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The principle of the good of the child in the activities of the State and the Church

General remarks 

The institutions of the Church and the State are recognized as two communities that have mutually coexisted in Poland and Europe for a very long time. Christianity, which involves universal values such as respect for the dignity of a human being, mercy, and care for the weakest, has always been a point of reference for the actions of secular authorities. Europe was shaped by Christian standards, and despite the fact that it is largely secularized now, it should not forget about its origins. The cooperation of secular and church authorities is supported by the fact that both communities serve the same entities. In fact, church members are also the citizens of the state and therefore, common activities should focus on their well -being.  

The Second Vatican Council, in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et spes (Gs), teaches that "The political community and the Church are independent and autonomous of each other in their respective spheres. However, despite the different titles, both communities serve the individual and social vocation of the same people. The better they develop a proper cooperation among themselves, the more effectively they will carry out this service for the good of all people, also with regard to the conditions of time and place " (Gs 76)[1]. Regardless of the fact that the specific goals of both communities are different, their actions should be focused on protecting the common good as well as on the interests of individuals. The family and its individual members are significant elements of the Church and State’s activities. Special protection should be given to minors who are unable to take care of their own rights. Undertaking separate initiatives by the state and the Church, as well as some joint activities, seem to be part of the implementation of the principle of child protection. This principle, despite its presence in the national and international law system, has not been legally defined yet. One of the most comprehensive and acknowledged interpretations of this value in Polish legal doctrine was proposed by Wanda Stojanowska, who interpreted it on the basis of the regulations included in the Family and Guardianship Code. According to the author, the term “child's good” is recognized as a compound of intangible and material values essential to ensure the proper physical and spiritual development of the child and to properly prepare him or her for work in accordance with his or her talents, as these values are determined by many different factors which structure depends on the content of the applicable legal norm and the specific, currently existing situation of the child, assuming the interpretational convergence of the "best interests of the child and the social interest"[2]. This definition also corresponds to the goals of both the church and the state since the activities undertaken by them are focused on both the physical and spiritual development of a minor.  

The teaching of the Church 

Because of the Christian doctrine, a particular change in the way of identifying a child and his rights had already appeared in ancient times. The spread of Jesus’s followers in the Roman Empire after 313 (Edict of Milan) resulted in the fact that a child started to be perceived as an entity capable of the rights acknowledged to every human being created in the image and likeness of God. The recognition of human life as sacred resulted in the prohibition of infanticide under the threat of severe punishment. In the Middle Ages, no legal act that directly protected minors was issued by the Church, but due to the significant position of the Church, its courts sometimes were involved in secular matters in order to protect children[3]. The Church has been claiming for children's rights in its teaching since the 19th century. Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical Arcanum Divinae, Sapientiae[4] indicates the responsibilities of parents in the field of upbringing and claims that they should make every effort to care for and raise their children on the basis of desired virtues (n.12). The parental educational responsibilities are also emphasized in the Code of Canon Law from 1917[5]. It discusses the religious and moral formation of children by their parents (can. 1113). Similar problems were also recognized in the encyclical Divini Illius Magistri,[6] in which a demand to the state authorities was addressed to protect the parental rights to raise their children and guarantee children the right to a Christian upbringing within the family (n 46). Obligations of the state and the Church to support parents and legal guardians in the process of raising their children as good citizens and people who will support their lives with particular values were emphasized in the documents of the Second Vatican Council.  

In the Declaration on Christian Education Gravissimum educationis (G.e.),[7] it is stated that true upbringing “[...] tends to direct the human being towards both his ultimate goal as well as the benefit of the society of which he is a member and in which he will participate in duties when he grows up,” [G.e.1]. Additionally, in the Declaration Apostolicam actuositatem (AA)[8] a demand to the secular authorities was claimed in order to legally guarantee the inviolability of parental rights." An important duty of the secular community is to confirm that family needs such as housing, upbringing and working conditions are supposed to be taken into account by authorities (AA 11). On the other hand, "children should be brought up in such a way that they could spiritually include both ecclesial and secular communities after leaving the family circle” (AA n.30).  

