Lidia Dudkiewicz talks with archbishop Stanisław Gądecki – the Chair of the polish Episcopal Conference

LIDIA DUDKIEWICZ: - The pastoral year 2013/14 is finishing, so there is an occasion to sum up most important issues for our Church and the nation. And here we must refer to the visit ‘Ad limina Apostolorum’ of Polish bishops, which took place in February 2014. As always, during such visits in Vatican, it was possible to have a broader look at the Church in Poland. The Holy Father Francis, in his speech addressed to the Polish Episcopate, expressed his recognition for works of the Church in Poland. How did Archbishop accept the content included in this papal speech?

ARCHBISHOP STANISŁAW GĄDECKI: - Our visit ‘Ad limina Apostolorum’ took place somehow on the eve of the canonization of John Paul II. Pope Francis reminded us, and through us to the whole Church in Poland, about a valuable gift of the person of the Pope and his work. For years of the pontificate of St. John Paul II, some critics of the Church in Poland accused us of a strong relationship with the Pope, and a kind of emotional addiction. This natural relationship was and remains our strength. Faithfulness to the message of John Paul II should still build the Church. Similarly as faithfulness to teaching of Benedict XVI or pope Francis.
On the occasion of such meetings, as the visit ‘Ad limina’, when we listen to words of other popes, we get convinced that the strength and beauty of the Church is faithfulness to the Spirit of the Truth, not rush for the spirit of time.
During our visit ‘Ad limina’ pope Francis emphasized valuing faith, prayer, mercifulness and Christian practice, participation in sacraments, initiatives in the sphere of new evangelization and catechesis, charity and social activity, ‘satisfying number of priestly vocations’. Let’s note that these values are priorities of the Church since the apostolic times till now.
If we find a tone of acknowledgement for works of the Church in Poland in the papal words, we must simply recall ourselves the words of Christ, who encouraged us to remember that we are useless servants, and the task of a servant is faithfulness. Papal words reminded us about the need of unchangeable faithfulness to Christ and the Gospel.

– In a speech of the Holy Father addressed to Polish bishops we find clear pastoral indications, which concern care about families and about poor people, care about human and spiritual formation of seminarians, care about convent vocations, about catechesis… What tasks were given by pope Francis to Polish bishops?

– The Holy Father gave us family as the first task – ‘the basic cell of the society’. ‘The place where the man learns to live in variety and belonging to others and where parents pass faith to their children’ (‘Evangelii Gaudium’, 66). He noted ‘today marriage is often considered as a form of emotional gratification which can be set in any way and changed regarding sensitivity of everybody’. Pope Francis clearly emphasizes in these words that marriage is not a free construction, based on emotions or willingness of people interested in it. It is a social institution which has a character of sacrament for believers. It means a definite objection towards all tendencies breaching this institution – towards the plague of divorces, separations and also pseudo-legal initiatives, which are aimed at legalization of new forms of life under the cover of marriage.
However, what is characteristic for teaching of the Church, and what the Holy Father Francis reminds about in a consistent way, is the fact of explicitly negative evaluation of phenomena and explicit care of the man touched by these phenomena. Therefore Pope strongly asked the question: ‘How can we help families to live and appreciate both moments of joy and moments of pain and weakness?’ which is an appeal to our pastoral ministry for searching for new forms of spiritual, intellectual and social help for spouses and people getting prepared for marriage.
The next accent laid by pope Francis concerned the youth and vocations for priesthood and consecrated life. One can point to the first and another case that Pope accentuated the role of a testimony – catechesis and pastoral ministry of the youth cannot be only a lecture of the faith truths, but their existential message which results from the character of Christianity which is a community of disciples, witnesses of Christ, not an institution expressing some theories or values.
Care about priestly and convent vocations is mainly care about authenticity of life of the called. It is not a new requirement, pope Francis quoted in this fragment words of John Paul II from his meeting with clerics, priests and monks in Poland in 1987: ‘We, priest of Christ, are expected to be faithful to the example which he left to us; so that we could be for others. And if we ‘have, we should have something for others. Especially that when we have, we have something from others (…) . A style of life of the average and poor family’(speech addressed to alumni, priests and monks, Szczecin, 11 June 1987).
The pronouncement of pope Francis called for mercifulness towards poor people. In this category the Holy Father mentioned, among the others, the unemployed, but also families with many children. It is easy to notice that this is a call for cooperating in the sphere of what is the subject of the social policy. This is a domain of a country but also non-governmental institutions. In this sphere the Church has always played a significant role. Now we have received an additional impulse to work.

– From time to time media try to oppose the Church in Poland to pope Francis. Surely we feel very bad as it results from the news, but is it so good that reforms are not necessary? What spheres of the Church life require deeper reflection or maybe even correction?

