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POLISH HUMANIST FEDERATION POLISH HUMANIST ASSOCIATION

24 Koszykowa St. Warsaw, Poland; tel/fax 625 44 69; e-mail: humanizm@free.ngo.pl

REPORT ON THE SITUATION OF NON-DENOMINATIONAL CITIZENS AND HUMANIST ORGANISATIONS IN POLAND.

Introduction

According to the Constitution of the Republic of Poland, The relationship between the State and churches and other religious organisations shall be based on the principle of respect for their autonomy and the mutual independence of each in its own sphere, as well as on the principle of co-operation for the individual and the common good".1 The truth, however, has not much in common with these solemn declarations, particularly as regards the relationship with Catholic Church. In today's Poland there is no mutual independence of the State and Church. It's been only the autonomy and independence of the Church that has been respected over the last decade, probably far beyond the standards observed in democratic states and under the rule of law. Catholic Church in Poland has been to a large degree beyond any democratic or legal control, even if its activities have been unconstitutional or plainly criminal. At the same time the Church has constantly and without any self restraint violated the autonomy of the state, the claim we are proving on the following pages of the present report. The Church has significantly reinforced its political and economical power and today there is practically no public authority or other organisation that would dare to criticise or oppose its activities or aspirations. Even the groupings or the media, which used to be critical in the beginning of the nineties, when the Church started its crusade against reason and individual liberties, now condemn those few, who still oppose the idea of turning Poland into religious state. However, this political and economical success has not been without significant cost. The fact, that the Church is first of all seen as political power, has weakened its moral authority and lowered its social status. Polish religiosity has become even more selective and superficial. It has also resulted in the falling number of the faithful, particularly among the teenagers. The survey conducted in 1999 by the Statistical Institute of the Catholic Church among the students of secondary schools (15 to 18 years of age) shows that more than 21 percent of young Poles are religiously indifferent, while only ten per cent admit that they are deeply religious. This phenomenon has been recognised by the Church authorities as so serious, that they decided to introduce evangelisation of the unfaithful to school curricula. One should be relieved, however. The authors of the Church's Committee for Dialog do not encourage to convert young people by force. Non-believers should be approached with love, respect and understanding not only for tactical reasons (!).

Another study, recently conducted by one of the highly respected public opinion research centres, and published by the quality weekly "Polityka" (Politics), gave an interesting picture of the religiosity of Polish adult population, 93 per cent of which still declare that they are believers. It doesn't mean, however, that 93 per cent of Polish people believe in god. The poll shows that 2 per cent of those, who consider themselves "believers" at the same time claim that they do not believe in the existence of god. This is, however, still the most commonly supported catholic dogma, particularly in comparison with the belief, in resurrection and eternal life (69 per cent  and mere 41 per cent believe in hell. Equally limited is our knowledge about central catholic dogmas.

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' Other provisions of Article 25 of the Constitution, directly referring to the relationship between the State and churches and other religious organisation:

1. Churches and other religious organisations shall have equal rights.

2. Public authorities in the Republic of Poland shall be impartial in matters of personal conviction, whether religious or philosophical, or in relation to outlooks on life, and shall ensure their freedom of expression within public life.

3. Quoted in the first paragraph of the report.

4. The relations between the Republic of Poland and the Roman Catholic Church shall be determined by international treaty concluded with the Holy See, and by statute.

5. The relations between the Republic of Poland and other churches and religious organisations shall be determined by statutes adopted pursuant to agreements concluded between their appropriate representatives and the Council of Ministers.

For example, only 26 per cent of the surveyed adults in Poland has adequate knowledge about the dual (godly and human) nature of Jesus. People asked to tell the names of the Holy Trinity quite commonly answer: The Father, Joseph and Mary.

Other studies show a wide gap between catholic teaching on the one hand, and moral convictions and attitudes of Poles on the other. The survey conducted by the Statistical Institute of the Catholic Church shows that 75% of Poles accept contraception, 68% -premarital sexual contacts, and 55% support the idea to legalise certain forms of euthanasia. Moreover, more than 60% of youth refuse to accept the idea that there is no religion without Church. On the contrary, many young people believe that their relationship with God should be their According to catholic sociologist, reverend Slawmir Zareba, young people still have a need for "sacrum'; but they reject moral norms, imposed by the Church, considered to be a threat to freedom.

