A simple report or an inspired synthesis?
Cardinal Stanisław Nagy
Archbishop Józef Michalik chose prominent publicists of the young generation: Grzegorz Górny and Tomasz P. Terlikowski as his co-operators in preparing the ‘Report about the state of faith in Poland’. Nothing more was needed from the point of professionalism: an experienced expert of the issue and how demanding control!
Report and an inspired synthesis
As Grzegorz Górny and Tomasz P. Terlikowski admit in the Introduction to the picture of the Polish Church after century of Hitler’s and communist captivity outlined by the Representative of the Episcopal Conference, the ‘Report’ is not only a professional document but a document written from the perspective of faith. And it was a historical attempt of a fierce, by fair means or foul, fight against the Church.
The ‘Report’ is also something much more, because ‘an inspired synthesis’ of this strange time of the Church in Poland., a bad time for Poles and their Church, struggling with brutal communist violence which has got inscribed in the history of Poles with a sea of poured blood, and a part of the Nation was hurt by a poison of the crazy ideology and got stuck in servilism and the empire of evil. And in this situation, the Polish Church became an inseparable companion of the Nation sentenced to extermination finally, like the Church. And this fatal struggle of the Nation and the Church with the merciless regime lasted nearly half a century. So, there came time to sum up this period – not only in the dimension of a statistic-social description of what could be seen by a penetrating reason but also what could be seen by a lively faith. The modest attempt of evaluation of this prominent literary work will be taken in the order given by its author in the successive chapters with a global summary at the end of the book.
‘Status quo’ after a fatal attempt of twenty years
The encounter of the Church in Poland in the years 1945-79 was one of the encounters in its dramaturgy throughout the whole millennium. Atheistic and irreligious colossus, wholly armed, adamant and inhuman, fell onto the bloody nation, decimated by the Nazis occupation. And it had all means of breaking resistance in its destroying violence, from a pyramidal lie to various ways of extermination. The first months after the war were cynically formed into an idyll of cooperation – the symbol was Corpus Christi with Bierut in a procession – and then there were Stalin’s years of a merciless fight against the nation. The starting point for the description of this close-order is the answer by Archbishop to the question whether and how the Church in Poland came out of this hard attempt of opposition expressed against the enormity of communism. The answer is closed in a concisely formed thesis: ‘victory, although the fight is still going on’. The first part of this thesis sounds quite optimistic but does it sound in a fully reasonable way? The situation of the Church in Poland after its frontal clash with the colossus of the atheistic communism is not surely the same as the powerful Churches in Belgium and Holland used to be after their clash with the freemasons’ liberalism. The churches there have been empty monuments till now and Christian life has nearly evaporated. In Poland old and new churches have appeared on ruins like mushrooms after rain. And this is a very real and touchable victory. However, it is not deprived of the word ‘but’. Hard-working and penetrating consultants overwhelmed the Venerable Master of trips to allegedly post-communist Poland with statistical as well as existential-social data which prove the radical variation in the countryside, city, in the North and Northern West of the country. We can see with a bare eye that Przemyśl, Rzeszów, Tarnów are nearly a different religious world than Szczecin, Kołobrzeg or Gorzów Wlkp. That’s true that there appeared extirpation, forced wandering to foreign places and starting completely from the beginning. But hasn’t the poison of the false ideology got into this existential emptiness and didn’t it freeze modest grains of religiousness?
There is the second part of the concisely expressed diagnosis: ‘the fight is still going on’. It is not only going on but is getting stronger anew so that archbishop Gółdź uses the shocking terminology ‘neo-bolshevism’ or ‘recidivist’. It is difficult not to say he is right especially from the perspective of the action of Palikot and the phenomenon of Palikotism. However, we have our valuable experience of the past at our disposal beside the whole solemnity of the situation.
Leaders of the communist violence on way through the ‘red sea’
The Polish Church of that time was not a chaotic crowd. Its pastoral backbone connected many prophetic people who, keeping the fates of the exhausted nation, irrevocably led the Church. These people were great cardinals: August Hlond, Stefan Wyszyński and Karol Wojtyła – Blessed John Paul II.
Archbishop sufficiently takes up the matter of these last two, and not without any suggestion of his consultants who are the echo of questions going through Poland; and the question referring to Cardinal Wyszyński: Is he repeatable? What was his uniqueness, his irresistible prestige in the Polish Episcopate, in his role of the chief leader and also his strategy in the war? Referring to the role of the Primate of Millennium as a strategist, Archbishop notes his theoretical sociological preparation which made it easy for him to counteract crazy actions of the communist propaganda in an effective way.
