Concordat is a solemn agreement between the Holy See and a state, serving to harmonious arrangement of relations between them

Despite existing opinions, the concordat, being a solemn agreement between the Holy See (as the supreme authority of the Catholic Church) and a particular state, is still very useful, and sometimes even an indispensable legal instrument, whose purpose is harmonious arrangement of relations between two communities, acting among the same people. As an international agreement, negotiated in its final form by the representatives of the Holy See and the representatives of the government, is popular through a significant degree of stability – in contrary to statutory regulation, that is, one-sided. In the hierarchy of sources, the concordat – as an international agreement – takes place directly after the constitution and precedes ordinary Acts. It does not have to be reminded that this kind of treaty, agreed in the post-conciliar formula (without privileges for the Church), is supposed to serve well not only to the Church by assumption, but also to the country. And, first of all, it is supposed to serve to the welfare of people belonging to one or another community.

A little history

Undoubtedly, the entitlement for satisfaction both for a religious community, which is the Catholic Church in Poland, and the political community, which is the Polish State, is the fact that after breaking the concordat on 12 September 1945 by the Temporary Government of National Unity, and which had been agreed by the Republic of Poland with the Holy See on 10 February 1925 and after a period of regulation of religious relations towards the Church and its believers, lasting for dozens of years, Poland finally gained normalization in this sphere of life. It happened in a new political reality: on 28 July 1993, when the Holy See agreed a concordat with the Republic of Poland. This moment was crowning a long process marked with many events and occasions. What is significant for this process is a thought about the agreement between Poland and the Holy See, initiated by communist representatives of the authorities of the Polish People’s Republic, which, however, were intending to sign the agreement with complete excluding the Episcopal of Poland (only wisdom of the primate of Poland cardinal Stefan Wyszyńskj and the definite attitude of Paul VI trusting him, prevented this situation). As a result of changes in the years 1988, a project of convention had already been prepared (a less solemn agreement) between the Polish People’s Republic and the Holy See. After 4 June 1989, a more beneficial atmosphere appeared for signing the agreement, and next, after 17 July this year, when official diplomatic relations were agreed by Poland with the Holy See and when restoration of Apostolic nunciature in Warsaw took place. At that time nothing prevented the preparation of an agreement in the form of a concordat, which would regulate whole issues in the area of mutual relations of the Polish State and the Catholic Church in Poland. And it happened so. After a long period of drastic torpedoing of ratification procedure of this treaty by parliamentary leftist groups, only during the next presidency of the Seym, on 23 February 1998, there was its ratification. Whereas after the exchange of ratification documents (25 March 1998), the concordat came into effect on 25 April this year (with exception of par 10, which came into effect on 15 November the same year).

Facing criticism

When after nearly 15 years of functioning of the concordat, worked out with so much difficulty, there are attempt of questioning its sense and significance, when somebody, judging this agreement from the perspective of this period, states that it turned out to be ‘an unsuccessful consensual attempt of agreement “friendly” to the separation of the mentioned subjects (state and the Church – see W. G.), according to the initiatives of the Second Vatican Council’ and there is no lack of ‘many arguments useful for termination or suspension of it (the concordat – see W. G.) used by the state authorities’, it is impossible to replace these words with silence.

The quotations given here come from an essay (p. 47 and 49) of dr. Paweł Borecki (Warsaw University) entitled: ‘Respecting the Polish concordat of 1993 – selected problems’ (Warsaw 2012), being a report of the Institute of Public Issues, the publication includes introduction, eight chapters devoted to selected concordat issues, summary and annex. Generally, the author blames both the Catholic Church in Poland (mainly the Polish Episcopal Conference) and the governing bodies of the state authority (mainly Ministers’ Council) for partial – in his opinion – respecting the regulations of the concordat. As he states, he blames also the Holy See for not respecting its regulations quite often.