In view of what has been said, one shouldn't be surprised by an opinion of yet another catholic sociologist, Reverend Wladyslaw Piwowarski from Catholic University in Lublin, who said that two thirds of Poles are in fct unaware heretics, who do not understand the content of catholic faith.

Why then, if our claim that Polish religiosity is so superficial and social support for the Church seems so weak is true, the clergy has been able to establish and exert all-pervading political influence? Before we try to answer this question, let us outline the history of the first decade of Polish democratic state, with particular emphasis given to the relationship between the State and Catholic Church and to human rights and freedoms in Poland.

Many in the West, particularly in the Unites States, consider Poland as a praiseworthy example of the successful transformation from the centrally planned economy to the system of free market and from communist authoritarian regime to democracy. This picture, however, particularly as regards individual rights and freedoms, seems to be at odds with reality. What seems to go unnoticed is inter alia the fact that since the early 1990s, Poland has been heading towards a religious state and, despite four years of Social Democratic rule, when this process slowed down, is now close to this model of the state.

This situation cannot be explained by traditional Polish religiosity: the process we are referring to has been progressing against the will of a majority of our society. It is, however, supported by the new, so-called post-Solidarity political elite, which eagerly

satisfies political ambitions of the Catholic Church in return for its full political backing. Such political agitation, which abuses the political naivety of uneducated people, commonly takes place during religious gatherings and in the increasingly growing number of the media controlled by the Church. In 1997, this led to the electoral victory of the ultra-conservative coalition called the Electoral Action "Solidarity". Soon after their coming to power the newly elected authorities rewarded the Church by adopting several laws to its advantage and assuring the clergy that the future governmental policies would satisfy their economic, ideological and political aspirations in Poland and abroad. One should remember, that according to the present Pope, Poland should 'become a source of inspiration for the so called "re-evangelisation of Europe", which would in reality lead to the Catholic Church regaining the status-of the only repository of truth as regards worldview and social morality. Regardless of whether this vision with respect to Europe is realistic or not, Poland itself is being ardently adjusted to the requirements of such a scenario - its role in it subjugated to the interests of the Polish Catholic clergy and their political allies. . ,

One of the important consequences of these aspirations is the large body of legislation which turns some aspects of the Catholic doctrine into national laws and reinforces the position of the Church in social life. The first piece of such legislation legalised religious instruction in public schools (initially introduced against the law) and ensured that catechism teachers are paid by the state which, however, has no say whatsoever as regards the content of such instruction. Another example of such legislative acts is the law enforcing respect for "Christian values" in television and radio programmes, which resulted in a practical ban on broadcasts that might not be accepted by the Church.

In 1996, at the demand of the Church, whose representatives took part in the work of the Constitutional Committee on equal terms with the members of parliament, the provision on the separation of Church and State was replaced with an enigmatic wording providing for their "mutual impartiality". Another constitutional provision obligated the government and the parliament to regulate the relations with the Church in an international law concluded with the Vatican, the so-called Concordat. The Concordat was finally ratified in 1998, in a manner and version which was the source of a heated controversy. This agreement sanctioned and extended privileges thus far obtained by the Church and in some cases provided for additional prerogatives. Numerous provisions of the Concordat violate constitutional guarantees of freedom and equality before the law. Moreover, since the agreement devolves certain powers to the Church it should, according to the Constitution, be adopted by a two-thirds majority of votes - it was, however, ratified by a simple majority of votes in both chambers of the Parliament.

