The Church debate

There is no separation between Church and state in Poland. Since 1989 every Polish government is pro-Church. Different governments differ only by the degree of how pro-Church their leaders are. Even agnostic or non-believing leaders hide their religious beliefs. So why now the Church debate?

Leszek Jażdżewski on 3 May 2019

3 May 2019, Leszek Jażdżewski, the editor-in-chief of a liberal magazine LIBERTÉ takes the stage ahead of the momentous speech of Donald Tusk. Jażdżewski says: “The Polish Catholic Church, burdened with unexplained paedophile scandals, obsessed with the fight for money and influence, lost the moral mandate to exercise the power of the conscience of the nation”.

Soon afterwards, it is not Tusk, but Jażdżewski who is attacked by the right wing ‘hate machine‘. The ultra-conservative Radio Maryja sums up his speech on 4 May on its website as “a comparison of the Church to the swine, accusing the Church of betraying the Gospel“. “The Church is brutally attacked” writes the right-wing in one of some 50 articles on the issue. Other adjectives frequently used – ‘godless’, ‘impious’, it is an ‘anticlerical wave’, a new ‘hate towards the Church’. Tusk is accused ‘he had to know’ about the Jażdżewski Church critical words.

Church = Poland

Jarosław Kaczyński on 4 May 2019

4 May 2019 Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Law and Justice (PiS), says: “Whoever raises their hand on the Church raises their hand on Poland”. This way the PiS chair allows for the ‘defence of the Church’ from all those, who ‘attack’ the Church. Because as of now, attack on the Church is the attack on Poland.

Except, Leszek Jażdżewski defends his words. In a follow-up explanation interviews he says “if when we say that the Church today misappropriates the Gospel it is regarded as an attack on Christianity, then we can say that Jesus would go to jail today” he says in a liberal radio TOK FM and “the emperor has no clothes” on the liberal news television, TVN24.

An offence against the religious beliefs

6 May 2019, 6 AM, Płock. Elżbieta Podleśna, a local activist is arrested for her posters, considered offensive by the Catholic Church officials and Poland’s interior minister, Joachim Brudziński. The poster consists of the sacred image of the Holy Mary of Częstochowa with a rainbow halo over her and baby Jesus heads. The situation is well described in The Guardian here. And this is the poster:

Roman Imielski’s Twitter. Mr Imielski is a journalist.

The initial reactions: “her posters are offensive against Catholics”. In the afternoon, however, it becomes apparent that the police used excessive methods. Podleśna told reporters she was treated ‘like a criminal’, was supposed to be arrested overnight, but this was overturned after her defender appealed to the prosecution.

Later, the human rights defenders of the Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights argue that Podleśna should never be arrested. Instead, should there be a suspicion, as a locally known activist, she should be summoned to the police. Other human rights NGOs, like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also protested against Podleśna’s arrest.

The reactions

After Podleśna’s arrest the rainbow halos goes viral. The story is covered all around the world. If this is a provocation on the side of the LGBT activist, this is successful.

The same kind of reaction happened two weeks ago when the National Museum in Warsaw banned a few pieces of art from the exhibition due to ‘certain complaints’. The artists and the opposition run to defend the artist and the Museum reversed the decision. Here’s the controversial piece of art:

What do people think?

Probably most of the mainstream politicians and the media feel cornered. The minority issue (LGBT) tries to dominate the mainstream dominant force (the Church). What are the odds? If the Black Madonna of Częstochowa rainbow halo was truly offensive, there is no way this could be good news for the Polish opposition, I hear from quite a few mainstream politicians and commentators.

7 May,, a liberal investigative medium, publishes new data. might be young, but all the mainstream media read them, as they are the powerful source of information. In the analysis the information is mind-blowing: the opposition electorate is far more open towards the criticism of the role of the Catholic Church than the opposition politicians. There is a disconnect. According to

  • 85% of Civic Platform electorate thinks that bishops protect the perpetrators rather than the victims of paedophilia in the Church (PiS electorate – 36%);
  • 83% of them thinks that the Catholic masses should NOT be a part of official state celebrations (PiS 21%);
  • 80% supports liberalisation of abortion laws (PiS 21%);
  • 74% prefers for religion to be taught outside of schools in the parishes (PiS 20%);
  • 62% supports gay marriage (PiS 15%).

Civic Platform is the EPP member.

Clearly the PO electorate demands a separation of the state from the Church. Anticipating this situation, 6 May in Częstochowa, in front of the church with the portrait of Black Madonna, Robert Biedroń of Wiosna, demands separation of the two. Biedroń responds to the Law and Justice leader: “Whoever raises their hand on the Constitution raises their hand on Poles”.

Robert Biedroń and Łukasz Kohut, Spring’s MEP hopeful in Katowice
(region where Częstochowa is): the Bible and the Constitution separated.

The Church speaks

8 May, the Primate of Poland, archbishop Wojciech Polak reacts to the whole situation. Archbishop Polak says that the society is divided and the incident of Black Madonna and the political debates “arouse my pain and anxiety”. The Primate stresses that every person, regardless of their world view, professed principles, sexual orientation or religion, deserves respect, has the right to express their opinions and views.

However, the Primate note, “this right ends when their activity or message breaks freedom, sensitivity, hurts the feelings of another person and everything that is sacred to him. Therefore, there can be no consent to infringe, for whatever reason, what is not inviolable for particular people, social groups or denominations”.

The Primate also stressed that “no situation justifies actions that hurt the sensitivity of another person, or those that retaliate with dignity and a sense of security”.

Archbishop Polak stresses that the image of the Black Madonna “was, is and should remain a sign of unity and love even when these values ​​result not only from religious motives but are an expression of respect for the other person”.

Et alors?

There is no separation between Church and state in Poland. Many previous governments pretended for this to be the case. The current government does not. I talk to Leszek Jażdżewski as I try to comprehend better what he means… Mr Jażdżewski tells me a story of two Churches. “One is the open actor, compassionate and supporting the poor”, while at the same time there is “the political player that is intertwined with the power”. The “open and compassionate Church” is the one that expresses its views in media like liberal Gazeta Wyborcza or the liberal-conservative Tygodnik Powszechny weekly.

The Catholic Church has always been there, even at the Round Table in 1989. It role was that of a mediator. With time it gained a real power, estates, influence in politics and in education with the introduction of religion into schools. It’s role has changed, tells me the editor-in-chief of Liberte.

I can understand only one criticism of Leszek Jażdżewski words: “the Church” he criticises is the institutional, hierarchical organisation. For many others there is a different notion of “the Church”. For them, “the Church” means the community of believers. Hence criticism of the institutional Church could be misinterpreted as the criticism of the society, or even – the entire nation.

Still, Jażdżewski’s words are important and relevant. The Church (institution) is as powerful as ever. At the same time it has never been weaker. The Polish bishops response to the paedophilia scandal is ridiculous and unbelievable at the same time.

On 11 May the explosive new documentary film on the paedophilia in the Polish Catholic Church is released online. The topic is so controversial that nobody wanted to finance the film of Mr Sekielski, a famous journalist. Instead, the funding for the film has been collected with crowdfunding.

Here is the film:

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