Independence of the state and the Church

Without making any attempts of taking up an attitude towards all threads raised by the author, first of all, we should refer to the most fundamental concordat issue, being a subject of Chapter I of the essay, and concerning a principle of the independence of the state and the Church, of each of them separately in its sphere, inscribed into the article 1 of the concordat 9 and article 25 of the paragraph 3 of the constitution). Here, Dr. Borecki, noting rightly, that the independence of both subjects towards each other excludes the dependence of state institutions on ecclesiastical authorities, also adding that there is lack of sufficient securities protecting ‘political freedom of holding public authority, including legislation, by governmental bodies of the state authority’ (p.12). This lack – emphasizes the author – causes a situation when the ‘Catholic hierarchy in Poland’ does not respect the independence of the state in this sphere. Apparently bishops must have perceived this gap and felt to be sovereigns towards the Polish legislature. Because here, going beyond ‘authorised participation in a public debate’, they dare to give the bodies of the public authority ‘specific indications concerning the solution of some issues’. What a boldness! However, let’s ask what issues are touched on here. What did the pressure of hierarchs concern, who do not understand or respect the principles of independence of the state from the Church and what was the pressure based on?

– And, ‘for example’, answers the author: ‘In the year 2000 the Presidium of the Polish Episcopate demanded from the Interior and Administration Minister to liquidate roadside prostitution’; the mentioned Presidium of the Polish Episcopal Conference and the Metropolitan of Warsaw formulated towards the government ‘expectations for participation in the “process of guaranteeing the presence of religious symbols in public spaces of new Europe”’; ‘in the year 2012 bishops were protesting and were using pressure in order to change the negative decision’ of the National Broadcasting Council ‘in the matter of granting concession to the Television ‘Trwam’ for broadcasting its program on the digital multiplex’; ‘in 1995 and 2000 the Presidium of the Polish Episcopal Conference questioned the announcement of the President of the Ministers’ Council of signing the convention of the Council of Europe about preventing and fighting violence against women and domestic violence’; ‘The Episcopate formulated specific legislative postulates about enfranchisement and reprivatisation’ (p. 12-13). Well, apparently, bishops breached the concordat…whereas they should remain silent, it is not their business…It is astonishing that a few pages further (p.19) Paweł Borecki quotes (although in a very simplified way) reminded by the conciliar constitution ‘Gaudium et spes’ (n.76) the right of the Church for a moral evaluation even in the issues concerning political issues, when it is demanded by basic human rights or soul salvation. So, is it all about gagging mouths of hierarchs – consequently of not only the Polish hierarchs – in giving this kind of opinions? And, by the way, what pressure can we say about here?

Concordat marriages

Among detailed issues it is possible to point to evaluation given by dr. Borecki on applying procedure of contracting ‘concordat’ marriages defined (generally) in the article 10 of the concordat agreement. Apart from the whole range of completely unjustified accusations and objections in this matter, one can quote the following fragment of the author’s arguments: ‘Practice of contracting the so-called concordat marriages shows that in a significant number of cases priests do not accept or demand a separate statement of will from bride and groom, which is defined in the art. 10, paragraph 1 point 2 of the concordat, about obtaining civil effects through religious marriage’ (p. 31). It is difficult to imagine a harder and also more absurd accusation against pastors as official witnesses assisting in canonical marriage. After all, directly before the celebration of the canonical marriage a priest who is to bless this couple in a while, accepts from bride and groom (in the presence of two witnesses) – according to point 19 of the instruction of the Polish Episcopal Conference of 22 October1998 – the mentioned statement of will, which is also documented with a signature of interested parties, witnesses and a priest. However, I am afraid that also on the basis of the statements of the author formulated in reference to other threads of the institution of ‘concordat’ marriage, he did not study the procedure exactly enough. And, by the way, I would like to get to know at least one case in which a priest blessed a canonical married couple (earlier announced as ‘concordat’ one), and did not accept this statement of will from bride and groom wanting to obtain civil effects, and more precisely: a will of simultaneous contracting a marriage subjecting to the Polish law!

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Functioning for nearly 15 years, the Polish concordat, is serving well both to the Catholic Church and the Polish country and there is no need to raise false alarms about not respecting its postulates.


"Niedziela" 8/2013

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