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“Interpretation” of the Concordat (1998)

This is a timid unilateral attempt by the Polish Government to “interpret” some of the more politically controversial items in the concordat. In the debate in the Polish parliament it was said that the Vatican promised orally to include this Polish contribution in the concordat text as a standard “protocol”, but later declined to do so.

By initially promising privately to accept this Polish addition, the Vatican spurred the Government to proceed with the concordat negotiations. Later it refused to do so.

According to the summary of the parliamentary proceedings for 15 April 1997 [1], the day the “Declaration” was adopted by the Government:

♦ The document interprets several provisions of the Concordat, which aroused political controversy

♦ Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Eugeniusz Wyzner, said that early in the negotiations, the government wanted to amend the concordat through the adoption of a Supplementary Protocol which would be recognised by both sides.

♦ He also claimed that during the visit of Aleksander Kwaśniewski to the Vatican, the then President of Poland was assured that "If the Sejm ratified the concordat, the declaration would be accepted by the Holy See".

♦ However, in the end the Vatican “did not agree to such a solution”. Wuzner said that it was “an important concession from the Government to agree to the unilateral declaration”.

♦ The best the Polish Government could do was to get the written approval of the papal nuncio, Archbishop Kowalczyk, which makes it theoretically valid under international law. 

On 8 December 1997 a group of MPs made a last-ditch attempt to incorporate this Declaration in the upcoming ratification. They proposed to add to the ratification statute (passed in the Sejm on 8 January 1998) the qualification “as it is understood in light of the Declaration of the Government of the Republic of Poland from 15th of April 1997”. This never came about. [2]

Then on 6 January 1998 the Foreign Minister of the new governmentBronisław Geremek promised to release the Declaration only after the Concordat was safely ratified. [3] Two days later he gave the Vatican a chance to deny responsibility for scuttling the Declaration, by claiming that “The Commission [on Foreign Affairs] considered that the inclusion of a declaration to the treaty would be an expression of extreme distrust, particularly in the absence of practice to include attachments to important international agreements”. [4] One can only guess at the political pressure that must have been applied to the highly intelligent Foreign Minister to get him to issue a strange statement like this, since attaching “protocols” of various sorts is a standard procedure. (See the concordats of  Austria (1933), Colombia (1973), Dominican Republic (1954), Germany (1933), Italy (1984), Spain (1953), and so forth.)


Polish Monitor No. 4, Item 51

 The Government’s Declaration

of 26 January 1998

[approved by the Cabinet on 15 April 1997]

concerning the Declaration of the Government of the Republic of Poland dated 15 April 1997, in the interest of a clear interpretation of the articles of the Concordat between The Holy See and the Republic of Poland, signed in Warsaw on 28 July 1993

I hereby declare that following the signing of the Concordat between The Holy See and the Republic of Poland, the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Poland on 15 April 1997 accepted a Declaration of the Government of the Republic of Poland in the interest of a clear interpretation of the articles of the Concordat.  I present this Declaration for public information.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs: B. Geremek

Declaration of the Government of the Republic of Poland

In the interest of a clear interpretation of the articles of the Concordat between The Holy See and the Republic of Poland, signed in Warsaw on 28 July 1993, referred to hereafter as “the Concordat”, the Government of the Republic of Poland, in agreement with the Holy See, declares as follows:

  1. the principle expressed in Article 1, which states that the State and the Church are independent and autonomous, in effect expresses in law the practice accepted in Poland in the last several years.  This means abandoning the interpretation of the constitutional norms in such a way that they imply an antagonistic relationship, in favour of the interpretation which presumes co-operation for the promotion of the benefit of humanity and the good of the community.
  2. the concept of the sanctity of cemeteries, as described in Act 3 Article 8 of the Concordat, must not be understood as the right to refuse to bury in a Catholic cemetery a person of a different creed or an unbeliever.
  3. the Concordat respects that spouses have complete freedom of choice in the type of marriage ceremony and the right to decide to which sphere the effects of the marriage should be subject [i.e. Polish civil law or Canon Law].  The Concordat grants to Polish legislation the sole right to govern the principles described in Article 10.
  4. in Article 12 the Concordat provides that:
    a. teaching of the Catholic religion will be organised in accordance with the principle of tolerance and freedom of religious belief.  The State guarantees the teaching of religion in state schools and preschools when interested parties express the wish in the way described by Polish law.
    b. participation in religion classes in state schools and preschools is voluntary, i.e. without compulsion and limitations
    c. matters of employment and remuneration of teachers of religion, being a part of employment relations, will be regulated by a civil law.
  5. In Article 17 the Concordat confirms the right, guaranteed by the State, to:
    a. voluntary use of pastoral care in penal institutions
    b. voluntary use of chaplains’ services in public health and social care institutions.
  6. The Concordat respects the authority of State institutions, as described in the Polish legislation, to regulate the financial and tax matters of the physical and legal persons of the Church.  To this end, the State party shall familiarise itself with the Church party’s opinion within a special commission mentioned in Article 22 items 2 and 3. [4]
  7. The principles expressed in Articles 27 and 28 of the Concordat shall be applied with respect for the constitutionally established authority of the Government of the Republic of Poland and with respect for the authority of the Holy See and the Episcopal Conference of Poland.

Prime Minister: W. Cimoszewicz

Warsaw, 15 April 1997



1. “Konkordat: rząd przyjął deklarację” (Concordat: the Government adopted the Declaration), Rzeczpospolita Archiwum, 16 April 1997.

2. Sprawozdanie Komisji Spraw Zagranicznych, (Report of the Committee on Foreign Affairs), 16 December 1997.$file/124.pdf

3. Kronika Sejm, (Sejm Chronicle), No. 10 (314) 3rd term, entry for 6 January 1998, "Committee on Foreign Affairs". 

4. Ibid.



w sprawie Deklaracji Rządu Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej z dnia 15 kwietnia 1997 r. w celu zapewnienia jasnej wykładni przepisów Konkordatu między Stolicą Apostolską a Rzecząpospolitą Polską, podpisanego w Warszawie w dniu 28 lipca 1993 r.

Translated by Renata Anderson

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