The great concern for children and their rights is included in the post-conciliar teachings of popes and the Holy See. The pontificate of John Paul II was particularly focused on caring for the family rights and its individual members. This is particularly visible in the apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio (F.c.)[9] and in the Charter of the Rights of the Family (CFR). The first document emphasizes the fact that children are the most precious gift of marriage (F.c. n. 14). Moreover, the children’s good requires the full fidelity of the spouses and uninterrupted unity of their coexistence (F.c. n. 20). In the CRF, the Holy See emphasizes the fact that the family has the right to get support from society in giving birth and raising children (CRF, art. 3 c.). Before and after birth, children have the right to be protected and specially cared, and furthermore, all children, whether born out of formal or informal relationship, have the same rights to social welfare and to the care of their full personal development (CRF, art. 4). Additionally to the issue of upbringing in the Christian spirit (can. 226, can. 793), the 1983 Code of Canon Law (CCL) protects the rights of minor victims of crimes committed against them by clergy. According to Can. 1398, a cleric should be punished with deletion of the office and other objective penalties, including exclusion from the clerical state, if he has committed a crime against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue with a minor (you shall not commit adultery); seduced or induced a minor to appear in a pornographic manner or to participate in real or simulated pornographic performances; or has acquired, stores, presents or distributes, in any way and using any tool, pornographic images of minors. In addition to clergy, members of consecrated life or associations of apostolic life as well as lay people who hold some position in the Church or hold an office or function may be subjected to appropriate penalties if they commit the specified acts against children.  

Due to the revealed cases of sexual abuse of children by clergy, the Church has developed a number of documents, both of universal and particular value. In 2001, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued Normae de gravioribus delictis, modified by both popes – Pope Benedict XVI (2010) and Pope Francis (2019 and 2021)[10]. In Poland, the Polish Episcopal Conference has adopted regulations concerning the methods of conducting preliminary investigations in cases of sexual abuse[11]. The initiatives undertaken by the Catholic Church towards children are intended to respect their good and the good of their parents.  

The position of secular authorities 

The principle concerning the best interests of a child is also present in the activities undertaken by secular authorities, such as the formation of specific legal regulations as well as the establishment of particular institutions that protect the interests of minors.  

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), adopted on November 20, 1989[12], is an international document being the reference point for national legal systems. The protection of the child's good is included in the CRC in relation to several issues. Firstly, children should have access to information and materials from various national and international sources, especially those that take into account their social, spiritual and moral good as well as their physical and mental health (Article 17 of the CRC). Secondly, a child who is temporarily or permanently deprived of his/her family environment or when cannot remain in this environment for his/her best interests will have the right to special protection and assistance from the state (Article 20(1) of the CRC). Thirdly, states recognizing and/or allowing the adoption system are obliged to guarantee the child's good as the supreme goal (Article 21 of the CRC). Fourthly, the child should be protected against all other forms of exploitation that violate the child's good in any respect (Article 36 of the CRC). These are only examples of the regulations included in the CRC, which explicitly mention the need to focus on the issue concerning the protection of the child's good.  

In Poland, the value we are interested in is protected in the Constitution[13] and the provisions of the Family and Guardianship Law[14]. The Constitution states that the Republic of Poland ensures the protection of children's rights. Everyone has the right to demand from public authorities to protect children against violence, cruelty, exploitation and demoralization. A child who is deprived of parental care has the right to care and assistance from public authorities (Article 73(1) and (2) of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland). The current Family and Guardianship Code (FGC) also contains a number of regulations regarding this issue[15]. The premise concerning the best interests of minor children may result in the court’s decision to reject the divorce (Article 56 § 2 of the FGC). The same applies in the case of separation (Article 61(1) § 2 of the FGC). The best interests of a child may also justify decisions providing the opportunity for siblings to be brought up together or entrusting one of the parents to execute the parental right (Article 58 § 1 and 1a, FGC). Moreover, if the best interests of the child so require, the court, in a judgment establishing the child's parentage, may decide to suspend, limit or deprive one or both parents of their parentage (Article 93 § 2 of the FGC). Parental authority itself should be exercised as required by both the good of a child and the public interest (Article 93 § of the FGC).  

An important normative act in the Polish legal system, in which the protection of the interests of minors is one of the key issues, is the Act on Family Support and Foster Care of June 9, 2011 (FSFC)[16]. In the preamble of the document, it is stated that the act was adopted, among others, for the benefit of children who need special protection and help from adults and the family environment, an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding, for the sake of their harmonious development and future independence in life, to ensure the protection of their rights and freedoms. The legislator grants a child a number of rights, including the right to care and upbringing in family forms of foster care if it is consistent with his/her best interests (Article 4(1) of the FSFC).  

The Ombudsman for Children is the institution intending to protect minors whose status was regulated in the Act of January 6, 200017. The Ombudsman protects children's rights and, when exercising his duties, is guided by the best interests of children and recognizes that the family is the natural environment for their development (Article 1(2) and (3) of the Act). Actions taken by the state involve not only central authorities’ activities but also the initiatives of a local government that is closest to excluded and poor families.  


Despite representing separate realities, the state and the Church are obliged to take mutual actions for the good of society, especially its fragile members – children. Taking care of minors’ good is an important space for creating mutual relations between the temporal community, which is the state, and the spiritual community represented by the Church. The vanishing of values ​​in the public area, with which the youngest members of our society could identify themselves, means that both entities cannot stop at only verbal declarations but should undertake real cooperation. It is particularly important in the case of people who commit acts of harming and sexually abusing children to be held to account. The parties should support victims of violence and objectively punish the committers. It should also be noticed that appropriate cooperation is based on mutual trust and respect. 


[1] Konstytucja duszpasterska o Kościele w świecie współczesnym, Gaudium et spes, - (access on: 13.01.2023). 

[2] W. Stojanowska, Dobro dziecka w aspekcie sprawowanej nad nim władzy rodzicielskiej, in: Studia nad Rodziną UKSW 2000/4/1(6), p. 63 (55-65).

[3] D. Klimkiewicz, K. Mazur, Ochrona małoletniego i dziecka w systemie prawnym Kościoła katolickiego, in: Biuletyn Stowarzyszenia Absolwentów i Przyjaciół Wydziału Prawa Katolickiego Uniwersytetu Lubelskiego 2023/XVIII/20(1), p. 141 (137-156).

[4] Papież Leon XIII - encyklika Arcanum divinae sapientiae z 14 II 1880 (access on: 13.01,2024).

[5] Codex Iuris Canonici Pii X Pontificis Maximi iussu digestus Benedicti Papae XV auctoritate  

promulgatus (27.05.1917), AAS 9 (1917), pars II, p. 1-593. 

[6] Papież Pius XI, encyklika Divini Illius Magistri - O chrześcijańskim wychowaniu młodzieży z 1929 r. - (access on: 13.01.2023).

[7] Deklaracja o wychowaniu chrześcijańskim Gravissimum educationis z 28 października 1965 r. - (access on: 14.01.2024.). 

[8] Dekret o apostolstwie świeckich Apostolicam actuositatem z 11 listopada 1965 r. - (access on: 14.01.2024.).

[9] Jan Paweł II, Deklaracja apostolska Familiaris consortio zz 22 listopada 1981 r. - ii_exh_19811122_familiaris-consortio.html (access on 14.01.2024.).

[10] Kongregacja Nauki Wiary, Normae de gravioribus delictis, - (access on:  14.01.2024.).

[11] Konferencja Episkopatu Polski, Wytyczne dotyczące wstępnego dochodzenia kanonicznego w przypadku oskarżeń duchownych o czyny przeciwko szóstemu przykazaniu Dekalogu z osobą niepełnoletnią poniżej osiemnastego roku życia z 8 października 2014 r. - (access on: 14.01.2024.).

[12] Konwencja o prawach dziecka, przyjęta przez Zgromadzenie Ogólne Narodów Zjednoczonych dnia 20 listopada 1989 r. (Dz. U.1991 r. nr 120 poz. 626.

