Polish Bishops on European Integration


Warsaw, 21 March 2002


1. Poland has been undergoing an important period of progressive and ever closer integration with the economic and political structures of the European Union.  The Bishops should not remain silent at this important historic juncture.  Indeed, we wish to continue a centuries’ old tradition of the Catholic Church: at crucial moments in our nation’s history, we have looked to the Gospel for guidance to illuminate the minds and consciences of believers and all people of good will as they strive to make choices that bring benefit and unity to the nations.  Thus we have sought to reflect deeply on the place and role of Poland in a more fully united Europe.

2. The Catholic Church is supportive of unifying initiatives which respect those fundamental human rights that minister to the integral development of human beings and promote the common good of both nation and country.  This stems from the Catholic Church’s supreme internal constituent right which is the right of love for it is love which unites people and helps them overcome individual and social egoism – the source of division and injustice.  The commandment of love is directed to one’s fellow man and to the environment with which God has endowed him and entrusted to his care.

3. Following the collapse of the totalitarian communist system in 1989, the nations of Eastern and Western Europe had the opportunity to re-unite as one.  Fuller integration with the structures of the European Union was to serve this end.  The idea of a united Europe was born out of Christian beliefs of such politicians as: Alcide De Gasperi, Robert Schuman and Konrad Adenauer.   After the many wars and conflicts that ravaged our Continent, this idea embodied a desire for peaceful co-existence of peoples in a way that ensured that everyone’s fundamental rights of human dignity, welfare and security are respected.   The Universal Church and the Catholic Church in Poland have been supportive of this process from the beginning.  Europe in the eyes of the Church is not a purely economic and political structure, but primarily a historical and cultural community based on the lasting ideas and tradition of Judeo-Christian spiritual values, Roman law and Greek philosophy.

4. Poland’s integration with the European Union, especially at this time of intensified membership negotiations, is a matter of great importance.  Political debates will determine Poland’s future for decades to come, hence the necessity of getting everyone and the groups responsible for the national heritage i.e. state authorities, local governments, non-governmental organisations, the Catholic Church and other Churches and religious denominations involved in these debates.  At this special historic juncture we all have a need for sound and substantive information about the progress of negotiations.  This information should provide answers to questions and doubts that may arise regarding this issue.  Lack of information does not promote a proper understanding of the process of integration and raises serious concerns with many people.

5. John Paul II often addresses issues relevant to European unity.  While fully identifying themselves with the teaching of the Holy Father concerning Europe’s affairs, the Bishops appeal not to allow any hidden agendas to distort the Pope’s pronouncements on the issue. Care taken to see that Poland is accorded its due place in the European structures cannot be limited to economic and political aspects.  Poland wishes to continue to exist in Europe “as a state which has its own spiritual and cultural identity, its inalienable historical tradition associated from the dawn of history with Christianity.  Poland cannot deprive itself of this tradition, this national identity.   By becoming a member of the European community the Republic of Poland cannot lose any of the material and spiritual gains that the generations of our forefathers defended and shed their blood for.”  (John Paul II, Address on the occasion of accepting letters of accreditation of the Ambassador of Poland at the Holy See, the Holy See, 3 December, 2001).

6. We are aware that joining European structures should not mean renouncing one’s national, political and cultural sovereignty. Nor its religious identity.  It also means respecting the identity of other nations and involves the right of co-deciding about the shape of future Europe.  In the spirit of responsibility for the spiritual, historical heritage of the nation, the shepherds of the Catholic Church in Poland, with all due respect for the pluralist philosophies of life of a common Europe, wish to undertake a new effort to preserve the rich, cultural, religious and spiritual “dowry” of our people that we wish to share with other peoples on our continent, while also opening up to the richness of the spiritual heritage of our peoples.  Europe’s richness lies in the mutually complementary tradition of the East and the West.  We need each other so that Europe could develop and breathe with two lungs.

7. It is not the role of the Catholic Church to engage in negotiations and discuss specific solutions.  This is the constitutional prerogative of the civil authorities:  Parliament, Government, and the President.  In matters of such importance for the future of our Homeland, as are the ongoing negotiations, it is the responsibility of these institutions to guarantee the rights and interests of all our country’s citizens taking full account of the sovereign rights of the people, institutions and civic society groups, and not just the nostrums of selective political programs. The Church will stand guard over the rights of man and will defend fundamental principles enshrined in the Decalogue and those spiritual and moral values that have fundamentally shaped the identity of our nation which has developed for over one thousand years in the spirit of Christ’s Gospel.

8. The tasks of civil authorities are focused mainly on economic and political issues.  Their role is negotiating the best possible conditions of Poland’s accession to the European Union.  The Catholic Church, in line with its principal vocation of bringing salvation (see Gaudium et Spes  n. 42), desires that the enlargement of the European Union should go hand in hand with a deepening awareness that man, together with his inalienable dignity obtained in the act of creation “in the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1, 27) and the gifts he has received as broadly understood, are the focus of all endeavours.