Another example of the Church's unconstitutional role in Polish politics and public life is its influence on some verdicts of the Constitutional Tribunal, an institution established in order to independently decide about the conformity of laws with the Constitution. In 1997 we were provided with a striking evidence of such influence: the Tribunal - clearly without any legal grounds - decided that the relatively liberal law on abortion was not in conformity with the Constitution and with the principles of the state governed by the rule of law. This verdict was used by the conservative majority in the parliament to reintroduce the ban on abortion on social grounds:

The above examples of laws and policies adopted to satisfy the aspirations of the clergy show that the Church is treated by Polish authorities as a source of law and at the same time as an institution whose interests are above the 1w. There are numerous examples of the clergy violating laws with impunity: insults hurled on disobedient MPs, racist and anti-Semitic speeches, and infringements of financial regulations, even though public authorities diligently help to keep them from the knowledge of the general public. Institutions dealing with the administration of justice abstain from prosecuting in such cases and those few prosecutors who try to instigate legal proceedings against clergymen are being punished by their superiors.

State authorities also provide increasingly generous assistance to the ideological expansion of the Catholic Church. They support a large number of religious publishing houses, grant almost unlimited presence of the clergy in the public media, sponsor the Pope's travels, activities of the Papal Theological Academy and theological seminaries. Openly declaring the Catholic identity of Poland and authenticating these declarations by symbolic acts (such as hanging the cross in the parliamentary plenary sittings room or organising a pilgrimage of MPs to the religious centre of Poland in Czestochowa), they contribute to the growth of religious fanaticism in Poland. This phenomenon can be best illustrated by the support granted to Catholic television and radio stations, even if they advocate anti-Semitism, religious fundamentalism, intolerance and xenophobic nationalism. . .

Members of the state authorities in their public appearances promote the cult of the Pope and demonstrate obsequiousness to him. Celebrations of all historical anniversaries and other state ceremonies include spectacular religious rituals and Church hierarchies are consulted on all important social and political matters.

Educational policy of the government has also in great part been shaped by the Church. Following its recommendations, the minister of education decided to withdraw sexual education from schools. For the same reasons the Parliament rejected a proposal to remove the grades for religious instruction from school certificates (the presence of such grades violates a constitutional guarantee and contributes to discrimination of nonbelievers, thus exerting psychological pressure to participate in religious instruction). Similarly, the minister of defence has failed to respond to the complaints of soldiers who are forced to practise religion while serving their military duty.

Another important issue is the question of legal and illegal financial privileges of the Church and clergymen. Some of those privileges originate from the so called communist Poland whose authorities tried to buy the support of the Church; a great majority of them, however, have been introduced after the political transformation in Poland.

Despite being a relatively wealthy social group, Polish clergy are encumbered with minimal income taxes, while their real earnings remain unknown. The Church has been granted numerous tax allowances, reductions and exemptions from customs duties for imported goods without proper control of the way such goods are used (many of these goods, particularly cars, are being sold in the open market with huge profits). The most extreme and socially noxious privilege is the Church's right to participate in the so-called "regulatory proceedings" where its claims for the restitution of property rights are decided. Such claims are often made for real property lost long time ago (sometimes centuries ago) and of important public utilities (such, as hospitals, schools, student houses etc.). Such property is often returned to the Church by arbitrary decisions, issued either by individual state officials or by the so-called "Property Committee", composed in one half of state officials and in the other half of the representatives of the Episcopate. The committee's decisions are final = they are not .subject to appeal to any higher instance, nor are they subject to any form of social control. This way of proceeding is in contradiction to the basic principles of the democratic state and the rule of law. In no other post-communist country is the Church granted property in such a way and on such a grand scale. To our knowledge, for example, in the Czech Republic and in Hungary decisions with respect to each individual claim are made by the parliament.

The Concordat has sanctioned and broadened this practice - incompatible with the Constitution - by giving the Church the opportunity to co-decide about its financial relations with the state; all decisions concerning these relations are made by a joint commission appointed by the parties to this agreement, so no privileges of the Church can be revoked.

