This figure-ground papercut shows the Polish eagle alternating with the Holy Ghost (tucked between the delightfully rural goats supporting the shields). The Vatican hopes to use Poland's identification with Catholicism to influence the European Union. According to a confidential memo by US ambassador Francis Rooney, “the Holy See hopes that Poland will hold the line at the EU on 'life and family' issues that arise” and would “serve as a counterweight to western European secularism” once the country had integrated into the EU.
Poland has a pyramid of religious privilege. At the apex is the Catholic Church with its international concordat, then follow the 15 other religious groups (the latest being the Muslims) whose relationship with the state is governed only by specific national legislation. After those come 155 merely registered religious groups, and finally the rest.
At the end of the Second World War Poland was shoved westwards due to the Soviets taking its eastern flank. As compensation Poland received the eastern part of Germany. However, the Germanophile Pope Pius XII refused to transfer its parishes to the Polish Church. As this violated Article 9 of the 1925 concordat, the Polish Communists annulled it on 12 September 1945. After this, relations with the Vatican had to be rebuilt stepwise from scratch:
♦ 1950 Modus vivendi (a foot in the door with the Communist regime, made with the Polish bishops)
♦ 1974 Protocol (to take up diplomatic relations with a regime the Vatican felt was there to stay)
♦ 1988 (unsigned) Convention (a draft concordat with the Communists which was quickly suppressed when the regime fell the following year, raising prospects of a better deal)
♦ 1991 Draft Concordat
♦ Papal signing authority for the following Concordat (7 July 1993)
♦ 1993 Concordat (ratified 1998) (gives the Vatican far more than the 1988 Draft Convention)
♦ 1998 Declaration by the Polish Government, an unsuccessful attempt to get some input in the form of a Supplementary Protocol to the Concordat, which the Vatican rejected
♦ 2007 Military chaplaincy agreement (a result of the concordat, but made with the Polish Bishops' Conference, not the Vatican)
What effect has the Polish concordat had during its first twenty years? Prof Paweł Borecki, an expert in church law, has studied this unequal contract between the Vatican and the Polish state. Here are translated excerpts from his book, On the Polish Concordat of 1993 (Respektowanie polskiego konkordatu z 1993 roku).
Three Poles describe increased Church influence and restrictions on women since the end of Communism. “After 1989 women found that a democratically elected government gave them the right to vote in fair elections, but took away the right to decide about their own bodies.”
It took ten years of planning, three papal visits and numerous legislative tricks, but in 1998 the Vatican finally managed to get the Polish concordat ratified. After that, a Declaration was attached to Poland's Accession Treaty to protect the concordat from EU human rights legislation.
Poland is the eastern outpost of Catholicism: beyond lie Orthodox lands that don't recognise the pope. In 1717 Clement XI had his nuncio crown an icon of the Virgin as Poland's Queen. The Virgin was also made responsible for the military protection of Poland, with the official title of Hetmanka, Commander-in-chief. In 1981 John Paul II even assigned her statue a role in combating communism.
The 1950 Modus vivendi with the Soviet satellite of Poland was the first agreement between the Vatican and a Communist state. Never published in the official gazette, this pragmatic agreement was meant to grant secret concessions which set no precedent.
In two short accounts Father Professor Wojciech Góralski and Bishop Alojzy Orszulik depict the process as the Vatican would have it seen: as if the concordat originated in Warsaw, not Rome. They make only passing mention of two key Vatican diplomats, the Cardinals Cesaroli and Silvestrini.
Legal expert, Dr. Pawel Borecki, discusses frankly Vatican manoeuvres to get the Polish concordat through before the country's new constitution (which then had to conform to the concordat) and its contribution to the "further clericalisation of public life" in Poland. Included at the end is a remarkably deferential note to the Pope from a future Polish Prime Minister.
This Complaint to the European Union shows how Polish laws favour the Church at the taxpayers' expense: in the way the laws are framed, in the way they're applied and in the way they're skilfully evaded. The chances of success of this complaint to the Barroso Commission may be slim, but it does contains solidly sourced information which is hard to find elsewhere in English.
By late July in 2006 there had been no rain for weeks and Poland was parched. This prompted the Law and Justice Party to seize the meteorological initiative. What happened next can be seen in the video. An English transcript is given at the end — but the laughter in the Polish Parliament needs no translation.
The Polish Bishops claim to want to “standardise the interpretation of the [Vatican] guidelines”, but are actually erecting special barriers for Poles to leave the Universal Church. Most are nowhere to be found in the 2006 Vatican note to the bishops telling them in general terms to keep control of the process and not let it be handled by the state. Many of the restrictive Polish requirements would not likely be tolerated elsewhere.
For 40 years crosses have been set up in Poland in protests which have been directed successively against Communism, the Jews and secularism. However, a new cross set up on the grounds of the presidential palace in Warsaw in the summer of 2010 was quietly moved a few weeks later. With most Poles now against religious symbols in public places, the days of the traditional Polish “cross wars” may be numbered.
How the Catholic Church became the biggest landowner in Poland