|Poland Table of Contents
A total of forty-two non-Catholic church groups existed in Poland in 1989, accounting for about 2 percent of the population. In the communist era, the legal status of these communities was severely restricted. In March 1988, the Polish Ecumenical Council, which represented the major non-Catholic groups, began participating in a commission with government representatives to restore unrestricted freedom of religion. The 1989 law on freedom of conscience and creed redefined the state's relationship to all religions, conferring equal status on the Roman Catholic and the minority churches.
The Greek Catholic Church
The Greek Catholic Church (also called the Uniate Church) was established in 1596 by the Union of Brest-Litovsk. That agreement brought several million Eastern Orthodox Belorussians and Ukrainians under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, although they preserved Orthodox religious rites. From the outset, many in the Orthodox Church strongly opposed Latinization and what they perceived as the compromise of tradition, and conflict between the Greek Catholic Church and both the Polish Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church flared periodically into the early 1990s. In Poland the tense relations between proponents of the Latin and the Greek Catholic rites had relaxed significantly in the 1980s, although serious issues remained unsolved. Among the foremost of those issues was Catholic occupation of Greek Catholic Church property confiscated by the state in the late 1940s.
In 1947 the resettlement of the Ukrainian population from southeastern Poland substantially reduced the practice of Greek Catholicism in Poland. In 1949 Pope Pius XII appointed Wyszynski as the papal delegate to the Greek Catholic congregations of Poland. In 1956 Wyszynski named sixteen Ukrainian priests as the clerical body of the Greek Catholic Church, and a vicar general was also named and installed in Przemysl. In 1981 Glemp named two vicars general for Warsaw and Legnica to improve the church's ministry to the dispersed Ukrainian Greek Catholic communities. Beginning at that time, church administration was divided into northern and southern districts. In 1989 the total membership of the Greek Catholic Church in Poland was estimated at 300,000, with eighty-five centers of worship and fifty-five priests. Twelve candidates were preparing for the Greek Catholic priesthood at the Catholic University of Lublin in 1989; five monasteries and three orders of nuns were active.
The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession
The largest Protestant church in Poland, the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession, or Old Lutheran Church, had about 90,000 members in six dioceses in 1989, figures substantially reduced by postwar resettlement of the German minority that made up a large part of the church's membership. Services were conducted in Polish. The membership was concentrated in the Cieszyn Diocese, on the Czechoslovak border southwest of Kraków. Of the original twentysix parishes founded in German communities of Silesia and Pomerania, nineteen remained in 1985. Despite its name, the church was not a formal member of the Germany-based Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession.
The Old Catholic Churches
The Polish National Catholic Church, one of a number of socalled Old Catholic churches worldwide, had about 50,000 members in 1989, organized in dioceses centered in Katowice, Warsaw, Kraków, and Wroc aw. The church claims to retain all genuine Roman Catholic doctrine, while rejecting mainstream Roman Catholic tenets such as the infallibility of the pope and the immaculate conception and assumption of Mary. The thrust of the Polish National Catholic Church's beliefs is a return to "original" doctrine untainted by the addition of any new belief. The church belongs to the Union of Utrecht, which include Old Catholic churches from many countries and is overseen from the Netherlands by the archbishop of Utrecht.
The Mariavite Catholic Church of Poland is a schismatic Old Catholic group excluded from the Union of Utrecht because of unorthodox beliefs. In 1989 its membership in Poland was about 25,000, divided into three dioceses administered from Plock. About thirty priests were active in 1989.
The Polish Ecumenical Council
Founded in 1946 to promote interchurch cooperation, the Polish Ecumenical Council includes nearly all churches except the Polish Catholic Church. In 1989 member churches included the Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Reformed (Calvinist), Old Catholic, and Evangelical churches of Poland. Cooperation with the Polish Catholic Church began in 1974 when the council established a Combined Ecumenical Commission to deal with the analogous ecumenical commission of the Polish Catholic Bishops' Conference. In 1977 the council named a subcommittee for discussion of individual theological questions; by 1980 bilateral dialogs had begun among members sharing similar doctrine. Given Poland's history of religious tolerance, the restoration of religious freedom in 1989 was expected to expand the tentative ecumenical contacts achieved during the communist era.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress