It is time to lay to rest the claim that the 1925 Concordat between Poland and the Holy See granted practical autonomy to the Greek-Catholic Church. This claim continues to be repeated by various authors. However, if we examine the historical evidence we discover that although the concordat granted legal status to the Greek-Catholic Church in interwar Poland, it also deprived it of several rights and freedoms.
Following the ideals of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, nation states in the nineteenth century delineated their rights and responsibilities by written constitutions. After the First World War, the Catholic Church negotiated written concordats with the new states, each of which also sought diplomatic recognition for itself. In this historical context, the Holy See considered the concordat arrangement to be the best way to secure the Church’s independence and to establish a working relationship with new regimes.
Several years of preparation went into the Concordat with Poland. The first soundings for this treaty came in July 1918 from the Regency Government of Austro-German-occupied Poland. However, negotiations had to be put on hold due to the fall of the Regency that November. Its successor regime, the Second Republic, appeared to be unstable so the Vatican waited to see if a durable government would emerge with which it could negotiate a lasting agreement.
The Holy See began negotiations with the Polish government in 1919 but ran into opposition from a group of Polish bishops (Teodorowicz, Sapieha, and Dalbor) which wanted to negotiate directly with the government. A compromise was reached whereby members of the Polish episcopate and religious superiors were appointed to negotiate a draft text with government representatives. The Polish parliament adopted a federal constitution on 21 March 1921, article 114 of which stated that “relations between the state and the Church will be fixed based on an agreement with the Holy See, which must be ratified by parliament”.
Historically, Poland is looked upon as a bastion of Catholicism but the government of the interwar Second Republic often pursued policies detrimental to the Catholic Church. Many of its politicians, who were ostensibly Catholics, had been educated in the liberal or Josephist ideologies of Austria and Germany. They made sure that Catholicism was not declared the official religion in the March Constitution, but merely the religion of the majority. They also sought to reproduce in the concordat, clauses favourable to the type of state interference that had existed during the previous imperial regimes. They were surprised that the Apostolic See was reluctant to give their ostensibly Catholic state the rights which had been previously accorded to the Lutheran kaiser and the Orthodox tsar.
It is interesting to examine the Greek-Catholics’ issues that were discussed in the concordat negotiations and how much initiative Vatican representatives took to ensure the protection of Greek-Catholic rights. The Russian regime had confiscated a large number of churches and large portions of revenue-producing lands, especially those belonging to Eastern Catholics. When he was nuncio in Poland, Pope Pius XI had appointed two Greek-Catholic representatives to a committee charged with drafting a proposal for the parceling of church properties. Perhaps the most intricate question, the land reform issue, took years to negotiate, further prolonged by the frequent changing of governments, each with its own views on the issue. Finally, in 1924, a draft concordat was agreed upon by church and state delegates in Poland, following which the government sent its envoy, Stanislas Grabski, to Rome to make the final negotiations with Monsignor Francesco Borgongini Duca of the Holy See.
Before the Vatican negotiations began, Francesco Marmaggi, the apostolic nuncio to Poland, sent the draft text to both Latin and Greek-Catholic bishops and major superiors, asking for their comments and concerns. The Ukrainian bishops expressed two principal concerns. The first pertained to government interference in church appointments. The bishops proposed that the church be freed of any interference in these matters, and that bishops be appointed directly by the Pope. The second concern related to the Eastern Catholic faithful residing in the Kholm, Pidlasia and Volyn regions. Eastern Catholic eparchies had been forcibly supressed in these regions by the Russian Empire, and the Polish regime had not permitted them to be restored, hoping that the Eastern faithful would thus come to adopt the Latin Rite.
Bishop Przezdziecki of Lutsk pointed out that the first draft of the constutition had not mentioned the Eastern Rites, except in the context of their obligations towards the state. He suggested that more emphasis be placed on the equality of all rites of the Catholic Church. Przezdziecki was also concerned that the Eastern Catholics in the former uniate eparchies not be deprived of any pastoral care, as the first draft of the concordat text seemed to imply by prohibiting Greek-Catholic bishops from exercising jurisdiction outside their eparchies. His solution was for the Latin bishops of those regions to coordinate the Eastern Rite missions outside of Galicia.
Marmaggi's report to the Vatican took into account this feedback from the episcopate, giving special concern to the Greek-Catholic issues. All of his suggestions were incorporated into the Vatican’s proposals during the first phase of negotiations. These took place at the Vatican over 17 sessions between 1 October and 5 November 1924. The Holy See was able to obtain concessions for Greek-Catholics but in some cases the government imposed restrictions. Let us look at some of the details in the Articles of the proposed Concordat. This will reveal where concessions by the Polish Government to the Greek Catholic Rites were sought, and where restrictions against the latter were still to continue in force.
Article 1 was changed to read: “The Catholic Church in all its rites will enjoy complete liberty”. Article 9 stipulated that diocesan boundaries had to be readjusted so that no bishop outside Poland had jurisdiction within the republic and that religious superiors had to be Polish citizens. Article 11, while stating in principal that episcopal appointments were the prerogative of the Holy See, nevertheless conceded a veto to the president of the Republic for any candidate considered politically dangerous to Poland’s interests. Article 12 enjoined that all bishops would swear before the President an oath of allegiance to the Republic. Although Article 13 required the use of the Polish language, Grabski promised that the government would also ensure education in the mother tongue for elementary schools. Article 14 protected Church property from state expropriation. Article 18 stated that Oriental Catholics outside their diocesan boundaries would be placed under the jurisdiction of Latin ordinaries, a restriction that brought some debate before being included. Article 19 stated that those dangerous to security be excluded from parochial benefices. A clause was added that, if the government did not present objections within a 30 day period, the church could proceed with parochial nominations. Article 20 mandated that conflicts between the government and the church over appointments had to be resolved within 3 months, after which the matter would go before a commission.. To article 22, on the use of the Polish language, the Holy See added the words “in the latin rite”, so as to avoid the government mixing into Greek-Catholic affairs.
The nuncio sent these negotiated wordings to certain bishops and clergy in Poland for comments. A second set of 8 sessions of negotiations began on 5 January and ended 2 February, 1925. During these sessions, changes to the text included the following: In Article 2, the Holy See insisted on emphasising the complete freedom for clerics to communicate with Rome and the freedom from government censure of episcopal letters (government officials had blocked Metropolitan Sheptytsky’s pastoral letter in 1923 and would do so again in 1938). The Holy See had been asking for the Peremysl Eparchy to be divided in two. In this regard, Grabski signed a secret note to article 9, promising that after parliamentary ratification of the concordat one Greek and one Latin diocese would be established in Galicia. (These promises were never fulfilled). A comment on article 12 stated that any further concessions for the Greek-Catholic bishops regarding the oath of allegiance to the republic could not be obtained. At the last session on 5 February, an agreement was reached on article 18 regarding Latin patronage appointments. Cardinal Dalbor’s proposal was accepted whereby the patron of the benefice or parish had to choose one of three candidates selected by the bishop. Despite flexibility towards the Latin Church, the Government refused to concede any liberty on this point to the Greek-Catholics.
Bishop Szelazek had been sent to Rome as a delegate of the Polish episcopate, to assist in the final negotiations. He wrote several letters to Nuncio Marmaggi, informing him of the final phases of the work. Szelazek stated that the last days of talks had been very difficult and he was in great fear of the outcome. He nevertheless believed that the Holy See had obtained all possible concessions from the government. While 2 February had been scheduled as the last session, Vatican representatives insisted on returning to the table, to further negotiate “grave issues”. Interestingly, at the very last minute (6 February), Nuncio Marmaggi asked Szelazek to lobby for the division of the Peremysl Eparchy and submitted information regarding state persecution of Ukrainian schoolteachers. These interventions did not enter into the discussion, which were concluded on 8 February. The final draft was signed by both parties on 10 February in the evening. Following a single-session examination by a commission of cardinals, Pope Pius XI promulgated the concordat on 18t February. As had been stipulated in the Polish Constitution, the agreement was put before parliament, which duly ratified it on 23 April 1925. The Concordat between the Holy See and Poland entered into effect as church and civil law on 3 August 1925.
Those authors who claim that the concordat granted autonomy to the Greek Catholic Church are likely following quasi-official publications which came out shortly after the ratification of the treaty. Monsignor Olexander Bachynsky was probably asked by Metropolitan Sheptytsky to publish an officially positive pamphlet entitled “Konkordat”. Bachynsky noted, among other things, that the state recognized the equality of all Catholics without distinction of rites, the state is not competent in Church affairs, and the Church had the right to govern its own internal affairs.
Despite such publications, the Ukrainian reaction to the concordat was not favourable. Even the nuncio noted that: “The Ruthenian Catholics are not satisfied with their situation resulting from the recent Concordat.” In July 1925, the head of the ZUNR in exile, Jevhen Petrushevych, wrote to the Holy See protesting the subjugation of the Ukrainians in Poland. Father Let Gillet also noted Ukrainian discontent in his journal entry of 26 August 1925.
The concordat had immediate repercussions for the Greek-Catholic Church. First, all the bishops had to swear an oath of loyalty to the Polish state and abandon any official support for a Ukrainian separatist movement. The liturgical prayers for the head of state in the Liturgy were modifed. In the first issue of his diocesan bulletin for 1926, Metropolitan Sheptytsky decreed: “In virtue of Article VIII of the Concordat of the Holy Apostolic See with the Republic of Poland and the decision of the Polish episcopate in Warsaw (1925), it is prescribed that, in future, on all Sundays and on 3 May, during the Holy Mass, after the dismissal during the prayer “ad multos annos” which begins with the words “through their holy prayers”, leaving aside the words: “to our most faithful emperor”, after the expression: “all of our fathers and brothers”, the following words must be said: “save, O Lord, our state and its president (N.N.)”, together with the words following to the end of the prayer. In all other places in the Liturgy, only the church authorities are to be commemorated.”
Perhaps the most disappointing feature of the concordat for the Greek-Catholic Church was the restriction of pastoral activities to the three eparchies of Galicia (renamed Little Poland). This meant that Bishop Josyf Botsian, who had been secretly consecrated in 1914, had to refrain from the public use of his title as bishop of Lutsk because it was not recognized by the concordat. Although there was no specific mention of this eparchy in the negotiations, it was clear that the government was unwilling to lift its moratorium on Greek-Catholic clergy ministering in the borderlands of Poland, fearing the people in such regions region would come to support Ukrainian nationalism.
The Ukrainian bishops had warned the Holy See that a concordat would likely be used against the Greek-Catholics by government officials because in Poland the laws were not applied equitably. This became more and more the case in the 1930’s as Poland’s ethnic minorities began to rebel and because, in the words of Bishop Szelazek, of the government’s “tendency towards totalitarianism”.
Except for a single school, Ukrainian-language elementary education was abolished at the beginning of the 1930s's. At the end of the decade, the Ministry of Religion began to refuse consent to the appointment of certain Greek-Catholic pastors and, without providing specific charges, ordered their removal from border zones. The Nuncio drew the attention of the ministry of foreign affairs to such arbitrary procedures, which were in violation of the concordat. In turn, the government complained that the Ukrainian clergy were openly violating the concordat’s loyalty clauses.
The veto for residential bishops began to be used against candidates who had disagreed with the regime over any issue. The military regime was opposed to the the Eastern-Rite missions in Poland. In 1934, the president vetoed the candidacy of Auxillary-Bishop Cieslaw Sokolowski for the vacant Sandomierz diocese, simply because his bishop had placed him in charge of the Byzantine-Rite in Podlachia. Nuncio Marmaggi informed the government that the Holy See could not even enter into a discussion regarding the existence of the Eastern-Catholics. When the nuncio suggested another candidate, Pius XI replied that abandoning a worthy candidate would "bring shame on the Holy See". Even after local Polish notables testified to the worthiness of Sokolowski, the foreign minister told the nuncio that questioning the president's reasons was an offense against the dignity of the head of state. After all negotiations failed, the Nuncio was instructed simply to inform the foreign minister of that the pope had appointed an interim apostolic administrator.
By 1937, the accord between the Vatican and Warsaw had become a burden to the ruling regime's anti-Catholic and totalitarian policies. The state moved to grant similar legal status to non-Catholic confessions which were heavily under state control. The concordat ceased to have any legal status with the German and Soviet invasions of 1939, following which the Holy See proceeded to appoint Polish bishops without the consent of any government. Perhaps the most significant was the appointment of Josyf Slipyj, secretly named archbishop-coadjutor to Metropolitan Sheptytsky in 1939. This elicited a protest from the government-in-exile when it was finally informed of the appointment, after the war. However, With the establishment of a communist republic in 1945, it was in the interest of both Church and State to declare the concordat as having been voided in 1940.