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Did the Vatican play “good cop, bad cop” to advance Church interests?

An archbishop who publicly questioned President Vaclav Klaus’ fitness for office was replaced by one who went with him on pilgrimages and gives him Christmas gifts. Archbishop Dominik Duka, the “smiling diplomat”, had been in office only a few weeks when he managed to remove a roadblock to the concordat that Klaus once claimed he’d never sign.

(2012-11-07) It requires patience and ingenuity to get the non-religious Czechs to accept a concordat. On the 2011 census almost half the population left the religious column blank and nearly a further third said they had no religion. [1] The Vatican understands this and appears to be using one of the best-known negotiation tactics: “good cop, bad cop”. First the aggressive “bad cop” increases the stress level of the victim, then the friendly “good cop” makes him feel relieved and grateful — and thereby wins concessions.

Bad archbishop, then good archbishop

In 2007 the Czech president Vaclav Klaus said that he would not sign the draft version of the concordat in its present form. [2] He has also been critical of the terms of a bill to compensate the Church for property nationalised under the Communists. [3] For this the president suffered attacks from the recently-retired archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk. When Klaus stood for re-election in 2008, Cardinal Vlk called Klaus’s reaction to Church demands “not worthy of a president”. [4] That sounded like a broad hint to the MPs who were about to cast their votes. The Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) also put pressure on President Klaus. The Culture Ministry, headed by the Christian Democrat, Vaclav Jehlinka, in the coalition government publicly said that the rejected concordat would be beneficial for the country. [5] And the Christian Democrats  promised to vote for President Klaus if his party helped pass the property settlement with the Vatican. [6] This prompted the opposition Social Democrats to call it an attempt to buy “the president for 300 billion crowns”. [7]

 In February 2008 President Klaus was re-elected with Church support. Through lobbying by the then Bishop  Dominik Duka, the (Catholic) Christian Democrats were persuaded to help re-elect the (Hussite) President. [8] In fact, for years Duka, the “smiling diplomat”, has cultivated a warm relationship with Klaus. [9] Together they climb the mountain on the annual St. Laurence pilgrimage and before Christmas they visit and exchange gifts. [10] Instead of an opponent like the old Archbishop Vlk who was clearly a Vatican negotiator, the President sees in the new Archbishop of Prague a genial friend. Yet despite Duka’s amiable manner he is described as being conservative like Pope Benedict XVI who appointed him. [11]

The Vatican’s wish list

The Vatican has had three issues on the table with the Czech Government: ownership of St. Vitus cathedral in the centre of the Prague castle, a property settlement and ratification of the concordat.

Little more than a month after he was installed, the new archbishop of Prague has cleared away the first of these. On 24 May 2010 Archbishop Dominik Duka signed an agreement with the Czech President by which the Church accepted the Czech court verdict that cathedral the belongs to the nation and the state agreed to allow the Church use of it and to pay for its upkeep. [12]

This marks a reversal of the course pursued by Duka’s predecessor, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, who in May 2009 had lodged a constitutional complaint against the court's verdict, saying the church wanted the Constitutional Court to admit that the Church “rights have been trampled down”. [13] Vlk even said that if the Czech Constitutional Court ruled against him, he’d take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. This heavy-handed approach made it look as if the Vatican were trying to take away a Czech national symbol, for the castle cathedral is where Czech kings were crowned and buried and the crown jewels are held.

The second focus of church-state tension, is compensation to the Church for lands nationalised by the former Communist government. When the the Czech Government presented a more generous plan for restitution in 2008 it was rejected by Parliament. Four years later seven out of ten Czechs remained opposed to compensating the Church, finding the price too high and concerned that there is no list of which properties are to be returned. [14] However, with a shaky coalition and the country facing a financial crisis, the Vatican got its wish. After some reported backroom deals, the coalition partner opposing the compensation plan backed down in order to save the government. Its leader said, “The price of instability in the Czech Republic during a period of crisis would have been higher than the Kč 2 billion a year [which restitution is estimated to cost].” [15]

This compensation deal was pushed through at the end of 2012 even though a year before a poll by the STEM agency showed that seven in 10 Czechs oppose it. [16]

Under the new plan the 17 churches which receive state funds, get back 56 percent of their former property — estimated at 75 billion koruna ($3.7 billion). They also receive over 59 billion koruna ($2.9 billion), adjusted to inflation, to be paid over the next 30 years, and the state will gradually stop covering their expenses, including clerical salaries, over the next 17 years. Or at least that's what the churches agreed to in order to get the bill passed. However, it mis worth noting that although the Vatican agreed that the Spanish Church should becomce similarly self-supporting, in that case, within three years, within three years, a quarter of a century after the deadline passed, it was still demanding money every year from the Spanish Government. [x] It can be very difficult to hold the Church to its word, especially when it controls many social services and, pleading poverty, can threaten to withdraw services.

The Catholic Church receives four-fifths of the money. [17] It has said that it intends to use this to expand its role in social and health care services. Already the Catholic Church runs about a third of the country's home care and hospices. [18] If the Vatican can finally succeed in getting the rejected draft concordat accepted, article 13.2 will then guarantee full state funding for these services, while articles 5.2 and 10.1 will ensure that these operate in accordance with the Catholic Church’s “own principles” and “in conformity with its own regulations”. For some of the implications of this, see “How faith-based social services do an end-run around human rights”.

