Reheated chops, or "ripping up the concordat"

The ritualistic calls for the rupture of the concordat do little because all has been said. Hectolitres of venom have already been poured out. And this was several years before its ratification, which was signed by Aleksander Kwasniewski, President of Poland, in 1998.

This is the second time, in similar circumstances of a holiday gathering of opposition youth, that people are talking about the need for Poland to denounce the Concordat and calling it an archaism. It would seem that an experienced politician, MP and MEP, in addition to being a political scientist, knows how to read with understanding, especially legal documents, intergovernmental and diplomatic agreements. And that he is aware of the quality of these documents, that is, for example, he understands the importance of something like the agreement between the Republic of Poland and the Holy See.

It is this type of international agreement that is called a concordat - the Holy See has perhaps 180 such agreements, including with international organisations and with countries that are not considered Catholic at all. And it probably does not occur to anyone in these countries to break or terminate such an agreement - after all, it is concluded by two parties and both care about the relationship.

The Holy See, or Vatican City State - the two names are equal, although the Vatican itself does not use both names at the same time, in the same document - is a subject of international law, the Vatican's position in international relations is distinctive, Vatican diplomacy inspires a multitude of peacemaking activities and engages in humanitarian and social actions organised by others. And it acts continuously, even when popes change. It is diplomacy in the classic, discreet style - if even to many observers it is an example of the most political game.

Return to Europe

Poland's return to its own international relations was a matter of the utmost importance after 1989, including relations with the Vatican City State, with which our country has been linked for a thousand years. After all, the oldest known Polish state document is an act from the early 1590s known as Dagome iudex, in which Mieszko I places the state of Gniezno - civitas Schinesghe - under the protection of Pope John XV, i.e. under the protection of St Peter. In a word, he enters Europe.

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE This is neither the time nor the place to describe century after century the rich relations of the Republic of Poland with the Papacy, but there is something to refer to. Suffice it to say that when, after the Partitions, Poland returned to the world map and again became a subject of international relations, it signed a concordat with the Vatican State in 1925, and its ratification took a mere four months, while its breaking - in September 1945 - took barely a moment. The Provisional Government of National Unity, which was dependent on Moscow's endowment, adopted a unilateral resolution on breaking the concordat, which entailed numerous unfavourable consequences in the life of Poland and Poles.

That is why one of the first decisions of the new authorities after 1989 - especially as the Pope was a Pole who had played a key role in the collapse of communism, which was strangling Poland and a chunk of Europe - was to return to the normal world of international relations. Also to normal relations with the Holy See. "The Republic of Poland, by signing the Concordat after regaining its sovereignty, returned to the ranks of major democracies - respecting religious freedom - and trying to arrange relations with the Church in such a way that they guarantee social peace and create high protection of civil rights," comments Marcin Przeciszewski in Catholic News Agency (KAI).
After the exchange of instruments of ratification of the concordat, the Polish delegation headed by Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek was received by John Paul II. Photo: PAP/CAF-GRZEGORZ GAŁĄZKA
The concordat was signed in 1993, at the end of Hanna Suchocka's government, but this time ratification took as long as five years - it was finalised by Aleksander Kwasniewski. This could be seen as a giggle of history - the communists broke up the concordat, the post-communists resumed it - but international diplomacy, and Vatican diplomacy in particular, does not tend to recognise jokes and giggles, let alone history.

The jigging before ratification

In any case, during these five years of waiting for ratification - in the so-called meantime the Holy See's concordat was finalised even with Israel - the Left and various other representatives of the united opponents of normalisation poured hectolitres of venom on the concordat and fired tons of decibels of unified yawl. Their organisers and authors never bothered with any substantive arguments. Today, they even talk about the already outdated reasons for concluding it, because it was signed at a time when Poland was cutting itself off from its communist past - or that it had already cut itself off? - and the concordat was supposed to guarantee Catholics freedom of religion and religious practice.

Let us recall briefly that our concordat emphasises the principle of 'mutual independence and autonomy' of Church and state, which means separation of Church and state, but also mutual cooperation for the good of citizens. This is illustrated, for example, by the unparalleled work of nuns in countless care homes, centres for the most severely disabled, also among old and infirm parishioners. The Concordat guarantees the right to organise pastoral care in hospitals, social care institutions and prisons, as well as the existence of a military chaplaincy (Field Ordinariate) - it is worth knowing, by the way, that in all EU countries the state finances religious teaching in schools (where it exists), military chaplaincies and prison chaplains.

