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Two decades of the concordat — “Observed by neither state nor church”

Accordiing to Dr Paweł Borecki, an expert in church law, the application of the Polish concordat has been selective. In the 20 years sinceit was signed, the Vatican has applied those provisions that favour it and ignored the ones that don't. The Church is given a free hand due to “the state's submissiveness”. 

This article concerns Paweł Borecki's 2013 study, On the Polish Concordat of 1993 – Selected problems, (Respektowanie polskiego konkordatu z 1993 roku – wybrane problemy). It was issued by  the Institute of Public Affairs (ISP), an independent thinktank founded in 1995 to provide the factual basis and scholarly analysis for the modernization of the country, which needed to undergo great changes in the 15 years between the fall of Communism and its accession to the European Union. 

A concordat in name only - observed by neither state nor church

 “Papierowy konkordat. Nie przestrzega go ani państwo, ani Kościół
Katarzyna Wiśniewska, Gazeta Wyborcza, 2013-02-05

This is the conclusion of the Institute of Public Affairs (ISP). The Concordat, signed in 1993, has turned out to be an unsuccessful attempt at achieving a “friendly” disestablishment.

This is the result of “the opportunism of those political decision-makers who desire the Church’s backing or at least the neutrality of the institutionalised Church”, according to the author of the report, Dr Paweł Borecki from the Faculty of Religious Law at Warsaw University. Gazeta Wyborcza, is the first to publish excerpts from it.

The report points out that serious doubts arise, among others, about article 1 of the Concordat, where the state and the Church undertake to respect each other’s independence and autonomy. This means that both authorities should not interfere with the other side. However, in practice it works differently.


 ♦ the undermining by the Episcopate of the KRRiT’s (National Broadcasting Council) decision not to grant a digital concession to [the Catholic] TV Trwam,

♦  the questioning (over many years) of the Polish government’s signing of the convention on preventing and combating violence against women.  [Editor's note: “In June 2010, Polish members of parliament approved a national law against violence in families, which tightened rules against corporal punishment, despite warnings by the bishops’ conference president, Archbishop Jozef Michalik, that the measure would undermine parental control “and disturb the natural order.” [1] And in December 2012 when Poland signed the Council of Europe convention on preventing violence against women, its Catholic bishops said the wording of the document would force the government to “promote homosexuality.” [2]

♦  But Dr Borecki cites also the some less well known examples: in 2000 Presidium of the Episcopate demanded from the Minister of Interior and Administration the elimination of street prostitution and, in particular, the deportation of foreign prostitutes.

The government’s delaying tactics

“The glaring example of a breach by the Catholic hierarchy of the state’s independence was the Bishop of Drohiczyn, Antoni Dydycz’s public call for the dissolution of the Sejm”, says the report. [Editor's note: When Bishop Antoni Dydycz addressed a throng of pilgrims at the shrine of Jasna Gora on 2012-09-16, he said that the opposition, (the religious Law and Justice Party), was being thwarted and the Sejm (Polish parliament) should be dissolved. [3]

Why isn’t the Concordat fully implemented? The author’s opinion is that this is partly due to “the delaying tactics by sections of the judiciary and the state administration apparatus, that are afraid to implement the Concordat’s obligations in favour of the state”. We are told that the problem occurs mainly in relation to respecting the state’s independence, as “the independence and autonomy of the Church is guaranteed in the Concordat by numerous provisions”, however, “such guarantees in relation to the state were not provided to a similar degree”.

What is the Church’s response to this? “Is the article stating the respect for the mutual independence and autonomy adhered to?” we ask Father Robert Nęcek, the spokesman of the Archdiocese of Kraków. “Yes, I believe the Concordat in being observed in this respect”, he replies.

Dr Borecki disagrees: through the medium of frequent letters and appeals to parliamentarians (e.g. threatening those who support in vitro fertilisation with excommunication), the Episcopate strives to “constantly control the state authorities in those matters which the Polish Episcopate decides unilaterally are in the Church’s sphere of interests or competence”, and “this has the real support of the Holy See”.

