HOW TO MAKE A THIEF OUT OF A VICTIM
Fr. MAREK ŁUCZAK
Discussion on finances of the Church are hot, not to say disastrous. The biggest harm are emotions in them and stereotypes repeated maniacally. So, let facts speak now, because thanks to them it may turn out that the image of the Church – the victim will prevail over the image of the Church – a greedy suitor.
The Concordat Commission of the Government and Episcopate ordered Fr. prof. Dariusz Walencik to write a report on finances of the Church. In the document we can read that 31 per cent of assets taken away from the Church on the areas of today’s Polish Republic, remains in the hands of the state. A scientist from Opole also shows that for 63 years the Polish country has not been complying with legislation, which it had enacted, and which orders to give income from the seized assets for ecclesiastical purposes. The document is entitled: ‘Legal regulations – nationalization – revendication. Estates of the Catholic Church in Poland in the years 1918 – 2012’.
A report of over 480 pages shows a detailed state of possession of the Church in Poland from the year 1918, with all later changes. While reading the document, we find out how much the Church had in the Second Polish Republic, what the scale of the communist occupation was like and how much was given back to the Church, as a result of partial revendication of assets after the year 1989. And, finally, how much the Polish country still owes to the Church, which should be the basis for deciding about the final amount of tax write-off. The investigator is also analyzing the way of functioning of the Ecclesiastical Fund. He argues that the fund, whose purpose was to support the activity of the Church, in practice, for 39 years it had been spending the gross of its finances on the fight against the Church. This first whole report in history, concerning the assets of the Church has a breakthrough character, because the scale of the seizure of the property of the Church had been estimated so far with a possibility of a mistake, and now it has been precisely estimated on the basis of the most reliable sources.
The genesis of the report
Everything started with the talks of the Church with the government about replacing the Ecclesiastical Fund with a modern European solution in the form of voluntary tax write-off, which is applied in other countries. The system considered as archaic, was founded in 1950 under the act about the goods of a dead hand. In order to define a proper level of the tax write-off, there appeared a need for elaborating a suitable report. It concerned doing precise calculations, which should be passed over by the state to the fund.
Let’s remind that under the act about the goods of a dead hand from 1950, the Ecclesiastical Fund should be constituted by all incomes gained by a new owner, that is, the state, from the assets seized from the Church at that time. The problem was that the state had never – neither before the year 1989 – nor later – complied with the provisions of the Act in this respect. So, it has never been estimated how much possessions or benefits coming from them, had been taken away from the Church. The Ecclesiastical Fund was powered by much lower means than expected, which it gained directly from the budget. Their amount was decided only by the factual political system. The statutory duty of passing incomes from possessions taken away from them for ecclesiastical purposes were not respected by democratic governments after the year 1989 as well. In free Poland the state did not make any effort to calculate how much Churches should receive from the Ecclesiastical Fund, despite the awareness, that the present situation was unfair.
These are facts
There is a known opinion of, among the others, Marek Pernal, director of the Office for Religions of the Cabinet Office from 13 December 1994, in which he admitted that the state does not fulfill its commitments in this sphere. On the basis of archive materials of the Agriculture Ministry and the former Office for Religions he estimated, that only on the basis of the Act about the goods of a dead hand, the state took over estates and land possessions from Churches and religious associations, of the total area of 134 thousand hectares, also 120 thousand hectares from the Catholic Church. Considering the average income from a hectare in the socialized farm as a basis, he estimated that the income of the state from the average estate of the Catholic Church in 1994 was an amount four times higher than the one which had been granted for the Ecclesiastical Fund. He explained that ‘this estimation is the lowest of all possible ones, because the lowest category of income had been accepted, among categories appearing in available and published sources’.
Despite this declaration of the minister, responsible for the relations of the state with the Churches and other religious associations, nothing in this sphere was done for next years. The issue was touched on again only during talks in the forum of concordat commissions last year, focused on the liquidation of the Ecclesiastical Fund and replacing it with a voluntary tax write-off.
How much was taken away from the Church?