Only for true believers

Instead of sitting by a pint of beer they move down a sandy road in heat, heading for a makeshift forest chapel to attend the Sunday mass.

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In turn, in accordance with the principle of 'independence and autonomy', the Church and its official representatives do not participate in secular authorities, give up their passive electoral right, and do not take part in political activities. In turn, the state recognises the legal personality of Catholic Church structures and respects the right of the Church to be governed by internal canon law and guarantees the Church freedom in the organisation of public worship as well as the inviolability of Catholic cemeteries.

Let us now return to the arguments of the opponents of the concordat. The first , favourite, was the so-called 'concordat marriage', which was called 'the road to bigamy' and a threat to non-Catholics. Meanwhile, it quickly became the primary form of marriage. The idea is that a marriage contracted in the Catholic Church, once the statutory formalities have been fulfilled, produces civil effects in the state law system - and the couple does not have to repeat the act of signing the marriage in the registry office. It very quickly became apparent that other Churches and religious associations had taken advantage of this possibility.

The second argument, about discrimination against non-Catholics, also had short legs. The solutions proposed by the concordat were quickly used - as I wrote above about weddings - by other churches and religious associations. They regulated their relations with the state with similar types of agreements.

The most powerful argument, however, was to be made about taxes and other financial issues.

First, taxes, which affect all Churches and religious associations and which always arouse great emotions, perhaps in proportion to the state of ignorance on the subject. In recent days, probably due to the agitation caused by the new wave of anti-concordat statements, the Catholic News Agency has once again published a competent and clear description of the situation, an analysis of the legal and factual state of affairs.

It states that "[t]he Catholic Church in Poland - like other churches and religious associations - is obliged to pay taxes to the state and fulfils this obligation. This is done both by ecclesiastical legal entities and by individual clergy, both those conducting parish ministry and those employed under contract in curia, seminaries, universities or schools."
Father Tomasz Bek (left) during a religion lesson at the Rosa Czacka Special School and Educational Centre for Blind Children in Laski, near Warsaw. Photo: PAP/Albert Zawada
The article discusses individual provisions, tax exemptions, the status of legal and physical persons - but you have to want to read it . KAI has been recalling this analysis for years, according to the rhythm of the ritualistic, as I wrote, attacks on the concordat. But so what? After all, there will always be those willing to play the role of 'daredevils', even at the cost of ridicule.

KAI recalls that "neither the 1989 Act on the Relation of the State to the Catholic Church nor the 1993 Concordat regulate matters of Church financing. The Concordat, in Article 22, refers this issue to further regulations and agreements between the parties (and these have not been completed). The Catholic Church as well as the other Churches subsist essentially on the voluntary offerings of the faithful. There is also no form of 'church tax' and state subsidies to the churches are exclusively linked to their social, educational or historic preservation activities. The Church's pastoral work and much of its charitable services are maintained by the contributions of the faithful.

The most significant subsidy for churches and religious associations registered in Poland is the funds of the so-called Church Fund (a legacy of the communist period), which was established by the 1950 Act on the state takeover of 'dead hand' property. It was supposed to be a form of compensation to the Churches for landed properties taken over by the state. However, the value of these estates was never estimated and the amount of the Church Fund depended solely on political decisions. At present, it fluctuates around PLN 200 million per year.

The Church Fund finances almost exclusively the pension, disability and accident insurance contributions of clergy - of all denominations - who are not subject to such insurance by other means, at 80%, and for members of cloistered contemplative orders and missionaries at 100%. This covers about 40% of Catholic clergy. In contrast, priests who are employed under a contract of employment (e.g. as catechists, lecturers, prison, hospital or military chaplains) pay their own pension contributions.

And the comments are still the same

The facts are thus obviously dispassionate, only the comments concerning them are conquered by emotion. It does not matter that they have been similar or even the same for years. After all, there are new voters every four years, so they are not familiar with the old arguments, however well-meaning. Now young people have become indifferent to the Church, but you won't get far on indifference. It may be possible to stir up fresh feelings of resentment or protest in this new generation. If there is no other way, it is necessary to "go for the concordat". It is always enough for five minutes. Because beyond that, what is the point? After all, nobody sensible - and the opposition wants to pass itself off as sensible, by the way - has any intention of overturning this whole concordat....

– Barbara Sułek-Kowalska -translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

Main photo: Warsaw 2006. Participants in an anti-clerical march organised by the Polish Left Ration on the 13th anniversary of the conclusion of the Concordat. Photo: PAP/Tomasz Gzell
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