The inequitably strong position of the Catholic Church in Polish politics has had specific adverse consequences for members of sexual minorities. Recent opinion polls show that homosexuals are the least tolerated minority, -also among young people. This unfortunate situation is being entrenched by prominent senior officials of the Catholic Church who have made numerous public statements in which they have voiced prejudiced and homophobic opinions by claiming that homosexuality is a moral deficiency and/or disease. The Church shows little interest in the existential conditions of members of sexual minorities, even if they profess belief iri Gd. In 1992, the Episcopate ignored the request for 'the appointment of a chaplain made by a gay and lesbian ecumenical community, The anathematic social attitudes reinforced or even produced by the Church have their counterpart in the State's legislation. Due in part to the Church's influence, the newly adopted Polish constitution, which came into force in 1997, fails to proscribe against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, even though a stipulation to this effect had been considered in an early draft. Furthermore, while the constitution explicitly defines marriage as the union of man and woman, Polish law fails to provide for any form of legalised partnership between persons of the same sex. The fact that a same-sex union may not be registered under Polish law makes it impossible for same sex partners to fill joint income tax statements and to benefit from each other's health insurance and pension schemes. It also makes inheriting property both problematic and subject to high-rate taxation. In practice, same-sex partners are also not allowed to adopt children. Efforts by the homosexual citizens of Poland to influence the course of politics and to win public support for their causes are met with obstacles. In 1998, the Lambda Group in Warsaw was refused permission to hold a gay pride parade; in apparent deference to "family values" as propagated by the Church, tie officials responsible declared the city's streets off limits because of "strolling mothers with children."

Finally, we want to give a more detailed account of a joint Church/government policy toward women's rights, as - according to many - it is most strikingly incompatible with European standards, particularly as regards violence against women. The issue of women's rights will be dealt with by referring to the so-called government family programme, as women and their problems are seen by Polish authorities predominantly in the family context, as wives, minders of the sick and first of all, as reproductive units deprived of individual freedoms and rights.

The above mentioned Government Pro-Family Policy Program has been based on the Pro-Family Policy Program, devised and developed by a group of ultra-catholic experts from The Electoral Action "Solidarity". Explicitly based on the Vatican Family Rights Charter, this document defines the family as a basic social unit and a natural relationship more fundamental than the state or community, with its own inalienable rights. According to the Program, no law may infringe on the inalienable rights of the family, the fundamental unit of Poland.

The real meaning of this vaguely phrased definition emerges when the goals of the program are analysed. Its authors proposed, among other policies, to introduce the institution of separation (the substitute of a divorce based on Canon Law), ban abortion, enforce Canon Law marriages, restrict minority churches, withdraw sexual education from schools, censor the media, as well as grant family benefits and tax deductions to families with children, particularly many children.

The ultra-Catholic model of the family promoted in the Program has no regard for individual rights or freedoms of family members, as it ignores their needs and interests. The family is understood as a monolithic collective whose abstract interests, defined in practice by the Catholic Church, are considered superior to individual interests, particularly those of women.

Public statements made by its main proponents have reinforced the document's language. The most controversial of them was the previous Minister for Family Affairs, Kazimierz Kapera, the former head of the Catholic Families Movement, who was once dismissed from a ministerial position because of his offensive public declarations about the homosexual minority. On numerous occasions, Kapera defined the institution of marriage as an unbreakable bond, which cannot be terminated in any circumstances. In a series of interviews, he expressed the opinion that abortion cannot be allowed, even in the case of a twelve-year old girl rape victim. The minister provoked public outcry over his critique of the campaign against domestic violence by saying that "the problem [of violence against women] has been exaggerated and that such campaigns should not be supported, as they might dissuade young women from marrying".

The Program's formal language and public declarations of ultra-conservative politicians became one of the most visible parts of the governmental policy, particularly with regard to the measures intended to curtail women's rights. The Prime Minister, Jerzy Buzek, announced the importance of such pro-family policy in his expose in November 1997. Polish women didn't have to wait long for concrete steps to be taken to put the Program's provisions into practice.

