Bishops seek end to Poland's constitutional separation of church and state

April 26, 1991|By Kay Withers | Kay Withers,Special to The Sun

WARSAW, Poland -- The country's Roman Catholic bishops demanded this week that Poland abolish the constitutional separation of church and state.

They asked instead that Poland's fundamental charter be rewritten to reflect the majority's Catholic morality.

"We consider it essential to include in the text of the constitution the highest values of the Polish nation . . . values strictly connected with the history of the evangelization of society," the bishops said in a communique.

"The time has come to throw out that damaging and mistaken simplification, unfortunately well established in the social consciousness, according to which the secular nature of the state is presented as the fundamental and pretty nearly only guarantee of citizens' freedom and equality under the law."

It was necessary, the bishops' communique said, to "eliminate theformula on the separation of church and state" as a relic of "totalitarianism."

The constitution dates to 1952 but includes some amendments made after Solidarity ousted the Communists from power two years ago.

A new version is being drafted and was to have been ready by May 3, when Poland celebrates the bicentenary of a watershed 1791 constitution. Disagreements, some concerning the church role in the state, have delayed the work.

The Roman Catholic Church in Poland was historically a secular power. The May 3 constitution of revered memory began with the words, "In the name of God and the Holy Trinity." The Roman Catholic primate functioned as the interrex, the head of state between the death of one king and the succession of another. The episcopate accumulated vast properties and made alliances with the rulers, although humble priests did defend their parishioners when Poland was partitioned by its neighbors in 1795.

Now the church appears once more to want joint rule. The bishops wrote this week, "Especially strong emphasis should be placed on the need for common action by the state and the Catholic Church, on which depends the good of individuals, the vast majority of whom are simultaneously members of both communities."

The "good of individuals," according to the bishops, includes defense of life from the moment of conception, religious instruction in state schools and a ban on pornography,all of which the clerics want written into the new constitution.

The Senate, or upper house of Parliament, dominated 99 percent by Solidarity Catholics, even wants to begin the new constitution with the phrase from the 1791 document, "In the name of God . . . "

The Sejm (lower house) is more secular, preferring simply to describe Poland as "a democratic state of law."

The two houses are to vote on the new constitution after autumn elections that are likely to return more Catholics than secularists.

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