Does this mean that the Church should stay silent and not interfere in public affairs? “The Church has the right to comment on public affairs from the point of view of the doctrine and the Catholic morality. But it has no right to interfere directly in the political processes. The line is thin, but calling for the dissolution of the Sejm [Parliament] or threatening MPs with excommunication is overstepping it. These are examples of breaches of the constitution and the Concordat, because here the Church is trying to influence the exercise of power”, Dr Borecki tells Gazeta.

Theology financed by the state?

As an example of the Church’s paternalism and the state’s submissiveness, the report quotes the activities of The Joint Commission [of Government and the Episcopate], [4] which also  discusses matters outside of church-state relations. For example, in 2009 there were talks on the banning of anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions.

The author of the report is also sceptical about the state’s subsidies for Church property. The size of these subsidies is increasing, circumventing the Concordat’s provisions – this relates mainly to the Church universities, such as KUL (Catholic University of Lublin)  or the Pontifical Faculties of Theology in Wrocław and Warsaw.  “Subsidies from the state budget for faculties of Catholic theology were introduced with the total disregard for article 22.2 of the Treaty”.

The ISP report also charges that the state, by introducing in 2009 [5] a subsidy for the Pontifical University of John Paul II in Kracow (UPJPII)   in the same way as public universities are funded, largely lost control over the size of the subsidy. This is because – unlike the Catholic University, the Pontifical one does not come under the Law on Higher Education, and it is the Church that makes the decisions, for example, about opening new universities or faculties.

It is interesting that the State-Church Committee that the Concordat provided to handle the Church’s finances has not been appointed so far. This is because – as the author of the report notes – the Church’s Concordat Committee acts without any legal basis: it was appointed in 1998 by John Paul II, presenting the government with a fait accompli and, as it were, forcing it to appoint the State Concordat Committee. Today both Committees work practically independently of each other.

The religious education in schools was also considered. The Concordat advises that RE lessons should be organised with tolerance, whilst “in practice often the whole class is drafted to Catholic religious instruction, on the assumption that all pupils will want to attend them, except those who openly declare a different [religious] position”. The Concordat does not mention the necessity to state the grade for RE on the final results, or to include the grade in the average achieved by the student which, according to the report, stigmatises those students who do not attend RE classes and have a “strikethrough” on their final results. [See “Religion can help you get the coveted red band”]

Amendment now?

Many issues are dealt with in the report, for example, the very limited access to the Church archives or the question of freedom in the choice of candidates for Church positions. It was said to be at variance with the Concordat for the Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński to attempt to influence the Pope’s decision to appoint the new Archbishop of Warsaw in 2006.

The Concordat’s requirement, that the Holy See confidentially provide the government with the names of newly appointed bishops, was considered archaic. [article 7.4]

ISP holds that the hierarchy itself treats the Concordat with  “partiality”. It readily accepts its provisions when they protect the current position of the Church and the clergy. However, it completely ignores those provisions of the Treaty that would in any way limit the possibility of gaining new concessions from the state”.

How could it be improved? The author of the report suggestsan amendment or a supplement to the Concordat, with the guarantee of the state-Church independence spelled out and either abolishing the Concordat Committees or giving them a legal basis. […]


1. Jonathan Luxmoore, “Bishops blast Poland for signing pact to fight violence against women”, Catholic News Service, 2012-12-10

2. “Church angry as Poland signs convention against violence”, Warsaw Voice, 2012-12-19.

3. “‘Sejm powinien być rozwiązany’ – bp. Antoni Dydycz”, Radio Maryja, 2012-09-16.

4. “The Joint Commission of Government and the Episcopate”, (“Komisja Wspólna Rządu i Episkopatu)”, Gazeta Wyborcza, 2008-01-04.


 “Papierowy konkordat. Nie przestrzega go ani państwo, ani Kościół”,
Katarzyna Wiśniewska, Gazeta Wyborcza, 2013-02-05,75478,13353825,Konkordatu_nie_przestrzega_ani_panstwo__ani_Kosciol.html 

Translated by Renata Anderson 



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