Should the Church deal with politics?
Krzysztof Jan Dracz talks to Lech Stefan, vice-chairman of the Association 'Pro Cultura Catholica', opposition activist of the Lower Silesia Solidarity Trade Union, president of the former Catholic Election Action in Wroclaw.
Krzysztof Jan Dracz: - Let us begin with some fundamental question. What is politics?
Lech Stefan: - The social teaching of the Church speaks about two meanings of politics. Firstly, politics is participation or aspiration to wield power over the country or power in self-government structures and secondly, politics is aspiration for the common good. Both meanings are closely related. Furthermore, one can say that politics is the method to manage all fields of social life and when it is properly exercised it serves the good of the society.
- During the period of the Polish People's Republic the Church was accused of meddling in politics. Wielding power was most important to the communists. Other functions of politics and the good of the society were secondary. The communists assumed power by force. Now times have changed but the complex of 'meddling in politics' has remained. One should give it up. How should the Church, first of all I mean bishops and priests, react to the coming parliamentary and presidential elections?
- In the light of the above mentioned definition the answer seems to be obvious. George Weigel, Catholic American theologian, author of the bestseller Witness to Hope: The Biography of John Paul II, said that Catholic bishops should take a firm stand on the most important political and social issues. Furthermore, they should also take part in political and social life. About a year ago Archbishop Jozef Michalik said, as Prof. J.R. Nowak reminded us in the programme 'Incomplete Conversations' on 30 July 2005, that the Church would meddle in politics. The Church must engage with politics, not only in Poland, but in the world as well, because the Church must take the side of justice, must take the side of the inflicted, the humiliated, and there are crowds of such people in Poland. Without the help of the Church, without her significant role in this respect, it will be difficult to win the battle for just Poland.
- We can find many examples of the involvement of the hierarchical Church in political issues when we look at the activities of the Primate of the Millennium.
- One can ask the question: Would Poland without Cardinal Wyszynski be Poland? I cannot imagine that. The activities of that great Priest and Pole saved Christianity in our fatherland and contributed to our independence to a great extent. The magnificent achievements of Primate Wyszynski are subjects of numerous publications and researches. I will leave them to professionals and I would like to focus the Readers' attention on the extraordinary synthetic work by Prof. J. R. Nowak entitled Stefan Kardynal Wyszynski. Aby Polska Polska byla (Wybor mysli o Narodzie) [Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski. So that Poland is Poland (A Selection of Thoughts about the Nation)]. Let me allow to quote two statements of the Primate of the Millennium, [...] the great misfortunate of our present times is that among very eloquent people there are many deaf people who are afraid of telling the truth, of revealing what they think. They are everywhere, not excluding university chairs... (1974).
[...] let us remember that people with old habits will not restore the fatherland. Christ demanded that when he said, "no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined". If new wine is being made in Poland now, one should remember that it should be poured into new souls, new hearts, new thoughts, healthy social will. Only then our fatherland can rise, recover from this misfortune... (1981).
- This is past now, but currently, is the voice of our shepherds heard quiet clearly? After all, present times are not easy; one can say they are equally difficult as in the past. Poland faces new challenges and the elections are in several weeks' time. What appeal could we make to our shepherds?
- Poland and the world face numerous difficulties and threats. For a long time many specialists would have to discuss them, analyse them and search for necessary solutions. Europe is said to be aging. People speak about manipulations, which are increased by insatiable lust for possessions, profit and power; people speak about the de-Christianisation of Europe and of the world or even about the death of the West. One can continue this list but this is not what we should do now. One can say frankly that the Catholic Church and many priests speak and write about that. Our late and most regretted John Paul II dealt with those issues in his numerous encyclicals, addresses and various ecclesiastical documents. The present Pope Benedict XVI also speaks about the crises we can see ourselves. Many bishops, religious and priests - professors have expressed their concerns for man, the Church, Poland and future of the world in their excellent speeches and texts. Despite their teachings Poles are still confused and stupefied by the post-communist and liberal media. We need help but I got the impression that some bishops and priests do not share the above-mentioned concerns. They do not give a strong opinion at important moments. In the situation of mixed ideas, exaggerated egoism of politicians and parties we need reasonable opinions very much. We would need fatherly admonitions and appeal to hearts and minds. And voters are in need of directions, which would let them make proper decisions. They must know what is exactly hidden behind some fashionable ideas and what political forces support them.
What appeal can we lodge to our shepherds, bishops, parish priests, all diocesan and religious priests? Dear brothers, do not avoid the question of elections! It is our common Polish matter. The elections we will win are a chance for another, worthier life of our society. Much depends on you. Your means of social communication is the pulpit. One should tell people that they should vote and one should tell them how to vote because in the light of what is going on in our country, they have the right not to know or to depend on false judgements. One should help people and Poland.
- The Church is also the faithful. What are the consequences for politicians and voters in the times of elections, resulting from the fact that they are Catholics?
- Christian politicians should follow the social teaching of the Church, seek and promote such solutions that do not come into conflict with the faith and views. Taking decisions they must remember that Poland's interest is more important than their own interests or the interests of their parties. Personal animosity and prejudice should not decide to establish new parties with very similar programmes. Leaders should be tough and consistent in their defence of values and Poland's interest, and they should not be domineering, dictatorial or arrogant; they should not prefer the interest of their parties to the good of their fatherland. Unfortunately, in the political Polish scene the parties, which we would like to describe as patriotic-Christian, commit an unforgivable sin. I begin to doubt whether these parties are patriotic and Christian.
And the Catholic voters? Everybody, regardless of his/her education, should be active. You must read, listen to and ask right people. You should collect information from trustworthy sources and do not only rely on what is shown on television or what can be read in 'Gazeta Wyborcza'. 'Subdue the earth' following Christian principles which our culture come from! Let us not behave as if we were not concerned with everything around us. As Catholics we cannot escape from reality. In these elections we have the chance to change the post-communist reality, which has lasted so far, and the chance to reject the liberalization of our principles and social life.
- Can we speak about more concrete decisions in making political choices today?
- It is too early. I promise to do that in our next conversations.
- Thank you very much. I will end by reflecting that the Church has always been Poland's anchor and today we expect her to be a lodestar as well.