First, toward the end of 1997, the Government replaced the Office of the Governmental Plenipotentiary for Women and Family Affairs with the Office of Plenipotentiary for Family Affairs: the office's first move was to suspend the program, "Against Violence: Towards Equal Opportunities," which was l5reviously jointly developed by the former Polish government and the United Nations Development Program

On 22 January 1998, the Plenipotentiary for Family presented the Guidelines for the Governmental Pro-Family Policy. The Guidelines, based principally on the above-outlined pro-family program, were soon followed by the decision to withdraw governmental subsidies on contraceptives, thus making them practically unaffordable for majority of women.

Next, on 21 July 1998, the Council of Ministers adopted a document entitled "Report on the Situation of Polish Families", which is seen by the authors of the pro-family policy as a major contribution to the shaping of governmental policy. The Report, presented as an objective diagnosis, is; in fact, a form of ideological propaganda meant to promote the traditional model of family as a reproductive unit to be maintained against all odds. The Report expresses concern over the growing number of divorces, particularly among 20 to 34 years old, as this age group has the highest reproductive potential. It also claims, by referring to unidentified studies, that some 45% to 70% of young criminal offenders are raised in single-parents families. They do not, however, attempt to explain the causes of the anti-social behaviour of the other 30,/o to 55% who come from two-parent families. Domestic violence, particularly violence against women and its destructive influence on the emotional development of children, is not considered as playing a role in this context. Violence against women is regarded in the report as an exaggerated problem which should not influence marital decisions of women.

Violence in the family is discussed in a sub-section on children and teenagers and pertains mainly to child beating. Incest or sexual abuse in the family is not discussed at all. In the authors' opinion, the only existing sexual abuse of children occurs in child prostitution, and the abusers are mainly the so-called sex tourists "particularly of German origin." Characteristically, in discussing child prostitution, the report only mentions girls, although it is a well-known fact that the problem concerns male teenagers as well. This one-sidedness further indicates the document is solely ideological propaganda that promotes a stereotyped model of society and the idealised, Catholic model of the family.

The same hidden agenda lurks behind critiques of the press and other media. The report complains that "the picture of reality presented in the media is not complete; it is too negative and may confuse the readers who may ,even be lead to undermining their system of values." According to the report, the women's press, in dealing with family issues, concentrates too much on pathological phenomena, such as domestic violence or child abuse.

Lastly, we want to comment briefly on the section on the Vatican Family Rights Charter which constitutes an integral part of the report. Although the authors admit that the Charter is not a binding international document, they argue that it may be considered a draft proposal. However, even a basic analysis of the report and the Charter unavoidably leads to the conclusion that the Vatican Family Charter is, in fact, treated as a fundamental law and the real basis for Polish legislation and the government family program. Concurrently, the report neglects to mention the 1995 Platform for Action adopted at the L1N Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, nor do they refer to the Polish government Program of Action on Behalf of Women 2000.

The next document, the "Pro-family Policy of the State," was adopted by the Council of Ministers on 3 November 1999 and the Prime Minister was authorised to present it in the course of parliamentary works. The new program does not differ considerably from earlier documents, except, that it is more focused on demographic and health issues. Its authors are predominantly concerned about the falling number of marriages and births. Their goals are first of all to stop the decline in the number of contracted marriages in the age group 20 - 30, the change of reproductive attitudes in order to increase the number of children and the decrease in the number of divorces. These unfavourable changes are, according to the document, the result of the youth's growing educational and professional aspirations, as well as serious economic problems (e.g. only one third of young married couples live in a separate apartment). Thus, apart from standard conservative propaganda, the report proposes to introduce a number of financial and economic measures (tax deductions, affordable housing programs) in order to encourage young people to marry. The Program also suggests a number of measures aimed at improving the health of the family (it is always-the health of the family, not its individual members), including introducing financial punitive measures against those who pursue unhealthy life-styles. The Program remains silent when it comes to domestic violence and it does not offer any remedies. Discussing this subject could distort idealistic vision of a family and create obstacles to the priority goal, i.e. to, stop the decline in number of marriages contracted in the age group 20 - 30 and to increase the number of children.

