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Polish bishops to elect new leader, tackle Church-state ties

Polish Church leaders will gather in Warsaw Wednesday to elect a new bishops’ conference president and discuss how to respond to plans by the country’s new government to redefine Church-state relations.

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki at a 2018 meeting of the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE) in Poznań, Poland. © Mazur/

The main item of business at the March 13-14 plenary assembly will be the election of a successor to Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, who has served as president of the Polish bishops’ conference since 2014. 

In an interview reflecting on his 10-year tenure, Gądecki said he hoped that his successor would have the qualities of faith, vision, and patient perseverance. 

“In order to preserve our ecclesiastical identity, we must, first of all, be aware that we are as the Church neither on the side of the left, nor on the side of the right, nor even on the side of the center, but we are on the side of the Gospel,” the 74-year-old Archbishop of Poznań said.

Gądecki has served the maximum permitted two five-year terms at the helm of the bishops’ conference. He is also prevented from standing again for age reasons. The Vatican has asked bishops’ conferences worldwide only to elect presidents who can complete a full term before reaching the nominal retirement age of 75. 

The rule’s purpose is to avoid a situation in which the pope wants to accept a candidate’s resignation as a diocesan bishop on their 75th birthday but feels obliged to leave them in place because they are president of their bishops’ conference. 

Only diocesan bishops are eligible to serve as president of Poland’s bishops’ conference, limiting the field to 41 candidates.


Ahead of the vote, Polish media attention has focused on the country’s metropolitan archbishops, who include Archbishop Wacław Depo of Częstochowa, Archbishop Adrian Galbas of Katowice, Archbishop Józef Kupny of Wrocław, Archbishop Wojciech Polak of Gniezno, Archbishop Tadeusz Wojda of Gdańsk, and Cardinal Grzegorz Ryś of Łódź. 

Voting will begin with a prayer to the Holy Spirit. If no candidate achieves an absolute majority on the first vote, there will be a second ballot. If the second vote is also inconclusive, the two candidates with the highest tallies will face off in a third vote. In line with canon law, the older candidate will be declared the winner if the third vote is tied.

The bishops will also vote for a new bishops’ conference vice president, as Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski of Kraków is standing down after serving two five-year terms. 

Bishop Artur Miziński, the general secretary of the Polish bishops’ conference, will step aside in June after 10 years in the post.

Miziński said that the main topic of this week’s assembly will be the Church’s response to the new coalition government’s plans to cut back religion classes in the country’s public schools and alter a system through which the government subsidizes religious associations recognized under Polish law, including the Catholic Church.

“The bishops will familiarize themselves with the current state of these issues,” he said. “We will try to prepare ourselves so that when the government side wishes to enter into dialogue on these issues, we will be ready for these talks.”

The bishops’ Catholic education committee said in February that it was alarmed by new education minister Barbara Nowacka’s intention to reduce religion classes from two hours to one hour a week, ensure they are either the first or last lesson of the day, and exclude them from students’ grade averages.

The Catholic Church approves the teachers and curriculum for religion lessons, which are funded by schools. In Polish cities such as Warsaw, Poznań, and Wrocław, around 60-70% of primary school pupils and 15-30% of high school students attend the optional classes.

The new government, which was formed in December after eight years of Law and Justice party rule and is led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk, also wants to overhaul the Church Fund (Fundusz Kościelny), through which the state contributes to religious groups’ charitable work, repairs to religious buildings, and clergy healthcare.  

Tusk has established an inter-ministerial team to consider sweeping changes to the fund, which dates back to 1950. A draft budget for 2024 earmarked 257 million Polish zlotys (around $65.5 million) for the fund.

The coalition government is also seeking to liberalize the country’s abortion law. Three competing bills have been submitted to parliament. Coalition members clashed earlier this month after the speaker of Poland’s lower house announced that abortion bills would only be considered after local elections in April.

Poland’s bishops will launch a nationwide novena March 16, for the homeland, national harmony, and respect for life. The novena, offered through the intercession of St. Andrew Bobola and Bl. Jerzy Popiełuszko, will be led by a different bishop each day at 9:20 p.m., following the “Call of Jasna Góra,” a Marian prayer recited daily in Poland at 9 p.m.

The novena will end March 24, on Poland’s National Day for Life, which is followed by the March 25 Day of the Sanctity of Life. The prayer intention on the novena’s final day will be the full legal protection of the life of unborn children.

Meanwhile, the abuse crisis that has rocked the Church in Poland since 2019 may cast a shadow over the bishops’ meeting.

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In recent weeks, Poland has seen a flurry of news related to Vos estis lux mundi (“You are the light of the world”), the 2019 motu proprio establishing norms for holding bishops to account for mishandling of abuse cases.

Since 2019, there have been at least 15 cases in which Polish bishops have faced Vos estis investigations following claims of negligence.

On Feb. 24, Archbishop Andrzej Dzięga resigned as head of the Archdiocese of Szczecin-Kamień, at the age of 71, citing health reasons. After an outcry, the apostolic nunciature to Poland clarified that his resignation followed a Vos estis investigation.

On March 9, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of the 73-year-old Bishop Andrzej Dziuba of Łowicz. The apostolic nunciature to Poland announced that his resignation was due to “difficulties in the management of the diocese,” particularly “negligence in the handling of sexual abuse cases” confirmed by a Vos estis inquiry.

On March 11, Archbishop Marian Gołębiewski, who led the Archdiocese of Wrocław from 2004 to 2013, died at the age of 86. He was sanctioned by the Vatican in 2021 following a Vos estis investigation.

The Polish bishops’ 387th plenary meeting is timed to coincide with the 11th anniversary of Pope Francis’ election. The bishops will mark the March 13 anniversary with an evening Mass at Warsaw’s Temple of Divine Providence.

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