A few months after the compensation agreement was signed with the Church, it was announced that Archbishop Duka was to be elevated to a cardinal. [19]

Now the way is clear for the President to show his friend, the new Cardinal, that he can reciprocate the Church’s flexibility on the national cathedral and pay back his political debts by making concessions on the concordat. It is even possible that doesn’t even feel that he is compromising, since it is claimed that in the course of the friendship Klaus’ opinions, “originally different, have developed to be close to Duka’s”. [20]

The rejected draft concordat

It is not known whether Duka and the Christian Democrats demanded any other concessions to the Church in return for their support of Klaus in the 2008 election. All the public has been told is that a special team at the Culture Ministry is to make preparations for the ratification of the concordat already rejected in 2003. [21]

This concordat, when ratified, will have precedence over Czech laws, if it is considered to be a human rights treaty. This is because Article 10 of the 1992 Czech Constitution says that

Ratified and promulgated international accords on human rights and fundamental freedoms, to which the Czech Republic has committed itself, are immediately binding and are superior to law.

Sometimes, with Vatican help, politicians who favour a concordat try to conceal its content from an electorate that has doubts about it, until it has been signed and revision is impossible. This was done in Poland, Georgia, Brazil and the German states of Brandenburg and Hamburg. The text of the Czech concordat was also kept secret, even though the bilateral commission submitted its first draft in June 2001. It was only revealed on the date of its signing, more than a year later.

Its understated title implies that it merely “modifies” relations, as if it were not precedent-setting. An unusual feature is the escape clause in the last article, allowing it to be cancelled unilaterally. This is only used with very reluctant concordat partners: it also appears at the end of the 1989 Brazilian military concordat and the 2008 French higher education concordat. This is a measure of how eager the Vatican is to get a concordat with the wary Czechs.

Although President Klaus said he would never sign it in its present form, the Vatican does not intend to change the text of the rejected agreement and still expects the Czechs to ratify it. [22] The efforts of the friendly new Archbishop may yet bring this about.


NCR — John L. Allen Jr., "A great weekend for affirmative orthodoxy in Prague", National Catholic Reporter, 28 September 2009.

1. "Jedi knights top 15,000 in Czech census", AFP, 15 December 2011.

2.  "Ministerial team to work on Czech-Vatican agreement", Czech News Agency (CTK), Prague Daily Monitor, 7 May 2007.

3. "Injustice done to Czech churches cannot be fully rectified – Klaus" CTK, Ceske Noviny , 21.02.2007 [Cultus vs pres] 

4. "Czech Cardinal Vlk not satisfied with President Klaus", ČTK, Čseké Noviny, 13 March 2007.

5. "Czech new culture minister for old treaty with Vatican", Prague Daily Monitor, 28 January 2007.;story=Czech-new-culture-minister-for-old-treaty-with-Vatican 

6. "Czech press survey", ČTK, České Noviny, 26 January 2008.
On 23 January 2008 the Christian Democrats were still claiming that the timing of this bill right before the presidential election was "a mere coincidence". [5] However, three days later they were asserting that there was a difference between serious political negotiations and horse-trading. 
"Czech government approves state-church property settlement bill",  ČTK, České Noviny, 23 January 2008. 

7. "Czech opposition threatens to reject church property restitutions", ČTK, České Noviny, 1 February 2008. 

8. "Czech legislative election, 2006", Wikipedia.

9. David Klimeš, "Dominik Duka: přívětivá tvář pro české neznabohy" ("Dominik Duka: friendly face for the godless Czechs"),, 15 February 2010.

10.  Ibid.

11. "Czech press survey - February 15 [2010]" ČTK, České Noviny, 15 February 2010.

12. "Czech President Klaus has Christmas meeting with Bishop Duka", České Noviny, 18 December 2009. 

13. "Dispute about Prague´s cathedral ends, Klaus, Duka sign agreement", České Noviny, 24 May 2010.

14. "Czech restitution plan may unlock vast church lands", Reuters, 11 May 2012. 

15. "Czech coalition survives rupture over church restitution", Czech Position, 11 January 2012.

16. "Czech lawmakers pass religious property restitution bill", AFP, 7 November 2012.

17. "Czech restitution plan may unlock vast church lands", Reuters, 11 May 2012.

The 31 state-recognized religious organizations are divided into two tiers. The lower tier receives limited tax exemptions and the upper tier of 17 gets direct state funding: see

18. "Vatican wants Czech church more active in health, social areas", ČTK, 2 May 2012.

19. "Pope names Prague archbishop Dominik Duka a cardinal", Czech Position, 6 Janaury 2012.

20. "Czech press survey - February 20", Čseké Noviny, 20 February 2012.

21. "Ministerial team to work on Czech-Vatican agreement", CTK, Prague Daily Monitor, 7 May 2007.

22. "Pope Benedict XVI receives Czech PM Fischer", ČTK, České Noviny, 14 November 2009. 



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