Pursuant to instructions from the central government to local administrative districts known as communes, the communes and the Catholic Church negotiated agreements on the disposition of Church properties in each commune. Previously, the properties had been under the control and responsibility of local Catholic Church councils, which operated independently. Under the agreements, control was transferred to the communes or the central Church authority. The Church at the national level developed a list of buildings needed for worship, and local Church councils negotiated the disposition of each building with the communes. In some cases, the Church transferred ownership of properties it did not need to communes for a symbolic fee of one euro ($1.20); in others, the communes leased properties they owned to the Church for nominal rental fees of 1,000-2,500 euros ($1,200-$3,000) per year. The government had initially set a January 1 deadline for these agreements but later extended it to June 1, a deadline which all of the communes and Church councils met. In addition, the government and Catholic Archbishop of Luxembourg Jean-Claude Hollerich agreed that the upkeep of two historical Church properties, the Basilica of St. Willibord in Echternach and the Notre Dame Cathedral in Luxembourg, would be cofinanced by the government and the Catholic Church.
The Syndicate of Church Councils, an association representing the interests of 270 of the 285 local Catholic Church councils in the country, opposed the legislation on church properties and the property agreements signed between the Church councils and the communes. The syndicate, with the support of 118 of its Church councils, filed a lawsuit in December 2016 against Minister of Religion (also Prime Minister) Xavier Bettel, Minister of the Interior Dan Kersch, and Archbishop Hollerich. The lawsuit challenged the right of the archbishop to represent the Catholic Church in signing the 2015 convention that laid out the parameters for separating church and state and required that property ownership be negotiated between the local Church councils and the communes. The lawsuit remained pending at year’s end.
In addition to filing the lawsuit, the syndicate gathered 12,000 signatures on a petition, allowing it to gain a parliamentary hearing in January, at which it insisted it be included in the negotiation process on issues related to the separation of church and state. At the hearing, Interior Minister Kersch stated the archbishop was the government’s official negotiating partner and objections to the law advanced by the syndicate pertained to internal Church matters. The hearing ended without a vote.
On July 14, the Council of State, an advisory body of parliament, published an opinion stating Church councils, as public institutions, could be abolished by the state, and the transfer of assets from the councils to a common Catholic Church fund did not constitute an expropriation. The Council of State recommended amendments to the proposed law governing the management of church buildings, including one allowing local communes to fund renovations of church buildings that were transferred to the central Catholic Church fund. Interior Minister Kersch agreed to the Council of State’s recommended amendments and in October resubmitted the draft legislation to the council for another review. By year’s end parliament had not voted on the legislation.
On August 7, parliament passed a law outlining a framework for former religious instructors to continue working in public schools. Under the law, secondary school teachers who were formerly religious educators may teach nonreligious subjects in which they hold a bachelor’s degree after completion of a 16-hour training course. These secondary school educators are employed by the Ministry of National Education. Primary school educators who formerly taught Catholic classes and rejoin the public schools as teachers of other subjects continue to be officially employed by the Catholic Church.
Of the 140 Catholic primary teachers affected by the new law affecting former religious instructors, 100 became substitute teachers after meeting the minimum qualifications to teach elementary education; the remaining 40 were receiving training to serve as education assistants in primary schools or day-care centers.
On August 8, Minister of Justice Felix Braz presented a bill to parliament proposing the prohibition of facial coverings in public buildings and on public transportation. He stated the motivation was not religious, but rather that fellow citizens should be able to recognize each other. Although two opposition political parties, the Christian Social People’s Party and the Alternative Democratic Reform Party, had in previous years initially called for a nationwide ban only of the burqa to be enforced everywhere, they changed their position during the year to favor a ban on all facial coverings. The ruling coalition, consisting of the Democratic Party, the Liberal Socialists Workers Party, and the Greens, took a compromise position favoring a ban on facial coverings in public spaces and introduced the draft bill. By year’s end the Council of State had not yet issued an advisory opinion on the draft legislation, required prior to a parliamentary debate and vote. A total of 47 local municipalities banned facial coverings, but police did not enforce these communal bans.
According to the Assembly of the Muslim Community (the Shoura), approximately 16 women in the country wore the niqab or burqa. The Shoura criticized the proposed law banning face coverings as unnecessary, in view of the small number of women who wore burqas, and stated the debate was counterproductive in an “open and tolerant society.” The Shoura also criticized Justice Minister Braz for not consulting the affected population prior to announcing his proposal.
In October the pastor of Trinity Church, the historic Protestant church in Luxembourg City, stated mounting court costs for an ongoing civil court case could potentially bankrupt his church under the new Church funding arrangement. The pastor stated the judge should have dismissed the case, because it pertained to an internal church matter.
According to data provided by the prime minister’s office, through October the government had granted refugee status to 938 individuals, the majority of whom were Muslim. The Organization for Welcome and Integration (OLAI), an entity of the Ministry of Family and Integration, stated the government sought to be proactive in assuring refugee access to mosques, halal meals, and same-sex housing for those who requested it. OLAI reported no complaints or concerns by refugees related to the practice of their religion.
The country held the presidency of the International Tracing Service (ITS) during the year and hosted the 80th session of the International Commission of the International Tracing Service in June in Luxembourg City. The ITS is an archive and center for documentation, research, and information on Nazism, forced labor, and the Holocaust in Nazi Germany and its occupied regions.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.