[13] Konstytucja Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej z dnia 2 kwietnia 1997 r. (Dz. U. z 1997 r. nr 78, poz, 483 ze zm.).

[14] More: J. Kusztal, Zasada dobra dziecka w polskim systemie opieki nad dzieckiem, in: Studia Paedagogica Ignatiana [online]. 2021/ 24/2, p. 87–104. [acces on: 14.01.2024.).

[15] Ustawa z dnia 25 lutego 1964 r.,  Kodeks rodzinny i opiekuńczy. (t.j. Dz. U. z 2023 r. poz. 2809.).

[16] Ustawa z dnia 9 czerwca 2011 r. o wspieraniu rodziny i systemie pieczy zastępczej (t.j. Dz. U. z 2023 r. poz. 1426, 1429.). 


Normative acts 

Konstytucja Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej z dnia 2 kwietnia 1997 r. (Dz. U. z 1997 r. nr 78, poz, 483 ze zm.); 

Konwencja o prawach dziecka, przyjęta przez Zgromadzenie Ogólne Narodów Zjednoczonych dnia 20 listopada 1989 r. (Dz. U.1991 r. nr 120 poz. 626); 

Ustawa z dnia 25 lutego 1964 r.,  Kodeks rodzinny i opiekuńczy. (t.j. Dz. U. z 2023 r. poz. 2809.); 

Ustawa z dnia 6 stycznia 2000 r. o Rzeczniku Praw Dziecka (t.j. Dz. U. z 2023 r. poz. 292.); 

Ustawa z dnia 9 czerwca 2011 r. o wspieraniu rodziny i systemie pieczy zastępczej (t.j. Dz. U. z 2023 r. poz. 1426, 1429.). 


Church documents


Codex Iuris Canonici Pii X Pontificis Maximi iussu digestus Benedicti Papae XV auctoritate promulgatus (27.05.1917), AAS 9 (1917), pars II, p. 1-593; 

Deklaracja o wychowaniu chrześcijańskim Gravissimum educationis z 28 października 1965 r. - (access on: 14.01.2024.); 

Dekret o apostolstwie świeckich Apostolicam actuositatem z 11 listopada 1965 r. - (access on: 14.01.2024.); 

Jan Paweł II, Deklaracja apostolska Familiaris consortio zz 22 listopada 1981 r. - ii_exh_19811122_familiaris-consortio.html (access on 14.01.2024.). 

Konferencja Episkopatu Polski, Wytyczne dotyczące wstępnego dochodzenia kanonicznego w przypadku oskarżeń duchownych o czyny przeciwko szóstemu przykazaniu Dekalogu z osobą niepełnoletnią poniżej osiemnastego roku życia z 8 października 2014 r. - (access on: 14.01.2024.). 

Kongregacja Nauki Wiary, Normae de gravioribus delictis, - (access on:  14.01.2024.). 

Konstytucja duszpasterska o Kościele w świecie współczesnym, Gaudium et spes z 7 grudnia 1965 r. - (access on: 13.01.2023); 

Papież Leon XIII - encyklika Arcanum divinae sapientiae z 14 II 1880 (access on: 13.01,2024); 

Papież Pius XI, encyklika Divini Illius Magistri - O chrześcijańskim wychowaniu młodzieży z 1929 r. - (access on: 13.01.2023); 




Klimkiewicz D., Mazur K., Ochrona małoletniego i dziecka w systemie prawnym Kościoła katolickiego, w: Biuletyn Stowarzyszenia Absolwentów i Przyjaciół Wydziału Prawa Katolickiego Uniwersytetu Lubelskiego 2023/XVIII/20(1), p. 137-156;  

Kusztal J., Zasada dobra dziecka w polskim systemie opieki nad dzieckiem, in: Studia Paedagogica Ignatiana [online]. 2021/ 24/2, p. 87–104. [access on: 14.01.2024.); 

Stojanowska W., Dobro dziecka w aspekcie sprawowanej nad nim władzy rodzicielskiej, in: Studnia nad Rodziną UKSW 2000/4/1(6), p. 55-65. 



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