Polish Catholicism as Trend-Setter in the Christian West?

Nearly all Poles view with bemusement the efforts of the Russian rightist Vladimir Zhirinovsky to create a pan-Slavic nation.  "That's an Orthodox concept," Andrzej Wojtowicz, Director of the Polish Ecumenical Council, explains.  "But Polish Catholics are very receptive to the idea of 'evangelizing' Europe.  We Protestants though understand 'evangelization' quite differently."


Klaus Bachmann, a German journalist, reports that Polish conservatives "view Poland as trend-setter of the Christian West, as a final bulwark against godlessness.  They regard present-day paganism to be emanating from the West."  Bachmann calls "Radio Marija", a church-owned radio station broadcasting from Torun, the "besieged fortress" of Poland's traditionalist movement.  Since the fall of Communism, both the Catholic hierarchy and its secularist opponents have felt besieged by opposing forces.  Conservative circles suspicion both Jews and Masons of plotting conspiracies against Christian Poland.


Catholics see themselves as the Christian church of Poland per se.  Because 90% of the Polish population remains registered as Catholics, the Catholic hierarchy has regarded its own positions to be identical with those of the democratic majority.  This statement of "democratic will" has political consequences: According to Bogdan Tranda, pastor of Warsaw's Reformed congregation, "The Catholic hierarchy remains convinced they possess the moral truth, and that this moral truth needs to be transformed into state law."


Even Andrzej Grzegorczyk, a Catholic philosophy professor and pacifist, believes the religious views of the majority should be privileged.  "Everyone can accept the defense of Christian values in the media," he claims.  "If the media do not teach positive values and educate the people, then demoralization will occur.  We need a new kind of Christian censorship, though it should not be a specifically Roman Catholic one.  The issue of good taste is at stake."


Yet elections last October document the growing divide between the church hierarchy and laity.  As a result of those elections, the national-Catholic parties have disappeared from parliament and are being forced to regroup.


Secularist author Piotr Szczypiorski believes election results have proven that the masses reject a confessional state.  "The Poles have long struggled for freedom, and now they finally possess it," he writes.  "They are defending this freedom vehemently, almost angrily.  Anyone who will again try to limit human and civil rights is bound to lose the confidence of society."


Tadeusz Pieronek, General Secretary of the Polish Bishop's Conference, concedes that Poland's future may look increasingly Italian, containing both a highly secularized society and a mighty church.  "We don't have the strong Christian-Democratic party they do," Pieronek adds.  "But the church in Poland has lost its monopoly as a social institution."


Bill Yoder

Berlin, April 13, 1994


Article written for „Christianity Today“ near Chicago, 435 words.