Catholic Church in III RP

There are hundreds of religious communities in the Republic of Poland (III RP), representing almost all religions and beliefs of the modern world. The most highly regarded is the Catholic Church, which is due not only to a specific religiousness of the Poles and predominance of the Catholics (95 % of the population in 2011 according to the Centre for Public Opinion Research), but also due to the specific historical and political needs. And those after 1989, when Poland was “coming back to the Europe”, repeatedly inclined authorities to ask the Catholic Church for support for their political plans, or at least gain his neutrality.

 Before 1989

The People’s Republic of Poland was a secular state and the Catholic Church did not participate in official political life. After 1945 communist authorities deprived them of many advantages, including withdrawning of religion from the schools, establishing civil marriages and enabling divorces. The social policy was carried out in contrary to religious teachings (the right to abortion) and state ceremonies took place without the participation of the clergy. At the same time the clergy was persecuted (arresting of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, the murder of Father Jerzy Popieluszko representing the opposition against the communists). In the 80s government policy towards the Church began to change gradually, as the Church was recognized as an ally in the process of stabilizing the political situation and the implementation of constitutional changes. It resulted in adopting on May 17, 1989 the “Act on the Relation of the State to the Catholic Church in the Polish Republic” (then still socialist), which gave the Church many privileges and also committed the state to reimburse the Church property seized by the state after World War II (or compensate for losses otherwise). On the pic: cardinal Wyszyński.

After 1989

After 1989, during the transition, the rulers adopted the assumption that in order to convince the public to the necessary though painful economic reforms it was necessary to ensure the favor of the Church, who could influence the Poles. Efforts to get the Church support and buying his favor in exchange for privileges (sometimes even detrimental to national and social interest) became from that moment a permanent element of Polish political life, particularly intensified during the election period or making important decisions by the nation (acceptance of the new constitution or accession to the European Union). Not without imoprtance was the wish to satisfy Pope John Paul II, whose role in supporting Polish opposition in 80s was significant. This ensured the position of the Church extending much beyond main arrangements establishing state relations with the Catholic Church (and other religious organizations).

The first act of this kind was the “Concordat between the Holy See and the Polish Republic”, concluded on July 28, 1993 but ratified only on February 23, 1998.


 Juli 28, 1993, ratification of the concordat

Ratification of the concordat was delayed for five years due to the controversial nature of many records, which resulted in profound resistance of the leftist parties and organizations. Here are some of its provisions:

  • the school administration cannot influence the Catholic teaching and school programs
  • the Church is the only one to have the right to administer their own affairs on the basis of canon law, which means functioning regardless of the legal system of the country
  • introduces the possibility of the church wedding instead of civil marriage but priest has to inform of it the relevant office
  • the state is funding the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Cracow (photo below)


A heated debate arouse during preparations to the new Constitution (1997). The main objects of the controversy was its preamble, the principle of separation of the Church and state and the concept of state ideological neutrality. Politics strongly associated with the Church insisted on the inclusion in the preamble an appeal to God (invocatio Dei). Finally the compromised option won, which equated believers and non-believers. The relevant part of the preamble reads as follows:

 “(…) we, the Polish Nation – all citizens of the Polish Republic, both believers in God as the source of truth, justice, goodness and beauty, as well as those not sharing such faith but respecting those universal values as arising from other sources (…) in the sense of responsibility before God or their own consciences, hereby establish this Constitution of the Republic of Poland “.

The next area of big differences was the introduction of the principle of separation of the Church and state, which was replaced by a compromised record of “the autonomy and independence”. Another one was the notion of state ideological neutrality, which proved to be for the Church absolutely unacceptable. The concept of “neutrality” was finally replaced then by the “impartiality” in matters of religious belief. (Before the referendum approving new constitution the Church initiated a campaign against its approval, but he failed to block it.) The Constitution finally settled the issue of teaching religion in schools, which was introduced by the instructions of the Minister of National Education on August 30, 1990 in violation of the law, as was pointed out by Civil Rights Attorneys prof. Ewa Letowska and prof. Tadeusz Zielinski. Their proteste were, however, recognized by the Constitutional Court as unfounded. On the pic: president Bronisław Komorowski and cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz.

