KESTON NEWS SERVICE
Issue 8, Article 7, 3 August 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

SUMMARY:
CZECH ANGLICAN CHURCH FORCED TO SIDESTEP RESTRICTIVE
RELIGION LAW. Unable to obtain registration on its own due to its limited
membership, the Anglican Church has registered as a parish of the Old
Catholic Church. Although this arrangement grants certain tax advantages,
according to the Anglican Diocese of Europe it also builds on close ties with
their ´┐Żoldest ecumenical partner´┐Ż.

Thursday 3 August 2000
CZECH ANGLICAN CHURCH FORCED TO SIDESTEP RESTRICTIVE
RELIGION LAW

by Kazi Stastna and Felix Corley, Keston News Service

One world religion which has remained officially unrecognised in the Czech
Republic but has found a way around its small number - approximately 100 - is
the Anglican Church. It is unable to gain legal status on its own as its
membership falls below the current 10,000-member limitation under the 1992
supplement to the 1991 religion law. The Anglican Church in the Czech
Republic consists of one parish, St Clement's in Prague, which meets in
premises owned by the Evangelical Church of
Czech Brethren.

Two years ago when the Czech government suggested it register to be able to
declare taxes, the Anglican parish decided to ask the Old Catholic Church to
provide `cover', according to an Anglican priest in Prague, PATRICK
OKECHI; the parish persuaded the Anglican bishop to accept this. Since that
time, the parish has been registered with the Ministry of Culture not as the
Anglican Church but as a parish of the Old Catholic Church and plans to
remain so under the proposed new law (see separate KNS article). The two
churches plan to sign an ecclesiastical covenant in September.

`As a minority church in the Czech Republic, it is better that we team up with a
bigger church ... although administratively it is better if we work on our own,'
Rev. Okechi told Keston in a telephone interview on 26 July. `We don't know
who to take orders from - the Czech diocese in Prague or the European diocese
in London.' Rev. Okechi - who is not a priest of the Church of England's
Diocese in Europe but who has `permission to officiate' and ministers in the
Prague parish - expressed surprise that the Church of England has not
intervened to attempt to obtain special provisions for the Anglican Church - or
even to ask.

In a telephone interview with Keston on 26 July, the bishop of the Old Catholic
Church, DUSAN HEJBAL, stated that the merger had not taken place
primarily for tax purposes. He pointed out that the two faiths were very close
and similar mergers between the two churches existed in other countries where
the Anglicans could not function independently and even in countries where
such registration restrictions did not exist.

This view is shared by Rev. JONATHAN GOODALL, chaplain to Bishop
JOHN HIND, the leader of the Diocese in Europe. He told Keston on 1 August
that although the issue may have partly arisen because of the requirement for
the Anglican parish to gain some kind of legal status, the registration of the
parish within the Old Catholic Church was part of an `ecclesial agenda' to build
on the close ties between the Anglican Church and the Old Catholic Church,
`our oldest ecumenical partner'. `When it became obvious that the parish had to
reregister under new legal terms, the situation presented itself whether we
would face modest tax disadvantages by remaining independent, or whether we
would make use of our agreement with the Old Catholic Church,' he told
Keston. `It was obvious that the parish should register within the local church
[the Old Catholic Church] and measures were put in place to sustain its
Anglican basis and patrimony.'

Asked whether there was anywhere else in Europe where the local Anglican
church had been required to seek registration through a partner Church rather
than directly, Rev. Goodall declared: `Not that I'm aware of.' Asked if the
Diocese was happy with the current legal position, he was keen to stress what
he considers the positive side of the arrangement. `Plainly we are not happy
about developments that restrict religious liberty of our or other religious
groups, but this situation has prompted a reassessment of ecclesial relations
between the Church of England and the Old Catholic Church.' (END)

Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.