What to follow, what to think...?
Fr Zbigniew Suchy talks to Archbishop Jozef Michalik of Przemysl, the President of the Polish Bishops’ Conference.
Fr Zbigniew Suchy: - The term ‘silly season’ was to define summer. The media wrote about beautiful landscapes, sunny hot weather. This time has gone. I must admit that I am no longer interested in seeking sense and discernment in press news. This is not a good testimony even for an amateur journalist. I was not interested in making questions. The inspiration of my request for this interview was the article in ‘Pastores’ written by Adam Szostkiewicz. My question to you will be taken from this article, ‘Today the biggest problem of the Polish Church as the institution is its transparency. The media present concrete matters and I, as a layman, would like those who are responsible for the Church, i.e. bishops, to be able to react quickly and clearly to what is going on at the time of crisis. The faithful deserve this... The Church in Poland does not need reforms but witness and transparency...’
Archbishop Jozef Michalik: - In spite of the critical statements I think that bishops in Poland do not neglect their roles to give moral and doctrinal instructions and some of us are even too much involved in concrete issues, which provokes our opponents to accuse us of partiality. I think that these are right reservations. It seems to me that time is coming or has already come that it will be believers themselves that must discern which bishops’ statement is the opinion of the Church and which is an expression of their private options or preferences. Unfortunately, most emotions and energy of the journalists are directed to side issues, e.g. to issues related to politics. But in this field I can also notice common sense of the nation that loses confidence in litigiousness or political cynicism, regardless of the colour of the party. The past months were not a time of silence or lack of witness from the side of the Bishops’ Conference or the bishops. Unlike the so-called citizen’s life summer months are not ‘silly season’ for the Church in Poland. This is a very intense time of various religious celebrations, and August is an especially rich month. Therefore, the bishops have been always active in the life of the Church. The Good News - its proclamation is our fundamental task, and we do not evade it. The interiorisation of the evangelistic message is not only the role of bishops who actually should become, through deeper and deeper meditation and prayers using God’s words, witnesses and people of transparency but also this is the role of laymen. In his ‘Apology’ Tertulian characterised the early Church, ‘Christians live in their own countries but only as guests and aliens. Every foreign nation is a homeland and every homeland is a foreign country to them.’ The fact that Rome opposed the Cross contributed to a bigger spread of Christian faith. How meaningful and relevant are the words of the great thinker! The month of August is over and so is the time of abstinence to which the bishops have challenged people for many years. And what? How many wedding receptions without any alcohol did we have? How many people responded to the bishops’ appeal? We do not know that. But we know that we must promote sobriety, one reason being that the number of car accidents caused by drunken drivers has increased as compared with the previous years.
The Church has not a wide offer of media and therefore, the Church seems not to be audible. And this is not true. Our task is and will be to warn, to admonish ‘welcome or unwelcome’ and to show a safe way although it is a difficult way.
Additionally, one must state it clearly, some bishops’ speeches are publicized with great pleasure and these are comfortable messages, which the press and the people, who usurp the right to create a picture of the reality on television, await. Bishop Edward Dajczak has attended, together with a large group of evangelisers, the youth meetings ‘Przystanek Jezus’ [Jesus Gathering]. And no one has reported about it. No one has written about the wonderful fruits of this effort. But the media are willing to publicize the incidental presence of some people at ‘Przystanek Woodstock’ [Woodstock Gathering] in order to blur the bishops’ stand concerning this demoralizing event. Did the people of good will realise that offering their ‘widow’s mite’ unintentionally support depravation of their grandchildren? The media have not reported about it.
- Let us continue the subject of evangelisation. After the last meeting of the bishops at Jasna Gora, which according to the media was allegedly stormy, the decision to remove Fr Tadeusz Rydzyk from his post was supposedly made. People started a commotion. What do you, as President of the Bishops’ Conference, think about that?
