How is the President of the Polish Bishops’ Conference elected

Piotr Chmielinski

On 10 March 2009 the Polish Bishops’ Conference will elect a new president. What is the procedure? Who can be a candidate? What authority does the president have? Our report will deal with these matters. Only a diocesan bishop can be a candidate. But besides diocesan bishops, auxiliary bishops and other titular bishops who exercise in the territory a special office assigned to them by the Apostolic See or by the Bishops' Conference have the right to nominate candidates and vote. Retired bishops do not belong to the Bishops’ Conference and they can neither be candidates nor vote.

Voting procedure

The names of the candidates must be in writing and given to the returns committee. Usually, a few young auxiliary bishops belong to it. After the candidatures are proposed they are put to the first vote. Every bishop can have one vote for one candidate. Then the votes are counted. If some candidate receives 50% plus one vote he wins and becomes the president. If he does not, there is another voting. However, this time you can vote only for those candidates that have received at least one vote. And the candidate that receives 50% plus one vote is declared elected. But if nobody wins we have the third vote, in which there are only two candidatures that have received the biggest number of votes in the second vote. The winner becomes the President of the Bishops’ Conference and assumes his duties at the moment of the election. There is some time between the votes so that the bishops have time to reflect. According to the statute the president is elected every five years. Currently, Archbishop Jozef Michalik has been the President since 2004. The statute allows the president to serve no more than two consecutive terms. It means that Archbishop Michalik can, but of course, does not need to be re-elected.

President but not a superior

The media have always focused on this election. ‘Who is going to rule over the Church in Poland?’ – some journalists ask before the election. That’s why we explain that the President of the Bishops’ Conference does not rule over the Church in Poland. He is not the head of the Polish Church, or her leader or the superior of other bishops. Every diocesan bishop has full authority in his diocese. It comes from the Pope and only the Holy Father is the head of every diocesan bishop. But the obvious thing is that meetings of bishops from a given country are valuable because the bishops can share their experiences and they can co-ordinate pastoral ministry. Such meetings are called plenary sessions of the Polish Bishops’ Conference. For centuries the Bishop bishops have centred around the archbishops of Gniezno, who have been the Primates of Poland since 1416, and centred on the provincial synods that they have summoned. After Vatican Council II the bishops’ activities assumed the legal form of the Polish Bishops’ Conference. First of all, the Bishops’ Conference cares for brotherly love and unity of action among the bishops, supports particular bishops in their pastoral missions, maintains constant communication with the Holy See; discusses pastoral problems in order to find the most suitable methods of evangelisation in the conditions of the Church in Poland, cares for religious and moral lives of Catholics in Poland and provides spiritual help for the Polish immigrants, tries to find proper solutions of the social problems related to the mission of the Church as well as preserves and develops the Christian culture. The Bishops’ Conference has its own commissions, councils and teams, permanent or temporary ones, that deal with particular areas. For example, we have the Joint Commission of Representatives of the Polish Government and the Polish Bishops’ Conference, the Commission on the Doctrine of the Faith or the Charity Commission.

The Presidium

The plenary sessions of the Polish Bishops’ Conference are held several times a year. They are most frequently held in Warsaw but also regularly at Jasna Gora, where the bishops traditionally have their annual retreats. Sessions are also held in other venues on the occasions of various important celebrations or anniversaries connected with the local Churches. All members of the Bishops’ Conference, i.e. diocesan bishops, the field bishop, the bishops of the Byzantine-Ukrainian rite, coadjutor bishops, auxiliary bishops and titular bishops who exercise in the territory a special office assigned to them by the Apostolic See or by the Bishops' Conference have the right and obligation to participate in plenary sessions. Such a complex structure fulfilling various tasks must have a body to ordinate its work. And this is exactly the main task of the President of the Polish Bishops’ Conference. He calls plenary sessions and the Permanent Council and presides over them. He sends reports of the plenary sessions and other documents of the Bishops’ Conference to the Holy See through the Apostolic Nunciature. His deputy, secretary general, deputy secretary general, financial manager and spokesman help him. The president, vice-president and secretary general form the Presidium of the Bishops’ Conference. The Presidium can take its stand in public matters in special cases in accordance with the bishops’ opinions, when required for the good of the Church or the faithful.

"Niedziela" 10/2009

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: