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Polish bishop reacts to call for changes to religion classes

A bishop has responded to a call by Poland’s new education minister to reduce state-funded religion classes in the country’s schools.

Bishop Artur Miziński. Ryszard Hołubowicz - via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Incoming education minister Barbara Nowacka said Dec. 13 that she wanted to limit religion classes paid from the state budget to one hour a week. 


Religion classes are generally taught for two hours a week in Poland’s schools. Participation is voluntary and depends upon the wishes of parents or students themselves in high school classes. 

“If the local government or parents decide that they would like more of these hours, it will be their decision, including the financial decision,” Nowacka told the TVN24 news channel.

Religion classes were introduced in Polish schools in 1991, following the collapse of communism. Catholic catechism classes in schools are governed by principles set out in the 1993 concordat between Poland and the Holy See.

Nowacka acknowledged the terms of the concordat and said she could not imagine any changes being introduced without contact with the Polish episcopate.

She also suggested that religion classes should be the first or last lessons of the day, and that grades in religion should not count in the grade point average.

“Looking at how burdened young people are today, how many tasks lie ahead of them, how many hardships, how much work they often do, an hour of religion classes, financed from the state budget — this is my personal opinion — is completely sufficient,” she said.

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Bishop Artur Miziński, secretary general of the Polish bishops’ conference, responded cautiously to the remarks by Nowacka, who belongs to the Civic Coalition, which has formed a new government known as the October 15 Coalition with the New Left and Third Way parties, ending the Law and Justice Party’s eight-year rule.

Miziński told the Polish Press Agency: “The declaration by the education minister regarding the teaching of religion in school is her idea of how to solve the situation.” 

“What she is proposing or will propose — because this is only the first voice coming from her side, which has not, as far as I know, been discussed even in the circles of the new government, much less in relation to the Church, so it is not known whether her voice will be universally accepted — is a matter of the minister’s personal conviction.”

The auxiliary bishop of Lublin said that any proposed changes should be discussed with the Church and that a joint commission of government representatives and bishops would be a suitable venue.

He said that if the talks were to address whether there should be catechism classes in schools, then they should be held with the Church’s concordat commission.

“On the other hand, what is possible, as the minister mentioned, is the issue of regulating whether it will be two hours of catechesis or one, whether catechesis will be in the first hour of class or in the last hour, whether the grade from religion will be on the certificate or not — these are all issues that can be [regulated] as a result of normal talks,” he said.

Poland’s constitution says that “the religion of a church or other legally recognized religious organization may be taught in schools,” without infringing the religious freedom and conscience of others.

The Catholic Church’s right to provide school catechesis is addressed in Article 12 of the concordat, which says that “the state shall guarantee that public elementary and secondary schools, and also preschools, managed by civil administrative organizations or independent bodies, shall arrange, in conformity with the desire of interested parties, the teaching of religion within the framework of an appropriate school or preschool curriculum.”

It adds that “the curriculum for teaching the Catholic religion, as well as the textbooks used, shall be determined by ecclesiastical authority and shall be made known to the relevant civil authorities.”

Teachers of religion, the majority of whom are lay people, need authorization (missio canonica) from their bishop.

The proportion of students opting for religion classes is steadily declining, especially in Poland’s bigger cities, amid rising secularization.

A report published in September identified a stark generational divide in attitudes toward religion in Poland, with a “weakening of faith” particularly evident in the younger generation.

Poland’s new government, led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk was sworn in Dec. 13. Tusk has said that he will seek to liberalize Poland’s abortion law, but acknowledged that there are different opinions on the issue within the governing coalition.

Religion is taught in public schools in 23 out of the 27 European countries, the exceptions being France, Slovenia, Luxembourg, and Bulgaria.

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