 Confessional state

The above-mentioned legal acts do not allow determining the III RP as a religious state, but it has all the features of confessional state, in which the Church’s influence on politics, his position and privileges, particularly economic, are far beyond the European standards. Here are a few examples to illustrate this situation:

  •  religious education in schools is paid by the state which can not affect the content of catechesis program (it was originally to be learning about religions but de facto turned into catechesis); lack of possibility to approve by the school authorities candidates for teachers of religion.
  • referring to the Christian values while adopting the law in parliament (in vitro, abortion), as to be resembled by the Catholic crucifix, suspended in Parliament with violation of constitutional guarantees of impartiality and equality of religions (the crucifix was hung secretly at night, in the absence of members of the parliament).
  • hanging crucifixes in schools and public institutions.



catholic crucifixes in the parliament and in the public school 

  • refusal of abortion in public hospitals due to religious beliefs of the physician, even if it endangers the life or health of the pregnant woman.
  • refusal for religious reasons to issue prescriptions on contraceptives.
  • continuing paying state pensions of priests, which is contrary to the provisions of the Concordat (state pensions of clergy were to be compensation for the nationalization of the Church properties which had already been returned to the Church) – Church Fund, however, is to be abolished soon.
  • blocking school sex education by the Church.
  • lack of any control by the state of economic activity of the Church, which skillfully exempts the activities of religious and charitable character to multiply profits, often in violation of the law (income from recoveries houses, shops, hospitals, hotels).
  • state funding of Catholic schools, like Catholic University of Lublin.
  • avoiding serious talks about subjects uncomfortable for the Church.
  • transferring back to the Church its property nationalized after 1945 or compensating the loses in the form of other lands and possessions with violating the principle of equality of both parties to the proceedings: the Church and local governments, which have no possibility to appeal against sentences of the Property Commission transferring their lands or properties to the Church.

Basilic in Licheń, 2004

A particular shadow on the Church-state relations was put by the infamous activity of the Property Commission of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration (1989 – 2011). This commission granted the Church with the obvious violation of the interests of local governments, forced to donate lands and buildings of a greater value than those the Church had lost. It was possible thanks to undercutting pricing of those properties, to powerlessness of local governments, wich had nothing to say in this matter. Members of the commission (paid by the state, but not its officers) often risked the state treasury to the huge losses. Many of these procedures are now of interest to Central Anticorruption Bureau, but local authorities have no possibility to recover lands illegally taken away from them. In 20 years members of the Property Commission examined more than 2 800 cases. The Church received 65 000 hectares of land and 143 million zl in cash as a compensation.

That privileged position of the church raises a growing opposition of the Polish community who is well aware of the financial costs incurred by the state to this institution. And also does not accept the Church’s excessive influence in many social areas and participating in state ceremonies. The research carried out by the magazine “Więź” in 2008 indicates that this view is represented by over 80 percent of the Poles. It can be assumed that the attitude of politicians, constantly seeking support of the clergy, misses the expectations of their constituents. This was reflected in the elections to the Sejm in November 2011 by unexpectedly high support for Palikot Movement, which very openly proclaims the need for the secularization of the state. It brought the hope for starting a serious debate over the role and position of the Church in a present-day Poland.

Update: March 2016

This hope became no more real after taking the state rule by the party Prawo and Sprawiedliwość (Law and Justice) in 2015. PiS openly proclaims the need for symbiosis between state and religion, and wants make Poland a real national-Catholic country. The party, of course, gets as big support of the Catholic Church.


                  Basilic in Cracow-Łagiewniki, 2002


Renata Głuszek

Published: August 23, 2012

Foto: Wikipedia


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