The long-term goal of this policy is clear: it is an authoritarian model of society in general, and of the family in particular; the model, according to which, the family is an unbreakable bond, superior to the individual dignity and freedom of its members. Such model disregards individual suffering, humiliation, and violations of rights and interests ~of the family members; what counts is the preservation of each and every family at any price, in the name of the dogmatic beliefs of the fundamentalist minority, regardless of internationally recognised fundamental rights and freedoms. The authors of the program complain in its introduction that international documents lack direct legal protection of the family and that family itself is a notion not uniformly understood in the legislation of various European Union Member States.

Polish government is not trying to disguise its discriminatory attitude to women and its critical opinion about the EU policy promoting gender equality. Recently, at the 45th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the representative of the Polish government refused to endorse the statement by Margareta Winberg, who spoke on behalf of the European Union and Associated States. .She called on the governments to ensure that women enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms. "We have to remember that women are not born vulnerable, but are made vulnerable by persistent gender-based discrimination", stressed Ms Winberg. The representatives of EU stated that further action to remove discriminatory practices through human rights education, for example, were needed to ensure that every woman and man could fully enjoy all human rights. Polish Minister for Family Affairs, Maria Smereczyska, has found the language of this statement unacceptable. She argued that Poland should not support the statement, as it contains such terms as "sexual rights" and "sexual orientation", which have not been defined by the United Nations. The true reason, however, is different: the European policy promoting women's human rights and gender equality is abhorred and rejected by the Polish government on ideological and religious grounds.

The first year of the new millennium has seen considerable reinforcement of the Church's political and economical position. New laws discriminating against nonbelievers have been adopted and the Church's privileges have been strengthened, often in striking contradiction with democratic principles and the laws of Poland. For example, in June 2001, the infamous law on radio and television was amended by introducing new provisions concerning the so called "social broadcasters". Pursuant to the amended law, various social organisations, including churches,' may be granted a broadcasting licence, free of charge, if they meet certain conditions, including the requirement to respect Christian values. Such laws form a convenient basis for discriminatory practices. In May 2001, the media and various social bodies, including the Council of Ethics in the Media, called on the president of the public TV to dismiss the director of the news just because, in a business letter, while writing about the Polish pope, he called him Karol Wojtyla, which is the real name of a pontiff. Although finally he hasn't been fired, he was harshly reprimanded and forced into public self criticism.

Since the beginning of this year the Church has considerably improved its economical situation, mostly on account of generous donations granted by local governments, mainly in the form of landed property or building lots, whose value often amounted to millions Polish zlotys. The new commercial TV station, controlled by the Catholic Church "family television PLUS" was to a large degree financed by state owned company "Polish Copper". The corporation paid 20 million zlotys (approx. 5 million dollars) for a block of shares in the new station. Another state owned enterprise "Polish Post Office" has recently saved the pension scheme Arka-Invesco, owned by Polish Episcopate, which was on the verge of bankruptcy.

There are numerous reports on sexual harassment and acts of violence against children, committed by priests or religion teachers in primary schools. While in some cases the perpetrators have been properly prosecuted and sentenced , on numerous other occasions local and school authorities turn the blind eye to sexual crimes by the clergy. In a recent case, a priest working in primary school, who some months ago was accused of harassment, has not been even suspended by the school principal.

Polish bishops have also tried to influence the results of the parliamentary elections. A few days before the elections, they called on Polish Catholics to vote for those who stand guard over Christian values and not to vote for people who seek solutions in the spirit of liberal ethics. Their appeal was published by all newspapers and widely discussed in the media, to now avail, however. Openly religious League of Polish Families received just 7,87 per cent of the vote, while the left-wing election coalition won over 41 percent of votes and over 216 Seym seats. It has been confirmed again, that the Church's influence on the choices made by ordinary people is minimal, while it still exerts strong influence on the politicians and all authorities, at local and central levels. Why? The answer is relatively simple. Polish democracy is still in a very early stage of development. Polish politicians do not understand that their primary obligation is to protect people's rights and freedoms, and - as regards the relationship between democratic State and the church - to protect the autonomy of the State, so that all persons could be equal, regardless of their religion or philosophical worldview.


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