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Poland: President Approves Vatican Treaty

Warsaw, 26 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski has formally approved a treaty on relations with the Vatican.

Two days ago (Jan. 24) Kwasniewski signed a law authorizing the ratification of the treaty, or concordat, dealing with such issues as the legal recognition by the state of religious marriages, teaching of religion in state schools and burials in religiously sanctioned cemeteries. The law is to be made public today.

Two weeks after the formal approval, Kwasniewski will sign a document ratifying the treaty while the pope will sign a parallel document in the Vatican. Thirty days later, the treaty will be published and become the law of the land.

At the same time, another official publication will make public a declaration clarifying the meaning of provisions included in the treaty. The text of the declaration was negotiated by the previous, left-dominated government, and deals with specific issues which had long been contested by the left.

Presidential spokesman Antoni Styrczula said that the agreement is a "step towards reconciliation" among Poles "allowing to regularize relations between the Holy Sea and Poland."

The treaty was negotiated and signed in 1993 by a center-right government but opposition of leftist groups to some of its provisions delayed the ratification. The left claimed that the Roman Catholic Church had gained too many privileges with the treaty.

The concordat assures the legal status of the Roman Catholic church as an autonomous institution independent of the state and provides it with the formal right to spread its teaching.

Bickering over the concordat has long complicated politics in Poland, giving ground to tension and disagreement.

President Kwasniewski has made it clear on several occasions that he would sign the ratification to put an end to the disputes. He did it two days ago, after both houses of parliament expressed their support for the treaty.