- Firstly, I am not the head of the bishops. My function is a service to the Church and I treat it this way. I deny the statement I have heard, concerning the stormy debate. During the press conference I said clearly that the issue would not be treated restrictively but with reference to other media (the Catholic ones) and both Radio Maryja and TV Trwam have been very successful and useful for the Church although they should show more concern for ecclesiality and their social involvement should not be identified with any political party since that would raise an understandable objection of Catholics belonging to other parties. Secondly, the announcement in the press concerning the alleged threat that the radio station poses is surely a wish of journalists. The statements of one of the listeners of Radio Maryja, spoken during the evening programme on 27 August, were quoted to me. The woman who phoned the programme could not imagine Radio Maryja to stop broadcasting. ‘I did not go to church for twenty years, I did not go to confession, thanks to an accidental contact with Radio Maryja I have returned to the Church.’ Can the work that yields such fruit stop functioning? And as far as Father Director is concerned - he is also sometimes very tired, living in constant stress and has gaffes that should be eliminated but has great achievements as well - he has become a public person and has taken on obligations. I mentioned that in my homily in Kalwaria Paclawska (it is a proof that the bishops do not remain silent), I said that a hunted man defends himself spontaneously, sometimes reacts nervously, inappropriately, and the task of the Redemptorists’ Provincial is to admonish, be watchful, help. It is also true that this broadcasting station and the newspaper are constantly under fire of frequent vulgar, harmful and unfair attacks. Sometimes they are even grotesque. Are we allowed to close a Catholic broadcasting station when every paper and television station passes judgement on religion and the Church? Would it be fair and morally justified to destroy the Catholic media environment that has been created and has been effective? If there is some lack one should repair it, improve the work, but not to eliminate it. And the Church has its ways to find a remedy. If society is terrified by the level of the programme broadcasted by this station, what social repairers claim, I will wait when this allegedly complaining society wakes up and begins appealing to eliminate at least two television programmes that are conducted by morally, and certainly mentally unbalanced people, whose norm is to humiliate the head of the state and the people who serve common good. It is waste of time speaking about demoralisation, which simply flows from the screen. Why is the part of society that is allegedly disgusted by Radio Maryja silent concerning this matter?
The other thing is that Radio Maryja cannot divide the Church in Poland into ‘ours’ and ‘yours’. It has signed agreements with most dioceses and should set the principles of the activities of the Radio Maryja Circles and should join the pastoral programme in particular years but these are after all internal matters, which journalists are not interested in. Let us say it honestly. Radio Maryja has become a social power in Poland and it has the right to be so but it will be wrong, and this is my personal conviction, if the radio wanted to be directly a political power. I will leave it to readers’ consideration.
- The crowning argument used against Radio Maryja is the accusation of political-party preferences...
- I will answer with a question. For some time you were responsible for our diocesan radio and even now you are conducting some programmes. During pro-life campaign would you invite people who are against it? And show me some stations that have no preferences. And this is not always connected with listeners’ preferences. On the contrary, this is a conscious influence on these listeners, often manipulation. Catholic radios have their principles that they must follow. They have their own axiology to which they must be faithful. They cannot disobey God’s commandments, spread moral relativism or proclaim hatred, etc. That concerns politics, too. It may happen that you may be mistaken about some people but it will be revealed with time and then these people will simply quit themselves. Please recollect our previous election: those who are now against Radio Maryja used to be invited to speak in its programmes but they made one condition: no phone calls from listeners. So what is the purpose of such a programme? Almost every day ‘Nasz Dziennik’ publishes statements of various options, including the SLD. And what mono-political attitude have we got here? Summing up, every columnist, every public speaker assumes that he is not the only one that creates media-preaching reality. We have listeners as well. And we should respect them. Otherwise listeners stop being active in the community of transmission. Catholic radios must take this into account since they do not have strong means at their disposal and it is the presence of listeners and readers that make them function. Only rich commercial stations manipulate listeners and viewers because they show no consideration for them, they have rich sponsors who are ready to pay any money in order to manipulate people. They transfer this experience to poor stations and their anger intensifies when these stations, in spite of their small financial outlays, gain more and more listeners, viewers or readers.
- I see that status quo remains in the matter in question...
- I have spoken about it for a long time. My desire is that Radio Maryja cares for its ecclesiastic character by deepening and implementing the teaching of the Church and through deeper contacts with the Bishops’ Conference. That does not endanger anyone and in the situations concerning social problems it guarantees exchange of views and richness of certain variety that does not clash with the norms of the Gospel at the same time.