Just after the war on the area of Poland, in its new boundaries, the Catholic Church had 202.297.9 hectares of land estates. The Polish communist authorities did not proceed to their confiscation straightaway. The general attack on the Church took place at the end of the 40s of the XX century. At that time, a decision was made about depriving it of material basis of action. The first step was liquidation of charity works of the Church. On the basis of the Act of 28 October 1948 about the social plants of health service, all church hospitals were nationalized. On 23 January 1950, the whole assets of the church Caritas and its links were subjected to the compulsory state management. On 8 January 1951 an Act about taking over pharmacies by the state (including the ones run by religious orders) was implemented. On 20 March 1950, the communist Seym took over the Act ‘about taking over the goods of a dead hand by the state, guaranteeing farms to parish priests and founding the Ecclesiastical Fund’. It stated that nationalization without compensation would comprise land estates of the Church and other religious associations, being outside the boundaries of towns. The whole land with farm buildings and residential buildings of agricultural service was treated as a land estate.
With a fund towards the Church
Incomes from the seized church assets were supposed to be given to the Ecclesiastical Fund founded at that time. However, it was a dead provision, and from the very beginning the fund had financial means, it needed, from the state budget. According to the Act, the Ecclesiastical Fund was to serve to maintain and rebuild churches, finance the church charity-care activity, give material and medical help to priests, organize holiday houses for them and give medical insurance to priests in justified cases. It also provided pension insurance to those priests who were qualified by the authority as ‘socially distinguished’. The system of social insurances comprised only priests-collaborators acting, for example, in the Commission of Priests at the Society of Fighters for Freedom and Democracy or in the state Society of Catholics ‘Caritas’. They were 10 per cent of the total of priests in the peak period.
In practice, most tasks conferred upon the fund in the Act about the goods of a dead hand were not fulfilled, whereas, in the whole communist period, the Ecclesiastical Fund was serving to financing the anti-ecclesiastical activity and rewarding priests who were loyal to the regime. And, having quite a lot of financial means - like about a few dozen million zlotys a year – it became a convenient tool of realizing the religious policy of the totalitarian country.
In the years 1950 – 89, the means from the Ecclesiastical Fund were used – without any legal basis – to finance among the others , the activity of the Central Party School at the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party, the Centre of Staff Training of the Ministry of Justice, grants were given to the Association of Polish Teachers, anti-ecclesiastical meetings were propagated, as well as materials which were a slander of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, directors of department for religions were rewarded, there were payments for denunciations against priests, anti-ecclesiastical newspapers were financed, as well as foreign delegations of employees of the Office for Religions. For comparison, Fr. Walencik shows what minimal part of means the Ecclesiastical Fund spent on charity activity, or on rebuilding and maintaining churches. Only 0.2 percent of the financial means of the fund had been spent on support of the charity work of Churches till the year 1989, and a dozen per cent on building and maintaining churches.
Less and less in a wallet
A radical turning point in the functioning of the Ecclesiastical Fund took place in 1990. Since then, the fund has spent 100 per cent of the financial means on statutory objectives. Initially, the biggest position in expenditures of the fund was supporting the church charity, caring, and educational activity, as well as repairs and conservations of church monumental buildings. In next years, this trend underwent quick change for the sake of financing fees for insurance of priests. From, more or less, the mid of the 90s, the Ecclesiastical Fund pays 80 per cent of fees to the Social Insurance Company for these priests, who are not employed under a contract of employment, that is, shortly speaking, they devote themselves fully to pastoral ministry. Additionally, the Ecclesiastical Fund finances 100 per cent of fees for missionaries and members of contemplative orders. The basis for the fee is the lowest statutory salary, so, consequently, those priests receive the lowest pensions. The Fund does not pay premiums of priests who are employed under a contract of employment and are tax-payers of income tax from individuals.
The report shows that after the year 1989, the bigger and bigger part in the expenditures of the Ecclesiastical Fund are pension and health premiums for priests. While they were 7.9 per cent of the expenditures in the year 1990, in the year 2000 – 87.2 per cent, and from the year 2010 till today – exactly 100 per cent of the expenditures of the fund. In relation to it, the reduction comprised the expenditures for charity activity or repairs of monumental sacral buildings.
In 1989, the Polish country admitted its fault towards the Church and declared its will to compensate harms. Unfortunately, the report shows undisputedly that the way to justice is very far.