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Timeline: How catechism got into Polish state schools (1990-2010)

Bit by bit over twenty years, the Church has moved far beyond the education clause in the current concordat which guarantees catechism in state schools only where it is requested. Now, in practice, catechism is often compulsory, as it was officially in the 1925 concordat.* To see what this list means in terms of the pupils and their futures, see “Creeping evangelisation in state schools”.

Timeline: How Catholic catechism got into Polish state schools

By Maciej Psyk

Behind-doors consultations with "faith leaders" started the process and the route by which religious education got into state schools was a familiar one in Poland:
Bishops' Conference → Joint Commission → legislation (law, regulation or by-law / ordinance).

 02.05.1990 — The introduction of Religious Education (RE) in state schools is discussed at the 240th Synod of Polish Bishops.
16.06 1990 — Episcopate of Poland officially demands RE in state schools through its Pastoral Letter.
27.06.1990 — negotiations over introducing RE held between Church and Government in the Joint Commission. RE was to be taught at no cost to the state.
August 1990 — Bishops agree to postpone salaries “for three years” due the economic collapse, which makes it politically feasible for the new cabinet, reshuffled the month before.
3.08.1990 — Minister of Education Prof. Samsonowicz introduces Catholic RE by by-law (ordinance).
16.08.1990 — Ombudsman brings this before the Constitutional Tribunal. 
24.08.1990 — Minister Samsonowicz forgot to include other denominations in his 03.08.1990 by-law, therefore he files a new one to give equal privileges to non-Catholic denominations.
28.08.1990 — This by-law (ordinance) is challenged by the Ombudsman before the Constitutional Tribunal on the same grounds as his previous one.  
01.09.1990 — First day of RE in schools (which is brought in illegally, as the 1961 statute that secularised education is still in force).
29.12.1990 — According to the Church, RE isn't part of education system, but merely takes place in schools, with Ministry of Education consent. This is the justification before the Constitutional Tribunal.

30.01.1991 — After the Ministry of Education claims that priests are not teachers and RE is not a part of the curriculum, the Constitutional Tribunal rules that the by-laws (ordinances) are constitutional, with three judges dissenting.
13.02.1991 — Constitutional Tribunal rules that Art. 2 of the 1961 statute (which secularised education) is unconstitutional.
07.09.1991 — New Education Act grants denominations the right to teach RE in schools, finally making it legal. 

14.04.1992 — Ministry of Education announces new regulations governing RE in schools, under Article 12 of the Education Act. [1]
19.08.1992 — Ombudsman claims before the Constitutional Tribunal that this violates the Constitution (Articles. 81.1 and 82.1) and 1989 religious freedom law. [2]

20.04.1993 — Constitutional Tribunal decides that not all of these regulations are constitutional and those that aren’t must be amended within three months; again three justices dissent. 
25.08.1993 — Ministry of Education amends the regulations about RE.

1995  Bishops demand subsidies for RE for the first time.

29.05.1996 — Joint Commission decides that priests are to start earning money from 01.09.1997.

23.02.1997 Concordat ratified: henceforth its Article 12 reinforces Polish laws on the teaching of RE in state schools.
01.09.1997 — Priests start receiving salaries, (after seven years); the grade for RE is on the same certificate but not included in the average.

30.06.1999 — Another amendment of the regulation about RE to establish RE in kindergartens.

03.06.2000 — Supreme Court rules that any priest who taught RE in 1961-1990 in the Church (after the secularisation of education) is still a teacher and has the right to a teacher's pension.

29.03.2006 — Government promises the Church in a session of the Joint Commission that grades from RE will be included in the average. The Minister of Education later tries to defend this secret meeting as if it had been legally enacted, by claiming "pacta sunt servanda".

13.07.2007 — Minister of Education Roman Giertych signs a regulation to include grades from RE in the average.
August 2007 — New Minister of Education Ryszard Legutko says he's “not that enthusiastic” about this regulation and suggests that it should be first ruled on by the Constitutional Tribunal. Bishops treat this as an act of war.
19.08.2007 — Government Information Centre announces that the grades from RE will be included in the average. Minister of Education Legutko is forced to apologise, claiming that he didn't know that it had been decided in 2006 during a Joint Commission session.
November 2007 — Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) claims unconstitutionality of the regulation before the Constitutional Tribunal.
December 2007 — Bishops urge Ministry of Education to introduce RE as a subject for the matura (the state exam at the end of secondary education).

Autumn 2008 — Ministry of Education accepts Lessons from Ethics by Rev. Prof. Andrzej Szostek as the only workbook for ethics classes. It is a collection of essays originally published in the Catholic weekly, Sunday. Postgraduate courses for teachers of ethics began to be offered at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin.

Spring 2009 — There are about 31,000 teachers of RE and 119 teachers of ethics (Ministry of Education data).
April 2009 — GIODO (Data Protection Agency) rules that priests have a right to collect and transmit to curia and local parishes the personal data of students attending RE.
01.07.2009 — Constitutional Tribunal indefinitely postpones a ruling on the challenge to Giertych's regulation about having grades from RE count in the academic average.
01.09.2009 — Ministry of Education to force students to “choose” between RE and (the often in practice non-existent) ethics classes: the regulation to do this is still in preparation.
02.12.2009 — Constitutional Tribunal rules (with only one dissenting vote) that counting the grades from RE in the average is constitutional. The education ministry directive was challenged in 2007 as unconstitutional and discriminatory against students who do not take religious instruction.

2010 — Matura for RE to be allowed, with Catholic Church having sole authority over both curriculum and exams. 


For further information by a legal expert on the situation up until 1999, see Piotr Mazurkiewicz, "Autonomy of the Church and freedom of religion in Poland", [undated, but 1999 is the last date mentioned], pp. 11-13.

* Article 13.1 of the 1925 Polish concordat

In all public schools, apart from universities, Religious Education is mandatory. [This was especially insulting for the large Jewish community; the choice was — either attend RE or stop attending school.] The lessons will be given to Catholic youngsters by teachers, appointed by the school, which they will choose only from among the persons authorised by the Ordinaries to teach religion. [Schools still had a choice from several candidates — a liberty unknown in modern Poland where bishops now have a free hand in appointing catechists.] The competent authorities of the Church will supervise the teaching of RE in terms of its content and the morality of its teachers. If the Ordinary withholds authorisation [canonical mission] from the teacher, he will be automatically deprived from the right to teach RE. The same rules regarding the selection and dismissal of teachers, will apply to professors, tutors and assistants in faculties of theology in state universities.

Source: Konkordat polski 10.02.1925 

** Education Act (07.09.1991)

1. A proposed amendment sponsored by a member of the small SLD would no longer let RE/ethics count for the grade average and would put the grades for these on a second certificate. But the chances of this being passed over the fierce opposition that any such moves encounter, seem slim, indeed.

Article 12.1 Public kindergartens and primary schools organise Religious Education at the request of parents; public high schools at the request of parents or the pupils themselves; and after reaching the adulthood [18 years] students [personally] decide on attending RE.

Article 12.2 The Minister responsible for education and upbringing [Minister of Education], in consultation with the authorities of the Catholic Church and the Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church and other churches and religious organisations, shall determine, by regulation, the conditions and the way in which schools fulfil the obligations referred to in paragraph 1. 

Source: "Ustawa z dnia 7 września 1991 r. o systemie oświaty",6198

2. The law on guarantees of freedom of conscience and of religion, (Ustawa o gwarancjach wolności sumienia i wyznania),17 May 1989.

Art. 10. 1. Rzeczpospolita Polska jest państwem świeckim, neutralnym w sprawach religii i przekonań.
2. Państwo i państwowe jednostki organizacyjne nie dotują i nie subwencjonują kościołów i innych związków wyznaniowych. Wyjątki od tej zasady regulują ustawy lub przepisy wydane na ich podstawie.

Article 10 1. The Republic of Poland is a secular state, neutral in matters of religion and beliefs.
2. State and state agencies neither fund nor subsidise churches and other religious associations. Exceptions to this rule are governed by law or by regulations issued under them.

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