Aid keeps churches alive

"ILLOGICAL" is how Marián Gavenda describes the new draft legislation by the ruling New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) party, which essentially wants to tie eligibility for church subsidies to published assets.

"ILLOGICAL" is how Marián Gavenda describes the new draft legislation by the ruling New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) party, which essentially wants to tie eligibility for church subsidies to published assets. [See article, page 2.]

As the spokesman for the Conference of Slovak Bishops, Gavenda says churches are not opposed to making state assistance more transparent or publishing an overview of property, but most think the proposed law is too complicated.

"I can't imagine how the ANO law would be realized," said Gavenda, who indicated that in order to meet the legislation's requirements, each article within every church - books, statues, candleholders - would have to be officially appraised and calculated according to depreciation.

In an interview with The Slovak Spectator, Gavenda outlines his views on the ANO's proposed legislation. "I am answering in the name of the Catholic Church," he says, but one suspects that similar arguments would apply to other churches as well.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): What is the general position of the Conference of Slovak Bishops over the draft law in general?

Marián Gavenda (MG): I consider it illogical to make an inventory of church assets a condition for entitlement to state contributions for the wages of clergy, the operation of church centres and charity. I cannot imagine what shape the law will have and how it would be realized. I think that the lack of understanding of the matter and the impossibility of realizing the plan will result in a majority of political parties not supporting the law.

TSS: What are, in your opinion, the main weaknesses of the draft law?

MG: The ANO has not yet specified what they mean by "church assets". The basic argument goes as follows: a considerable sum goes to churches from the state budget and the citizens have a right to know how the money is used and whether it is necessary that the state provide the money to them at all. That's why it is necessary to know what the churches' assets are, so we can see whether they could maintain their communities without state aid.

I can state that the majority of media outlets are not interested in informing the people truthfully about information that is already known - for example, how the state contribution is divided between the churches, how much the wage of clergymen is considered a partial valorisation, and for what purposes the state money is actually used. To the contrary, most Slovaks are being made to believe half-truths and untruths.

Secondly, increasing the state budget for churches in 2005 by Sk154 million (€4 million) was done based on a cabinet demand - the decree was approved June 2, 2004 - because the wages of the clergy had not been valorised since 1997. The average gross wage was Sk8,613 (€223).

Thirdly, the money from the state budget is divided absolutely transparently, and a part of the funds goes back to the state in the form of taxes and levies. The Supreme Audit Office carried out a control at Episcopal offices recently.

TSS: Do you think it would be difficult for churches to prepare lists of their assets?

MG: As far as the second part of the ANO's proposed law is concerned - whether the inventory of the assets should serve as a basis for evaluation of the necessity and value of state subsidies - it is necessary to consider that each parish, institution or diocese has an independent legal subjectivity. In the case of the Catholic Church, this comprises more than 2,000 legal entities. Each of these subjects knows what their property is, they pay taxes and take care of the maintenance.

To evaluate the whole property of the Catholic Church, an expert appraisal would be necessary for each individual cathedral, painting, statue and every book in the libraries that have historical value. It would be necessary to calculate the expenditures for the maintenance, restoration and the operation of these objects and subjects. As far as the land and forests are concerned, its value would also have to be evaluated, as well as the possibility of making profits or losses on each of the plots individually.

Because the public funds go mainly for clergy wages, it would also be necessary, based on comparative criteria, to financially evaluate the activities of these priests and of all that is taking place in the parishes. Even the purely religious activities, such as the confessionals and masses, have a major cultural-social value. Parishes also organize various discussions, camps for children, sports and hobby events.

TSS: But the ANO argues that the proposed legislation would ensure greater transparency in how churches use public funds.

MG:The Catholic Church is not against making all of this more transparent. But if a complex and objective evaluation is done, it would require a lot of experts, time and finances.

The Culture Ministry's church section, which is responsible for the division of state funds and oversees their effective use, provides the state administration with the required documents. The partial results of this specialized unit already shows clearly that churches are not able to finance themselves with their own money.

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