POPE SIGNS POLAND TREATY IN UNUSUAL MOVE

     VATICAN (CWN) -- After months of on-and-off negotiations, the Holy See has signed a new concordat with Poland, governing relations between the two.

      The concordat, originally negotiated by the Vatican and the Solidarity-dominated government of Poland in 1993, became endangered when that regime lost power to a new ruling coalition dominated by former Communists. But the Solidarity bloc regained control of the national legislature last year, paving the way for final approval of the pact.

      Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, himself a former Communist, has given his final approval early this year, overcoming earlier misgivings. After giving the pact his final approval yesterday in Warsaw, Kwasniewski predicted that the agreement would promote the further development of "good and friendly relations between Poland and the Vatican." He expressed the hope  that these relations would "not lead to arguments" within Poland, but rather would encourage "peace and reconciliation, which are necessary and welcome, as His Holiness has said."

      The Vatican, too, issued a formal statement voicing the "hope that the corcordat will reinforce the cordial relations between the Holy See and the Republic of Poland, leading to a new rapport between Church and state, in accordance with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and the new Code of Canon Law."

      The concordat's 29 articles provide, among other things, for legal recognition of the Church and her institutions in Poland, freedom for Catholic apostolates, the teaching of religion in public schools, recognition of civil and canonical marriage, the Church's right to use the means of public communication, and government support for Catholic university faculties in Krakow and Lublin."

      In a break with tradition, Pope John Paul II personally signed the agreement at the Vatican today. (Ordinary the Vatican Secretary of State signs such documents.) The Pope's gesture was taken as an indication of the high importance he attaches to this particular agreement.

      The treaty which governs the Polish states relationship with the Catholic Church has undergone a troubled ratification process since the fall of Communism in 1989. The ex-Communists blocked the concordat while it held power in Parliament between 1993 and 1997, but the ruling Solidarity alliance quickly ratified the document after it won national elections last fall.

      The Holy Father called the Polish ambassador to the Vatican on Monday to witness the signing, which ANSA said was probably meant as a gesture of courtesy toward his homeland and a sign of the importance he attaches to the treaty. The concordat stipulates that church marriages are legally binding and provides for religious education at the earliest levels of education.

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February 25, 1998 volume 9, no. 40         DAILY CATHOLIC