– Directly after the meeting about we are talking, archbishop Marek Jędraszewski, referring to the words of pope Francis, said: ‘Francis said about three most important sins of media. Firstly – they tell only half of the truth, so they bring misinformation; secondly – they are throwing calumnies at people; thirdly – they are attacking those who deserve respect in order to deprive them of authority’. The true value of these words is, unfortunately confirmed too often by a lot of not mass media, but ideological media.
Emphasizing manipulation of some media does not mean uncritical self-awareness of the Church. On contrary, the Church idolizes the principle ‘Ecclesia semper reformanda’ (Church should be reformed all the time). We are aware of our own sins. In everyday Holy Mass, a priest celebrating it, says: ‘….do not mind our sins, but faith of your Church’. So, there is awareness of evil and sins, but less than experience of faith. A road for repair, a reform is a sphere of upbringing, spiritual renewal through retreats, symposia, educational programs. Every year we undertake this kind of reflections, like the ones during priestly retreats. We are stimulated to renew our contacts with God, to cooperate with laymen better, to live an authentic life or give testimonies as people of the Church.

– In June 2014, during the 365th plenary meeting of the Polish Episcopate, bishops noted that in the current cultural context a new image of atheism had appeared, which is hostile to believers. Some political parties expose it on their flags. What are signs of this phenomenon?

– In a message from the earlier-mentioned conference bishops wrote that ‘at the present cultural context there are less and less place for objective and universal values and the dictatorship of relativism, political correctness and new images of atheism hostile to believers take over voice’.
These are explicit words and an explicit opinion. However, they are preceded not by condemnation so much but by a kind of sadness. Escalation of atheism and anti-Catholicism is connected with a kind of amnesia – loss of memory about the role of God and Church in history of Poland. We must remind in the name of historical truth that what happened in Poland, starting with the 80s of the last century, is also an action of God in the history. Paraphrasing words of John Paul II about Jasna Góra, we can say about the Church: ‘Here we have always been free’. Rejecting this truth is dishonesty. Certainly, nobody questions the presence of nonbelievers in the social and political life, but aggressive atheism which challenges a fight to God and Church under the cover of a modern country, proves a kind of primitivism. We see this primitivism in voices about breaking the concordat, in voices questioning the significance of teaching religion at schools, in miserable discussions on salaries of priests, nuns, lay catechists. The forms of this aggression are seen especially in legislative attempts whose aim is to fight against the institution of marriage. A similar sign is a fight with life. Pathology is trying to became a norm.

– In the last months media were interested in doctors who decided to sign the Faith Declaration. Bishops treated it as a serious gesture being an expression of defending right to the freedom of conscience. Later time for Faith of Declaration of teachers arrived. In August 2014 in a statement edited on this occasion Archbishop wrote: ‘When there is a conflict between a well-formed conscience and statutory law, a citizen has a right to conscience objection’. In the statement of the 366th plenary meeting of the Polish Episcopal Conference in October 2014, we read: ‘A man of faith discovers God’s voice in his conscience, which calls him to behave righteously’. Can we say after revealing this brave activity of particular social groups that in Poland ‘a sleepy giant’, that is, Catholic laity is waking up?

– I will remind the words of the message of the Polish Episcopal Conference again: ‘Bishops thanked to employees of the Health Service for a courageous gesture of defending the right to the conscience freedom. The declaration confirms an unusual value of human life guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is also compatible with the authentically understood vow of Hippocrates. (…) Right for life is also included in the Constitution, so it is the fundament of the legal order. For these reasons, aggression directed against doctors signatories of the Declaration is not only unclear but also unacceptable’.
The conflict which was caused in relation to the Declaration, proves a civilization fight. So, it is inscribed in the issue touched on earlier in our talk – aggressive atheism or hidden atheism.
Moreover, the whole situation reveals an increasing need of lay Catholics for clear defining identity, although in our times questions about identity become inconvenient and unpopular. Whereas the man without identity is not himself, but becomes the subject vulnerable to manipulation.
I would like to express deep respect again to those who become witnesses of the righteous conscience in our reality. We are supposed to be witnesses everywhere, regardless of whether these declarations formally exist or not. The Faith Declaration should be a determinant of work of doctors, pharmacists, teachers and also politicians, media people – everyone. It is a valuable thing that finally we have become aware that ‘Poland is [still] calling for people of conscience’. These are just them on whom the future of our Homeland depends!

– One day the hierarchical Church claimed for freedom and rights of citizens, so, maybe now it is time faith was defended by laymen in the public space?

– Indeed, once it was the hierarchical Church which claimed for freedom and rights of citizens. We had such conditions: a nondemocratic country, lack of non-regime media, lack of possibility for real active functioning of laymen. The Church of that epoch somehow spoke on behalf of laymen.
Today there are much more possibilities - democratic spaces of life are broadened (although we know that we have to claim for them). It is high time Christian laymen were engaged in the life of the society more actively – through political, media, legislative activity, self-governing and nongovernmental initiatives. In this way our ecclesiastical identity gets strengthened.


„Niedziela” 47/2014

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: