3. From Constitution to Concordat, 1921-1925
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3 | || From Constitution to Concordat, 1921–1925 The beginnings of normal political conditions in interwar Poland, or at least their approximation, had to await the end of the chaotic formative phase of independence, and so it was with the relationship of the Second Republic with the Roman Catholic Church at home and abroad. Not until the restored Rzeczpospolita had ensured its survival and more or less fixed its boundaries could it afford the luxury of attempting to decide the chief issues of church and state: the status of Catholicism within Poland, and of Poland within the Catholic world. Resolution of the first question required a constitution, while the second implied a concordat. These projects were separate but linked to a considerable degree. The constitution would fix the place of the Church in the country, define the state as confessional or secular or something in between, and provide the basis for subsequent legislation. While the constitution was, in theory, solely a Polish domestic matter, the concordat would consist of a treaty between the Holy See and the civil government of Poland devoted to religious affairs and policies of mutual concern.1 Strictly speaking, the concordat was dispensable , but the Vatican coveted such agreements in that era. For one thing, signing a concordat amounted to a de facto recognition of the sovereignty of the papacy—no small matter in those days before the Lateran Accords —and Rome much preferred the bond of an international compact as a guarantee of Catholic interests in a given land to the unilateral laws of a government that might be changed on a whim. Upon the conclusion of these two documents, the constitution in 1921 and the concordat in 1925, the legal and diplomatic foundations of the relations of church and state in the Second Republic came into being. Tentative, previous efforts had been made to speed the process or settle the debate at a stroke, but these had failed. In the dawn of independence, the Polish episcopate called for the establishment of the Church as the official national religion in keeping with the precedent of the Constitution of 1791, but this proposal elicited such spirited opposition from the Left and the sizable non-Catholic minority that Nuncio Ratti predicted that the famous motto Polonia semper fidelis soon might become “merely a historical memory.”2 Feelers for a Polish concordat had gone out as early as 1918, but had come to nothing owing to the resistance of an unlikely tacit coalition of anticlerical politicians and a faction among the bishops of Poland. Both camps disliked the idea on principle out of hostility toward each other, fearing that any deal would mean intolerable concessions to their foes. The unfinished business of the constitution also contributed to the postponement of a concordat. The dissident bishops hoped that a favorable constitution could take the place of the concordat, granting the Church benefits without strings attached. In any event, no matter what one thought of a concordat on its own merits, common sense suggested that it should follow, not precede, a constitution that would determine the nature of the state and its fundamental stance toward Catholicism, and before long the Vatican and the Polish episcopate agreed to that order of priority. The regulation of the ties of church and state in interwar Poland depended on the interplay of three entities: the Holy See, the country’s Roman Catholic hierarchy, and the government of the Second Republic. This was largely a dialogue of elites, as only the Warsaw regime was answerable to public opinion in any meaningful way. None of these parties saw the other members of the trio as enemies. To the contrary, all of them understood that Polish tradition and religious sentiment, and pragmatic calculations of shared interests, dictated that they maintain at least a decent working relationship . Still, each partner wanted different things out of the association, and these variations of outlook and goals made their collaboration bumpy and tense, perhaps all the more so since none could afford to let it break down. The Vatican expected the new Poland to serve the mission of Catholicism in central and eastern Europe, and expected the sometimes refractory Polish episcopate to fall into line with the agenda of the papacy. For their part, to the extent that they had a unified policy, the bishops demanded that their reborn republic grant honored status to the Church and enshrine its precepts in law, while hoping that Rome would leave management of Polish affairs...


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Subject Headings

  • Church and state -- Poland -- History -- 20th century.
  • Catholic Church -- Poland -- Bishops -- History -- 20th century.
  • Poland -- Foreign relations -- Catholic Church.
  • Catholic Church -- Foreign relations -- Poland.
  • Secularism -- Poland -- History -- 20th century.
  • Poland -- Church history -- 20th century.
  • Poland -- Politics and government -- 1918-1945.
  • Piłsudski, Józef, 1867-1935.
  • Catholic Church -- Poland -- History -- 20th century.
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