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Quotes on concordats Quotes on concordats

A dozen quotes from popes, prelates, lawyers and historians give different views on Vatican concordats.


   A concordat is a pact between the Vatican and a nation-state whereby the Vatican gains certain political and financial benefits in return for support of a policy or arm of the national government. Such a concordat in a nation with numerous Catholics is also helpful in getting their allegiance or in curbing opposition to the government. 

       — Prof. John M. Swomley, St. Paul School of Theology, Kansas City, Missouri [1]

  The concordat is concerned not so much with protecting the rights of Catholics, as, above all, with protecting the interest of the Catholic Church’s institutions.

       — Dr. Paweł  Borecki, Faculty of Religious Law, Warsaw University [2]

  Concordat: An Agreement made between a pope and a very Christian king, through which both of them dispose of things they never had any right to touch in the first place. 

      — Paul-Henri Thiry d'Holbach, Portable Theology, 1768 [3]

   [When drawing up concordats] the aims of the Church are always the same: money, influence on education and marriage laws. However, not everywhere can the maximal demands be achieved.”  

       Wolfgang Huber [4]

   …It were to be desired that the Church should never need concordats, and should always find in civil rulers devoted children…. 

       Concordats”, Catholic Encyclopaedia, 1908. [5]

   A concordat represents the compromise, outside matters of principle, which the Church enters into with a government which does not, fully or freely, recognize her entire claims to independence and autonomy. 

       Anonymous Jesuit, c. 1933 [6] 

   The Apostolic See, to avoid the risk of open mockery, usually enters into solemn undertakings only where a civil government is under no obligation to seek the consent of a representative body, or where there can be no reasonable doubt that such consent will be granted.

      —  Francis Xavier Wernz, Superior General of the Jesuits, 1905. [7] 

   We are pleased to point out that the Accord of Buenos Aires is the first fruit in the field of Church-state relations of the Ecumenical Council Vatican II.

      — Pope Paul VI, 1966, on concluding a concordat with the brutal dictator of Argentina, General Juan Carlos Onganía. [8]

   Each concordat marks a state’s renunciation of its own powers and its assumption of the obligation to contribute to those of the Catholic Church. In exchange for these gifts, authoritarian governments buy from the church hierarchy a kind of legitimacy and support for their power, as being in harmony with the commands of God. In some cases they gain influence in the appointment of senior Churchmen. A democratic system does not need this legitimacy [...] To grant the Church any privileges violates the foundations of democracy, even if the facade is retained.

      — Anonymous Polish MP to President Kwaśniewski, cited by MP Ryszard Zając on 12 September 1996 in the Sejm. [9]

   As the Colombian Concordat makes clear (and even more so, as I have recently discovered, that of the Dominican Republic), Dignitatis Humanae [The Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom] by no means insists that “error" should have “equal civil rights” in regard to public education, marriage legislation, chaplaincy to state institutions, civil religious ceremonies, the designation of public holidays (Our Lady's feast days, for instance), clerical immunity from civil prosecution, and other important aspects of civic life which reflect Catholicism's uniquely-recognized status as “a fundamental element of the common good” (Colombia) [Article 1] or “the religion of the Dominican Nation” (Dominican Republic) [Article 1].

      Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico [10]

   A concordat is an instrument of evangelisation at the expense of the state and all its citizens.

      Daniel Sottomayor [11]

  In 1864 Pius IX issued an encyclical listing many things he had condemned in earlier broadsides. This is called the Syllabus of Errors. There he maintains, for instance, that the Catholic Church should be the only one allowed in a state (#77-79), that it should not be separate from the state (#55), that its clerics can exercise temporal power (#27) and that it has the right to use physical force (#24). Among the more than eighty errors he did not forget to mention concordats, citing the two former occasions when he had condemned those who dared to break them.

This is error #43, [the false notion that] The secular Power has authority to rescind, declare and render null, solemn conventions, commonly called concordats, entered into with the Apostolic See, regarding the use of rights appertaining to ecclesiastical immunity, without the consent of the Apostolic See, and even in spite of its protest.

       Pius IX, Multis gravibusque (17 Dec. 1860); In consistoriali (1 Nov. 1850)

  Concordats are really political documents. Although they have legal force, it’s what is in them, and is done without full democratic debate that’s vital thing — and that Concordat Watch is getting out to the general public.

      Sue England, specialist in European Union law [12]



1. John M. Swomley, “Vatican politics and war”, Human Quest, Jan/Feb 2001.

2. Paweł  Borecki, “Kościół ma przewagę nad państwem” (“The Church dominates the state”),
Trybuna, 25 July 2009.

3. Paul-Henri Thiry d'Holbach, Portable Theology, 1768

4. Wolfgang Huber, personal communication to Muriel Fraser, 2005.

5. Leo Kelly and Benedetto Ojetti, Concordats”, Catholic Encyclopaedia, 1908.

6. Anonymous Jesuit quoted in the confidential report sent to the British Foreign Office by its minister to the Holy See, Sir R. H. Clive, 1933. John Jay Hughes,“The Pope's pact with Hitler: Betrayal or self-defense? Journal of Church and State, 63 (1975).

7. Francis Xavier Wernz, Superior General of the Jesuits, Jus Decretalium I, 166, (Rome, 1905).

8. Pope Paul VI, in an allocution at the Sacred College and at the Roman Prelature on the 23rd of December 1966, referring to the Concordat with General Onganía concluded two months earlier. 

Discorso di Paolo VI al Sacro Collegio e alla Prelatura Romana, Venerdì, 23 dicembre 1966. 

"Ci è gradito rilevare che l’Accordo di Buenos Aires è il primo frutto, nel campo delle relazioni tra Chiesa e Stato, del Concilio Ecumenico Vaticano II."

9. Confidential note (author not revealed) addressed to Poland's President Aleksander Kwaśniewski before the ratification of the Polish concordat, reported by MP Ryszard Zając on 12 September 1996 in the Sejm.,3527/q,Prawo.kanoniczne.prawo.polskie.i.suwerennosc

10. Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S. in a review of  Michael Davies, The Second Vatican Council and Religious Liberty. In Living Tradition: Organ of the Roman Theological Forum, (Oblates of Wisdom), Number 44, January 1993.

He prefaces the passage quoted here with this:

In saying that Dignitatis Humanae requires “equal civil rights” for truth and error, Davies appears to be mistaking the part for the whole: equality in one respect for equality in general. He is referring to the statement in Dignitatis Humanae: §6 that where one religion has special recognition, members of other religions must also be granted religious liberty. This means they must be equally immune from coercion in practising their faith. But this immunity from coercion is the only right amongst many.

11. Fabiana Schiavon, “Acordo de Brasil e Vaticano é aprovado em comissão”, Consultor Jurídico, 13 August 2009.

12. Sue England, specialist in European Union law, personal communication to Muriel Fraser, 2008.

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