Another prophetic person of the Polish Church in the communist century, whom the ‘Report’ devotes a lot of attention, is the cardinal from Kraków, and, finally, Pope – Blessed John Paul II. The Cardinal from Krakow was not an unfamiliar person for the young visitor in the Eternal City, later a rector of the Polish College – but friendly relationship started between them at that time which later changed into a sincere friendship. The special occasion for tightening their relationship was the bishop’s sacra given to the young rector of the important College. Since then their contacts not only had been strengthened but also enriched. The question asked to Archbishop by his co-operators was, certainly, the question: what has remained after Polish pilgrimages, after 27-year-old pontificate of Blessed John Paul II who passed away for Heavenly Father’s Home? Archbishop withdraws under the pressure of facts that Polish Catholicism agrees on breaching obvious canons of sexual ethics of John Paul II, when being carried by a wave of human weakness, growing media commotion but he is still under the impression of the exceptional personality of John Paul II and giving the matter to the nation. And moreover, the retreats, which were experienced by the nation on the days of the death and funeral and shortly after the triumph of beatification, left a permanent mark on Poles who think in a Polish way.
But the Primate of the Millennium passed away, John Paul II passed away – Pope the Great and....
After passing away of Prophets
When these two bright suns stopped shining on the horizon of Poland and the Polish Church which had showed a path, radiated with strength, guaranteed support and coherence, there appeared doubts and questions: will this Church survive without the strong hand of Cardinal Wyszyński and will it maintain as a monolith which will be capable of directing the war against the growing secularization and whether will it maintain the spiritual efficiency after the powerful Pope passed away who had been the support of the spiritual efficiency through his rich pontificate?
These questions were asked more and more frequently both from outside and inside the Church. They could not be unheard by an experienced local shepherd and later long-time representatives of the Polish Episcopal Conference. He was forbidden that by penetrating and well-informed consultants. The rich statistical material quoted by them made an impression on the high dignitary of the Church responsible for its coherence and dynamics. Priest Archbishop is not surprised by the first or another, and he is neither worried nor shocked. Although we must admit that the death of the Great Primate of the Millennium, who has been the main guarantor of the exemplary coherence of the Church in Poland recently, coincided dangerously with the assassination on Pope who often returned to the country after his recovery. And, moreover, he had various contacts with this country. Archbishop Michalik is fully aware of the fact that the era of the Primate – the papal legate after the Vatican Council has gone to the past not only because of the change of the social and political situation in Poland but, first of all, the change of the ecclesiastical and organizational situation. The Vatican Council sanctioned the rule of collegiality, definitely defending the dignity and autonomy of a single bishop. And basing on these two principles priest Archbishop is solving a difficult problem of the functioning of the Episcopal Conference and autonomy of single bishops-ordinaries. The functioning of the Conference is in harmony and according to the rule of collegiality and this does not take away rights of individual shepherds, assuring variety and wealth of the collegial action of the Episcopal Conference on the ground of the faith unity and ethical discipline. Priest Archbishop treats the slogan popularized and invented by journalists unfriendly to the Church, about the division of the Polish Church into the Church in Toruń and Łagiewniki, as a primitive trick aiming at weakening the Church.
‘Grey infantry’ of the Polish clergy
Let’s start with the issue of the surprising number of vocations in Poland in comparison to the whole Europe. It is a real reason for our pride. It is an exceptional test of the state of the Church in Poland. Certainly, it has its dangers, demands and needs of programming. The extremely experienced archbishop- ordinary of the Przemyśl archdiocese knows about it all, and his diocese is participating in this Polish ‘area of vocations’, and the archbishop has been looking at the whole form of the Polish clergy for many years.
He knows how close Polish priests are to people, how they are seen in the Polish landscape and what positive influence it has on the growth of vocations. He notices a problem of a priest’s attire and it may be too demanding for some places, but the sad example in Spain and Holland fully justifies this concern in this respect.
Finally, there is, because it must be discussed, a problem of priestly vocations, and it concerns a problem of families which are mainly an environment favouring vocations. In this perspective, using his knowledge and wisdom, the author takes up the issue of vocations from divorced families and also a problem of the only children who join seminaries, with a painful, in this case, difficulty of their separation with beloved parents.
Lastly, there is an arch-painful matter of sexual perversions and their prudent solutions – when in the case of the conflict of fatherly priesthood, the fact that the Church is suffering is not as important as a child left without his father. There is a question: ‘How to prevent the separations?’ and there is a concise answer of the Archbishop: ‘We must pray more’, and ‘not forget about priestly asceticism’. A troublesome and complex problem is alcoholism, and there is a worse problem of sexual abuse among priests. Priest Archbishop bravely but humbly takes up the two issues and gives answers full of his pastoral care and resoluteness. But he warns against quick judgements leading to priestly breakdowns. In the case of pedophilia it is right to say: ‘Zero of tolerance’.
