and proper care” of the cathedral. In addition, the President’s Office, through the Prague Castle Administration, will provide sufficient guarantees for the Catholic Church to provide the care needed for the property and the surrounding Metropolitan Chapter House of St. Vitus.

Duka said the agreement was not only recognition that the cathedral had flourished under joint management in the past, but was also “a commitment to the future.”

“I believe the agreement between the president and the archbishop of Prague is an expression of our common desire to ensure a reliable and harmonious cooperation for the care of the cathedral and its preservation for future generations,” he said.

The move follows years of wrangling over the site since the Velvet Revolution. The Catholic Church filed a lawsuit for ownership in 1992, leading to numerous court battles before the Municipal Court in 2008 ruled that the property belonged to the state. Last year, the church lodged a constitutional complaint against the decision, which it has now rescinded. Meanwhile, in 2002, a treaty on the position of the Catholic Church in the Czech Republic was signed but not ratified and was subsequently rejected by the lower house of Parliament in 2003. The treaty did not cover a settlement over disputed church property but was seen as an important first step to settling issues between the church and state.

By Gabriella Hold