POLAND IN THE EYES OF THE PRIMATE
Fr. Inf. Ireneusz Skubiś talks with archbishop Józef Kowalczyk about the world significance of the Church in Poland, a legal aspect of the so-called collective responsibility and the need of helping people become aware of the old method of the action of the prince of the darkness
FR. INF. IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ: - It has been over 30 years since great changes. How does Primate, who was a Vatican worker at that time and later an apostolic nuncio in Poland and the Primate now, evaluate this ‘spatium temporis’ - this time space? What road did Poland and Poles go along at that time?
ARCHBISHOP JÓZEF KOWALCZYK: - Undoubtedly Poland played an important role when it concerns the change of political systems in Middle-Eastern Europe, and also a change of some consciousness in the world. An important role was played first of all by the pope from Poland John Paul II. I remember his first encyclical written in a very short time after his election for the Holy See – in March 1979 entitled ‘Redemptoris Hominis’. It includes significant words that the man is a road of the Church.
We sometimes ask ourselves the question what Poland could give to the world. It turns out that a lot, first of all, a message and the attitude of blessed John Paul II. I asked the pope when he had time for these reflections and formulations. He used to say: I brought all this from Poland and put it down on paper. He used to give hope and spirit to the whole world, nobody doubted who he was for Poland and Poles, what he testified about and to what he predisposed everybody.
Changes which took place in the 80s of the XX century at the turn of the 80s and 90s and a social movement ‘Solidarity’ were also a fruit of this work of the Church for the sake of the man. However, when the system of real socialism started passing to the past, replaced by a different system, among some groups in Poland and abroad one could hear these words: we were fighting with communism and now we will fight with the Church. I think that these were the voices of some powers which declare in the world that they want to defend culture and humanism but in fact they want to realize ideals which were accompanying totalitarian systems of the XX century. Certainly, they were not successful. But today there are attempts to implement the same thing with a democratic method. Abortion, euthanasia, in vitro – so the breach of the human life, next: ‘wild capitalism’ deprived of any moral values, dictatorship of relativism. It is done not with a method of ‘dictatorship of proletariat’ but with the so called democratic new social consciousness – these are only a few examples of this kind of action. Also through this all which was expressed in discovering mysteries of the Security Office of the Institute of the National Remembrance, when the authority of bishops and priests was questioned, using unchecked information or slanders for fight with clergy. These actions often got onto a road which we know very well – increased attacks on the Church. It seems to me that some media do not care about defence of the Christian morality or a good of people, for example, in the case of the pedophilia among some priests, so shown publicly by some media. It is simply one of the ways whose purpose is to question the moral authority of the Church, destroy trustfulness in priests and the whole institution of the Catholic Church. I think that this short synthesis of some phenomena which we witness, gives an image, as some powers proclaiming ‘beautiful’ slogans in the period of real socialism, are acting today, but under a different sign. Also people calling themselves humanists and defenders of sufferers are fighting with Catholicism today, who define ‘opium for people’ as ‘opium populi’. However, we remember that when they were in a difficult situation, they were hiding themselves in a ‘shadow of a belfry or a sacristy’.
I must admit that when I arrived in Poland as a nuncio, I had already seen some positive cooperation of the Church with the state in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. It was autonomy – not dependence of the Church on the state, but cooperation for the sake of the common wealth. Later one could feel it – especially after the death of John Paul II – that the authority of the Pope in our Homeland and in the world is being diminished, that the chapter of the history is being slowly closed, in which his great role is seen, and there is much concentration on the emotional aspect, omitting his whole teaching and, not referring to the great heritage, which was left by Blessed John Paul II.
– Here I will recall one more situation when the illness and later death and the funeral of John Paul II united the world in such an incredible way, and at that time there appeared a thread which was to breach this sacrum of the Church and the person of the Pope – a slander about Fr. Konrada Hejmo OP who was bringing millions of Poles to the Holy Father, about his cooperation with the Security Service. Later similar slanders are addressed against priests as if they were devices of the Security Service in Poland. It is similar today. The canonization date of the Holy Father, so expected by everybody, was announced, but there is a frontal attack on the Church again.
– Because it is the same method, but only a different dimension of the social consciousness and other circumstances. The basic purpose is the same. Today we hear that there is too much Church in the country, that it has too high authority in Poland, so in terms of all these ways – the real and unreal ones, when it is all about facts – there are attempts to diminish the authority of the Church in Poland. It can also be perceived on the level of some EU structures where there are attempts to question the moral authority of the Church in the social opinion. So, the purpose is the same, but the methods are different and there are various means to achieve this purpose.
The Holy Father John Paul II was – I do not have any doubts about it – a clear and saint man. But Poles, unfortunately, are often led by emotions, less by the reason, surrendering to this kind of mentality. Once we wanted to satisfy the East, and today – the West, feeling a kind of a complex towards it. Whereas we do not have any reason to have any complexes, but, on the contrary, we have something to defend, we have values, which are searched in the world, but we only have to respect our dignity, our culture and the teaching of John Paul II, like other nations respect them. Poles – as a nation – should realize this fact. I think that in Poland there are a lot of excellent people. Unfortunately, a new consciousness is being created that the minority is right and has a right to impose their way of thinking onto the majority. And this is a kind of paradox again, which we have to face, which we have to unmask and have courage to do it publicly, not being afraid of being criticized on TV.
– In the Polish public space there is a topic about a priest who committed a serious act, although there have not been any judicial statements yet. Only some journalistic options are making a kind of self-evaluation here. The Archbishop is a lawyer and he knows that everything which is said in media is subject to legal qualifications.
– It raises my great amazement that the so-called fourth power in Poland, that is, mass media, lags behind journalistic ethics in some spheres so much. If one says about a crime or an alleged crime, then as long as investigation lasts and there has not been any verdict yet, the name and surname of a person accused of an offense is given in brief, even covering his/her face. But, whereas it concerns priests, about whom so much has been said in media recently, without any judicial statement, ‘a media verdict’ has already been given. How is it referred to ethics of media and similar cases concerning people from the world of sport, culture, army, etc. where in the case of an accusation of a committed crime, a face is covered and the surname is not revealed?...And if it turns out that accusations towards a priest have not been proved, then there is no rectification or there is only a laconic information put in between other news. I think that this method of procedure is inscribed into the whole strategy of fight with the Church with an assumed purpose in advance.
– Analyzing the Nuremberg Trial, where verdicts were made against war criminals – death penalty or other kinds of imprisonments – a group judgment was abolished, with the emphasis that responsibility for acts should be taken by the one who committed them. In Poland a few cases of pedophilia accusations were found per about 30 thousand priests - not proven with fully-legal judicial verdicts. But media announce that it is a feature of the whole Polish clergy that bishops and the Church in Poland should apologize for the sin of pedophilia. And it is just a group responsibility….
– Here it must be said clearly, with particular legal norms, that the Polish law – criminal and civil, including the canonical law – do not know the group responsibility for criminal acts of particular individuals. Every man, able-bodied and at the age of 18, if he exceeds a provision of criminal law, who is a criminal offender and charged with criminal liability, is being judged individually, regardless of being a priest or a layman, a high state officer or an ordinary farmer or a worker – he is being judged personally for a committed crime and bears its consequences. His family in which he was brought up do not bear responsibility, nor do his brothers or sisters, friends or people surrounding him. So, a particular person, who committed a crime is being judged.
In the Church this principle must be complied with and respected. I do not know for which reasons we hear today a loud opinion that not only a subject should be convicted for criminal acts by the authority and the Polish prosecution, but also a community, that is, a parish, religious Order or a diocese. This falsification of the legal norm and a willingness to achieve an intended purpose through misleading the public opinion is contradictory with honesty and righteous conscience, which we should live with. There is not any group responsibility – there is an individual responsibility. Well, if somebody was an accomplice in a crime with a particular person, he bears responsibility for the crime. But a particular person is responsible for a criminal act. And it is an objective truth, and if somebody explains it in a different way – he creates a new quality of legal culture to which he does not have any authority. Law is created and interpreted by competent institutions which are authorized to it; it cannot be done voluntarily, for a kind of a political or environmental need.
Literature says a lot about the individual and group responsibility. Therefore, I ask Poles not to let others persuade them into unsuitable opinions. Group responsibility for particular criminal acts of individuals who are able-bodied and at the age of 18 does not exist. Responsibility is individual. This is the interpretation of the Polish law and the ecclesiastical law.
Well, if somebody commits a crime, belonging to a community, he defames it, deprives it of a good name and when somebody of this community apologizes sufferers for something which happened, he does it in the name of a good name of his community. It does not influence mitigating the very act of a criminal. Whereas it has a moral significance, suggests that a particular community is ashamed of it because it respects ideals different from this breach which happened.
And in this sense we should understand the apology made by John Paul II in terms of the Jubilee Year of Christianity, apologizing for the acts which are acknowledged as bad and wicked in the past of the Church. It has not got any legal significance, but only the moral one, saying that we cut ourselves off these attitudes, that we are people who are realizing ideals breached with such acts. This is the way in which we should understand the apologies expressed by superiors of diocesan or order institutions.
– Don’t we touch on an important problem here concerning a bigger usage of Catholic media? In the society fed with alleged facts, which are presented as real facts, an anti-church opinion, far from objectivism is being created. Wouldn’t it be good to strengthen the position of the Catholic press in our parishes, in the consciousness of priests, because these titles are based on the truth about reality?
– I consider it as a very righteous hint and I agree with it. I had an occasion to be in various pastoral environments and I can say that in Poland there are crowds of excellent people, who are noble, but, unfortunately, we do not hear about them in mass media. Therefore, there should be places in Catholic newspapers for testimonies which Prelate Priest mentioned and people should read them. We are the majority but mass media do not notice it. There are even opinions that the Decalogue is something old-fashioned and the new one must be created.
In this all people who have discernment of Christian values and anti-values, should give their explicit testimony and Catholic press should present them, make them available and popularized.
– Today Internet, the medium, which often is superior than television brings many possibilities. Isn’t it necessary to encourage Catholic communities to cooperate in ministry of the Church through Internet?
– It is a great remark. The future of passing information belongs to Internet. This space becomes more and more open to evangelization, passing good and objective information and giving a testimony. Also for unmasking any kind of lies which are a method of acting of one which we call a prince of darkness, and in whose real existence many people do not believe. So, I will repeat again: the Church should be present in Internet, should use possibilities which it gives in order not to be ‘clever after a harm’. Therefore I am glad that there are many valuable Catholic websites, that dioceses and more and more parishes are present in the virtual space, that priests, convents, ecclesiastical communities of various kinds use this form of contact with believers. It is a good tool of evangelization, but on the condition that it will remain only a tool, not become a purpose itself.