Laity – power waiting for its start
After the animation of the laity by the Vatican Council, after Pope – his enthusiasm, after solidarity demonstrations of possibilities among the seculars in the matter of the Church and after the period of the development of Catholic Intelligence Clubs, and, finally, after stating the fact that the laity in Poland is presented the best in Europe, this problem could not be omitted in the rapport about the Church in Poland. However, the experienced Pope is fully aware of existing weaknesses of this Polish laity such as, for example, aiming at interference into the areas of clear priestly mission, lack of deepening faith, a distance towards the Church in big cities and sometimes very big parishes. However, the solution of a big number of passive believers seems to be an incomplete solution in the ‘Rapport’. And how most right and fascinating is the sequence devoted to the family crisis and the problem of caring about the family. The great experience of religious practice of Archbishop Michalik is easily noticeable, his attitude towards families with many children raises respect, his attitude towards baptism of children from non-sacramental and non-believing couples is amazing. Finally, admiration is caused by the answer to the question about fates of the generation of John Paul II, with the reference to the pontificate of Benedict XVI and a big group of the faithful gathered on 1 May 2011 on the Day of Beatification of John Paul II.
After the onslaught of anti-catholic media against the Church
In the century of the painful encounter of the Church with the communist regime, the despotically used tool was mass media. The regime in this phase was an indisputable sovereign. Unfortunately, this state of the situation has survived till today after the nominal collapse of communism. The efforts of the Church bore some fruits in order to win this disastrous monopoly – about which I will say – but the overwhelming number of these media has maintained in the hands of environments unfavourable or even hostile to the Church. As a result, there appeared a distorted picture of the Church on the field of the fight against the Church; the miniature set of Catholic media were trying to oppose this picture. Among the newspapers of nationwide range, priest Archbishop mentions ‘Niedziela’ and ‘Gość Niedzielny’. He also adds other newspapers like: ‘Fronda’, ‘Arkana’, ‘Political Theology’, and ‘Christianitas’. He does not omit the role of the newspaper ‘Electoral Newspaper’ which is pioneering in its hostile attitude towards the Church. However, he treats the attitude of this environment too leniently, considering its material possibilities, especially skills of disguising in the sheep’s skin by an extremely wise super-censor friendly to the Church. This important chapter of the ‘Report’ is finished with a sequence concerning the environment of Radio Maryja with its founder Fr. Dr. Taduesz Rydzyk. Priest Archbishop appreciates the great good – how not to appreciate it! – connected with this astonishing initiative which managed to develop not only into the regularly edited ‘Our Journal’ and a well-functioning educational centre but also to introduce the valuable Catholic Television ‘Trwam’, which serves not only to the Church in Poland but also the Church all over the world. It is also worth to note the friendly attitude towards journalists who have a healthy moral backbone.
Church and politics
In the ‘Report’ there is also the accusation against the Church in the whole space of its time of occupation, and especially the time of post-occupation and post-communist fate. By copying the French revolution, there were attempts to push away religion life to a sacristy, take away its voice and lead it into slow death. Certainly, this game with the Church in Poland was not possible to carry out according to these classical canons. Priest Archbishop stands in the defence of the Christian right of voice in the matter of the common welfare, the right of the Church to defence of natural law against intervention of the country endangered by totalitarianism. He bravely touches on the issue of the inferiority of the law determined towards the law of nature, and, finally, he determines a rule of proceeding towards the state law.
Another gentle issue is a problem of engagement in the political activity, as well as the matter of declaration as Catholics by politicians, with exclusion of practising Catholicism during holding official posts. Priest Archbishop clearly quotes casus of the former Minister of Health, determines moral norms and ecclesiastical and legal process of behaviour.
The ‘report’ touches on the issue of engagement of the Church on the side of political parties and, certainly, it solves it in a sense of not connecting of the Church with any political party.
Finally, the ‘Report’ touches on the reappearing issue of re-vindication of the possession of the Church, which is far from a just solution, and which unjustly accuses the Church for this state of things.
This ending consists of three last chapters of the famous publication by Archbishop Michalik. Each of them has got its rich profile but also all the three chapters are a kind of supplement of the remaining ones. Paradoxically speaking, they deserve a separate detailed analysis, but on the other hand, they close the rich contents of this brave synthesis very well. We must be grateful for this synthesis for many reasons, from which the main fact is that its author is a man of a great pastoral experience and who has been looking at the matters of the Polish Church for years, from the heights of the Head of the Polish Episcopate. It gives a guarantee of high professionalism, prominent co-operators supported by a class, who do not hesitate to ask difficult questions although they are also very helpful through providing valuable statistical and sociological data. Most admiration is raised by the penetrating attitude towards complicated issues of the Church in Poland, connected with wide knowledge of the Roman head office, and also of the European ecclesiastical reality.
The brave attempt of describing the consequences of the historical clash between the Polish Church and the communist regime is a fully successful attempt which professionally sums up this difficult time, provokes to valuable reflections and dramatic questions. It is an accurate description of what was and is now, and also a prophetic perspective of the promising future.