9. The European Union should precisely define the tasks and goals as well as the values on which cooperation and interdependence between its respective members should be based.  This purpose is furthered by the Convention, called into life by the EU summit in Laeken, whose resolutions will significantly determine the future shape, direction and criteria as well as standards applicable in the reformed structures of the enlarged Union. We strongly believe that representatives of the Polish government and parliament will endeavour to ensure that the resolutions adopted by the Convention serve the spiritual and material benefit of the whole nation and respect fully the principle of equality and solidarity enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.  We regret that all direct references to religion and thus to Christianity were deleted from the Charter.  Just like John Paul II, we regard this omission to be ahistorical and insulting to the Founding Fathers of the New Europe, as recalled at the beginning of our address (See:  John Paul II addressing the Commission Council of the European Episcopates on Feb. 23, 2002). We expect that in Europe’s future legislation there will be an invocation to God who for believers is the ultimate reason of the existence of fundamental values, religious, moral and social order.

10. We share the concern of many believers regarding the question of respect for the principles of a partnership dialogue instead of an actual diktat in negotiations.  We expect that the resolutions worked out by the Convention  will guarantee fully the fundamental right to life of every human being from conception until their natural death as well as that they will respect the right of marriage as a permanent relationship between a man and a woman and the right of the family as the fundamental unit of society.  We also expect that European Union law will guarantee the Church’s legal status and its religious freedom, not only in terms of freedom of conscience of individual citizens but also of the Catholic Church as an institution, other Churches and religious denominations.

11. We call upon all parties to persist in dialogue and express our belief that it will enable us to reach a common understanding even on the most difficult issues.  As the shepherds of the Church we share the manifest concerns particularly relating to the progressive secularisation, consumer mentality and politics and the resultant religious indifference. It more often than not leads to popularisation of a style of life which runs its course “as if God did not exist”.  Although this process is not directly related to the institution of the European Union, it is closely connected with the launched and promoted often materialistic and secularized life style.  This has prompted the need for a firmer consolidation of Christian virtues to enable everyone to find their place in the new reality of the European Union.  The Catholic Church in Poland wishes to built mutual trust among people, tear down walls of prejudice,  hostility, alienation and hatred that harbour in human hearts, and strengthen Christian hope which is the source of spiritual fortitude without which there would be no future.

12. Far reaching reforms of the European Union and the related efforts to align the Polish economy with its standards, particularly in the area of agriculture will necessitate many sacrifices and self-denials.  We sincerely appeal to the public authorities to create the legal and institutional conditions in which the citizens of the Republic of Poland conscious of their sovereign rights will be capable of realizing just initiatives and their entrepreneurial aspirations.  We direct our words of encouragement to everyone who has suffered from the painful results of transformation, particularly to farmers and the unemployed not to succumb to despondency and whenever possible to undertake initiatives aimed at overcoming the existing difficulties.  Making up for the material and spiritual drawbacks, economic neglect  of the past decades as well as the sufferings inflicted by the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century, the fears and anxieties widespread in our society will not be overcome easily.  The formation of a deepened awareness is a long and strenuous internal process. However, we strongly believe that ultimately the fruits of this process will benefit Poles and therefore the spiritual and material development of our Homeland.  We expect politicians to conscientiously see to it that the burdens and benefits of the adopted reforms are proportionally distributed, especially that they do not detrimentally affect the poorest groups of our society.  We also expect, as does John Paul II, that those responsible for the European Union will demonstrate their understanding for the serious difficulties that the new member countries, where until recently a different economic system prevailed, will experience in the initial stage in adjusting to their new conditions (See: John Paul II addressing the CCEE, ibid).

13. To effectively face the challenges ahead the Catholic Church, the state, non-governmental institutions and European Union bodies need to act jointly. But we also need to build mutual confidence and prayer.  The Catholic Church actively joins in the rebuilding of social trust, atmosphere of mutual goodwill and cooperation.

 Continuing the spiritual heritage of Saint Adalbert – the one and indivisible Patron Saint of the Church of the East and the West – we call upon all believers to join us in prayer to the One Lord of history.  Upon intercession of the Virgin Mary and the pleading of the Patrons of Europe: the Saints Benedict, Cyril and Methodius, Saint Catherine of Sienna, Saint Brigit of Sweden and Edith Stein (Sister Benedykta of the Cross), we pray to our  Lord Jesus Christ that the old Continent” should remain dynamic and young with the spirit of His Gospel and become ever more so an economic and political community, but first of all a genuine community of the spirit.

               Signed by Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops attending the 316 Plenary Meeting of the Conference of the Polish Episcopate.

            Warsaw, 21 March 2002

Tłumaczyła: Katarzyna ŁAZARZ-GÓRSKA