Church hierarchy: talk of “separating Church from state” flawed

The Episcopate of the Catholic Church in Poland has stated that the latest discussion about the separation of church from state is based on a misunderstanding as that separation is already guaranteed by both the constitution and the Concordat agreement between Poland and the Vatican.

According to Bishop Stanisław Gądecki, chairman of the Episcopate, the issue is not the separation but “the nature of that separation”. According to Archbishop Gądecki the current model of state-church relations was based on partnership, after years of “persecution of the church in communist times”.

The alternative model, based on experiences of the French and Russian revolution is hostile separation which pushes the church out of the public domain. According to the Archbishop, Christian values should form a moral barrier to politicians assuming absolute power.

Church supports principle of separation of powers

Archbishop Gądecki emphasized that the Christian Church was always an advocate of the separation of powers and that in Poland the Church and state were never joined at the hip. The Church was always on the side of freedom of conscience and religious practice.

Atheist viewpoint is not ‘neutral’

He also said that following atheist values would mean the state was violating the principle of neutrality. Atheism, according to the Archbishop, is not a neutral viewpoint but one that actively confronts religious faiths.

If a state was to adopt laws which are compatible only with an atheist viewpoint, they would be discriminating against believers. Any attempt to remove religious symbols from public space or religion from schools, would limit the rights of those who were believers, argued Archbishop Gądecki.

Election year

The church official said that he understood that we are in the election year but pleaded for politicians to resist drawing the Church into party political battles. He argued that the last 30 years in Poland have demonstrated that a friendly separation of church and state preserves social peace and national unity. The experience of the partition of Poland, war-time occupation and then communism, showed that conflict between Church and state is negative, concludes the senior member of the Polish clergy.

The Polish church was always supportive of national liberation struggles in Poland. This was so during the over 100 years of partition, the German Nazi occupation and the years of Soviet-imposed communist rule. 30 years ago the church played a pivotal role in bringing together the then communist government and the democratic opposition to agree on a change in the political and economic system.

Liberals and leftists question church involvement in politics

Parties of the liberal and socialist left in Poland have argued that the church has too much influence over public policy and life. They cite restrictive abortion legislation and the presence of religious instruction in schools as prime examples. It is likely that cultural issues such as women’s and gay rights, as well as the state withdrawing from any financial support for the church, such as funding for religious instruction in schools, will feature prominently in the election campaign.