2012-11-09 Vatican RadioThe Czech Parliament has approved a plan to return billions of dollars in church properties that were confiscated by the previous Communist regime. The Catholic Church in the Czech Republic has welcomed the deal, after years of negotiations.
Under the legislation, churches will receive lands, properties and compensation worth some $7 billion over a period of 30 years.
It includes about six percent of the country's forests and fields that once belonged to mostly Christian churches.
That land, which was confiscated by the previous Communist regime after 1948, could in future be developed, rented or sold to help pay for the Church's mission.
In a first reaction statement, Czech Cardinal Dominik Duka said "he is glad" that the in his words painstakingly negotiated compromise on religious restitution was eventually approved" more than two decades after the collapse of Communism.
The vote is viewed as a victory for Prime Minister Peter Necas who fought hard for the return of the church properties in what is viewed as Europe's most atheistic nation
Following events is Tibor Krebsz, the executive director of the Central-European Religious Freedom Institute in Budapest. Krebsz told Vatican Radio that he isn't surprised it took years before the deal was finalized.
"As the statistics say, Czech people are more atheistic than maybe the Hungarians," he said. "I see that when this law was done in Hungary in the middle of the 1990s, there was I think a different spiritual background. Maybe the people were more open and supporting religion," Krebsz added.
The Czech law will now go to President Vaclav Klaus, who has voiced reservations about the bill.
He can veto the law after the Senate already rejected it.
Analysts say however that the 102 votes Prime Necas won in the 200-seat lower house of parliament would be enough to overturn any presidential
Experts caution the law will lead to a one-off rise in this year's budget deficit of around 1.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product, to cover the compensation payments which are to be spread out over three decades.
Listen to the report from correspondent Stefan Bos: