A CLERICAL AND PRESENT DANGER by Mieczyslaw Maneli The Catholic Church is Polish democracy

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A CLERICAL AND PRESENT DANGER by Mieczyslaw Maneli The Catholic Church is Polish democracy's: (a) best friend; (b) worst enemy; or (c) both. How does this represent the threat of author- itarian reaction in post-communist Europe? The decline and fall of the Central and Eastern European communist regimes has been progressing much faster than any of us dared to anticipate. The profound and permanent economic crisis devastating the entire communist world has proven that without basic social and political change, those countries will be unable to solve the many problems--malnutrition, skyrocketing foreign debt, and the crying need for technological modernization, to name but three--which continue to plague their societies. It is with a bittersweet sense of satisfaction, therefore, that I recall the articles and books I wrote from 1956 to 1968 as a professor at Warsaw University, in which I argued that socialism without democracy was an unworkable system, that democracy and due process of law are not just social and political ideals but economic potential and power as well. At the time, these concepts were denounced as "revisionism," "defeatism," and "counterrevolution" and I was dismissed from the university. And yet today, witnessing the ruin of their kingdoms, the more rational communist leaders have had to recognize the elementary truth that without social freedoms, modern technology cannot develop or spread; without private initiative, the whole social and economic structure becomes stagnant. Suddenly the free market economies of the West have become the ideal, the new vision of paradise for the enslaved nations trying to liberate themselves. (Of course, here in the West we already know that a competitive, free market society is no paradise--affluence coexists all too easily with poverty, and anti-democratic or outright reactionary or totalitarian forces are constantly at work and often frighteningly influential.) As each of these countries moves into its post-communist phase, we will observe new versions of the traditional conflicts between freedom and persecution, democracy and despotism, parliamentarianism and authoritarianism. We will observe the struggle between newly acquired freedoms of religion and the never-extinguished fanatical clericism trying to arrest this new pluralism. We humanists should be aware that these newly liberated nations, these foundling democracies, can be particularly endangered by the right-wing authoritarianism espoused by the various fanatics of clerical or semi-fascist persuasion. The danger of this clerical authoritarianism is especially evident in Poland. In many respects, Poland is the most important country in the communist chain, having reached the highest levels of democratic development. Let us try to analyze the special role of the Catholic Church there. Over the last two years, a new era has dawned in the relations between the Polish communist government and the Roman Catholic Church, as well as in the relations between the Vatican and the Polish Catholic hierarchy and lay people. Today, therefore, it is again possible to speak about the Catholic Church of Poland instead of the Catholic Church in Poland. Slowly, slowly, the Gallic liberties prevailing in France, which were always anathema to the Successor of Peter, are moving eastward, to the most fidel of the fidels. Morbus gallicus ante portas; the Gallic sickness is before the gates. At the same time, dogmatic and intolerant traditionalist tendencies have been emerging among all levels of the Polish clergy. From the very inception of the communist regime in Poland in the years 1944 to 1945, the Polish government was aware that it could not blindly follow the Soviet example in its relationship with the Church and with those people who identified themselves as Poles and Catholics simultaneously. Although the new regime was reputed to be atheistic and hostile to religion, the government tried very hard to dispel those ideas and to persuade the people that it was friendly towards traditional religious beliefs. Priests and bishops were invited to participate in state ceremonies in Warsaw and other cities. Sometimes they were even asked to consecrate a new school building; for example, in June 1945, during the traditional Catholic procession of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, the communist mayor of Warsaw held the arm of the Bishop of Warsaw according to pre-war tradition. Of course, this was before Stalinization, the forceful imposition of Soviet economic, political, and ideological institutions and laws on the occupied nations of Eastern Europe. The first steps toward the Stalinization of Poland in 1948 put an end to such conviviality. Even so, in 1950 the Catholic Church and the Polish communist government signed an unprecedented accord outlining their mutual spheres of interest and cooperation. After further Stalinization, this accord was suspended. Many priests, including the Primate of Poland, were arrested and restrictions were placed on many aspects of the Church's existence. The first Polish "thaw" following Stalin's death in 1953 brought a warming of state-church relations, culminating in the fall of 1956 with "Polish October"--the first triumph of democratic and progressive trends in the Communist Party and government. It was also a serious--albeit temporary--defeat for the Natolingroup, which was made up of the pro-Stalinist, pro-Soviet, entrenched special interests of the Polish nomenclatura (the professional bureaucracy, army, and security establishments). Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, then Primate of Poland, was released from jail and personally driven to Warsaw by Zenon Kliszko, the number-two man in Gomulka's new Politburo. Although there were stormy months to come, the fundamentals of this new alliance not only endured, but broadened and deepened throughout the period from 1956 to 1989. Indeed, until 1989, every communist regime in Poland has owed its relative stability not only to the threat of Soviet tanks, but also to the moderating influence of the Catholic hierarchy in Poland. During the last two decades, and particularly in the dramatic years of 1968, 1970, 1980 to 1981, and finally 1988 to 1989, it was the Catholic Church which appealed to the political wisdom and spirit of moderation of the Polish nation. Throughout the last forty years, every well-read contemporary politician and every reasonable and enlightened student of Polish affairs or East-West relations has understood that any uprising of Polish patriots against the government would have resulted in a national disaster: cruel suppression of the rebellion, destruction of many cities and industrial plants, arrests and the partial extermination of the Polish intelligentsia, bloody terror against the Catholic Church, and severe reprisals against the clergy. On the other hand, every political crisis in Poland which was handled relatively peacefully by the government with the moral support of the Church has weakened the social, political, and moral basis of the Communist Party and strengthened the influence of the Catholic Church, thereby increasing her material strength and independence. Moreover, the election of a Polish Pope in 1978 effectively capped the creation of the strangest political superstructure in the world, a phenomenon unforeseen by Marx, Engels, Lenin, or anyone else. On the material basis of "socialist economic relations" the Communist Party built its political superstructure--the bureaucracy of the State and the Party apparatus--yet the ideological and moral elements of the superstructure were largely controlled by the Catholic Church and its lay agencies and clubs. Until recently, such a symbiosis was unique in the world. Moreover, it seems that the future pilgrimage of John Paul II to the Soviet Union will open up astounding new avenues of cooperation between obsolete communism and a church longing for rejuvenation. Now, with the advent of the new opposition government--its Catholic Prime Minister and predominantly Catholic parliamentary majority (total in the Senate, limited in the Sejm or lower chamber)--the reactionary forces within the Polish Catholic Church have been revived. Their object is to transform the new free Poland into a state run by obscurantist clerical authoritarianism. The main spokesman of this proverbial Ciemnogrod (Kingdom of Darkness, in Hobbesian terminology) is the current Primate of Poland, Cardinal Jozef Glemp. Over the years, social groups such as the Clubs of Catholic Intellectuals and Catholic publications such as Znak (Sign), Wiez (Link, edited by Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the new Prime Minister), and Tygodnik Powszechny (Catholic Weekly, edited by Jerzy Turowicz) have gained enormous prestige in Poland thanks to their forceful opposition to Communist totalitarianism as well as their intellectual depth and liberal Western ideas and attitudes. In this way, they have also contributed to the prestige of Catholicism and of the Catholic Church. Cardinal Glemp and his followers wish to seize the fruits of these achievements and promote a right-wing political reaction, supporting their clerical authoritarianism on the backs of creative Catholic intellectuals but against their ideals. The controversy over the Carmelite convent at Auschwitz was the first serious sign that new political trenches are being dug and new political battles have begun. The subject of the dispute is well known: a few years ago, the nuns of a Polish Carmelite order set up their convent at Auschwitz in a building that had served during the German occupation as a warehouse for the storage of Zyklon-B canisters used in the Nazi gas chambers. In 1983, UNESCO designated the Auschwitz and Birkenau death camp sites as a special memorial to humanity; these sites included the former poison gas canister warehouse now occupied by the Carmelite nuns. Various Jewish organizations in Europe and the United States regarded the presence of the Catholic convent as an affront. Their objections were shared by many Christian--especially Catholic--theologians and lay intellectuals; therefore, in order to find a reasonable solution to the potential conflict, a Jewish- Catholic conference was organized in 1987 in Geneva, Switzerland. The Catholic Church was represented by such eminent personalities, among others, as the Primate of Belgium, the Cardinals of Lyon and Paris, France, and Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, Archbishop of Cracow, in whose diocese the Auschwitz and Birkenau camp sites are located. Members of Sign and Catholic Weekly were also present. The conference participants unanimously agreed to construct a special new building near the camps in which people of all faiths would be able to worship, and to relocate the Carmelite nuns by February 1989. However, by February 1989, construction of the new worship center hadn't even been started. The Polish Catholic Church was responsible for the construction of the building, but it pleaded that it was unable to fulfill this obligation for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, Church authorities did not in due course inform the interested parties of the causes of the delay, nor did it submit the new schedule for construction. This was the immediate cause of the misunderstanding, and it led to many bitter accusations and counteraccusations. The nuns remained in their controversial quarters and Jewish organizations in the United States and Europe once again raised their voices in protest and anger. Events took an ugly and tragic turn when New York City rabbi Avi Weiss and a group of his followers climbed the convent fence and were doused with water and forcibly removed from the grounds by workers while a crowd of people jeered and the police looked on passively. Following these events, the controversy became headline news both in Europe and the United States. Cardinal Macharski made an awkward and most regrettable announcement that the prevailing atmosphere and protest activities at Auschwitz would impede the future construction of the new worship center and the transfer of the Carmelite nuns; it is not clear whether he was making excuses for the footdragging or pleading for calm. Then, on August 26, 1989, Cardinal Jozef Glemp delivered an address at the Shrine of the Black Virgin in the city of Czestochowa. He announced that the 1987 agreement should be regarded as null because the representatives of the Catholic Church who signed it were "incompetent." He also declared that the agreement was anti-Polish and that the Jews were using their influence on the world media to engage in anti-Polish propaganda. The reactions to this bilious address were predictable enough. The French and Belgian Cardinals denounced the speech and made one simple point: if they were not competent to speak in the name of the Catholic Church, then who was? Cardinal John J. O'Connor of New York characterized Glemp's speech as shocking. Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, regarded (rightly or wrongly) as one of the most conservative cardinals in the United States, wrote a special letter to Glemp stressing that the Polish Primate's upcoming visit to the United States, planned for the fall of 1989, would be undesirable and should be cancelled. An even more forceful letter was dispatched by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, whose diocese contains the largest number of Catholic Polish-Americans, stating that it might be difficult to ensure the safety of the Polish Primate while he was in Chicago. All throughout the controversy, the Vatican tried to avoid getting involved on the pretext that the matter was a purely internal affair of the Polish Catholic Church into which the Pope did not wish to intrude. Finally, however, the atmosphere became so rancorous that the Vatican was forced to intervene. In the form of a delicate suggestion, Rome declared that pacta sunt servanda--the Geneva Agreement of 1987 should be enforced. The Primate of Poland was discredited, and after a brief period of resistance Cardinal Glemp publicly recanted his words. Roma locuta, causa finita--Rome has spoken, end of the controversy. The Auschwitz convent controversy just may have been the beginning of something much larger, however. In fact, I would argue that the conflict over the Carmelite convent at Auschwitz was merely the first battle waged between internal forces in Poland--the champions of the newly won democratic freedoms, Western, liberal, and humanistic in their outlook, versus a newly revived authoritarian clergy--over the future of Polish democracy itself. To appreciate this, we must first analyze the politics within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church itself. Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, co-architect of the 1987 Geneva Agreement and one of the finest intellectuals in Poland, was selected to head the diocese of Cracow--possibly the most prestigious in the country-- by Pope John Paul II himself. In this diocese, under Macharski's personal care and theological guidance, is an important group of Catholic thinkers who write and publish both Sign and Catholic Weekly. The moral authority of this group, within both Poland and the Vatican, is immense. Cardinal Jozef Glemp, on the other hand, is unpopular with the Vatican and disesteemed by Pope John Paul II himself--it was particularly insulting for the Primate to be kept waiting for days when he journeyed to Rome for an audience with the Pope. Over the years, Glemp has forged closer relations with arch-conservative groups within the Vatican. He has also formed ties with the anti-reformist and staunchly conservative Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, who has himself been rebuked several times by the Pope. Ratzinger chairs the Vatican Congregation for Doctrine of Faith (successor of the Sacred Officium), through which he tries to keep the spirit of the Inquisition alive and flourishing. Glemp could not possibly confront the Pope directly, but by renouncing the Geneva Agreement he could strike at friends of the Pope--not only Cardinal Macharski, but also Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger of Paris, another well-known protege of John Paul II. As a result, a convergence of interests developed between the Polish Primate and the anti-Polish, anti-reformist elements within the Vatican and elsewhere in the international hierarchy of the Catholic Church. These elements, exemplified by Cardinal Ratzinger, were interested in discrediting the entire Polish Catholic Church and clergy, whose influence, power, and authority had increased to dangerous proportions in recent years, due not only to the Polish Pope but also because every second priest ordained in the Western world is of Polish extraction. This is the reason why such arch-conservative, anti-Polish, and anti-reformist elements were all too happy to encourage Cardinal Glemp, a man of vanity and ambition, to play a role ultimately (and predictably) harmful to himself but useful for the adversaries of the Pope and of the Polish Catholic Church. The exchange of blows initiated by Cardinal Glemp certainly served this purpose, provoking a most unseemly and unpleasant fracas within the Polish Catholic Church at a time when the Church was enjoying the luster of its contributions to Polish democracy. Although Pope John Paul II finally took a stand on the controversy, his delay in responding afforded a new weapon to his adversaries, who portrayed him as an indecisive leader. As Niccolo Machiavelli has observed, the world never forgives such moments of weakness in women or in politicians. Of course, Glemp also wanted to curry favor with the most backward and reactionary elements in Polish society through his attack on Cardinal Macharski and the reform-minded Western cardinals. This is one reason why he combined his attack on the Geneva Agreement with a volley of blatantly ant-Semitic remarks. There are two groups in Poland which would be pleased by the failure of the new Polish government, whose success depends on the cooperation of Solidarity, the Catholic Church, and certain elements of the Communist Party. The first of these two groups-- and the most influental and powerful--consists of the old Stalinist hardliners who still occupy key positions in the security and military forces, in the party hierarchy, and in the administrative agencies. The second group consists of traditional Polish right-wingers who were allied with various nationalistic and fascist groups before World War II, including the Stronnictwo Narodowe (National Party) of Roman Dmowski, which counted Cardinal Glemp as one of its own. Before World War II, the main slogans of the National Party were anti-Semitic and anti-Communist; they praised the authoritarian regimes of Mussolini and, later, Hitler. Both the Polish right-wingers and the Stalinist hardliners have been critical of the recent democratic reforms in Poland, and naturally both were delighted by the controversy over the Carmelite convent at Auschwitz; this was precisely the kind of messy internicine battle they wanted. Once more they were allowed to trot out their hoary old Nazi/Bolshevik propaganda: that Western democracy is fundamentally rotten, and anti-Polish to boot--as evidenced by the activity of the Catholic cardinals in such decadent countries as Belgium and France. The Stalinist hardliners in the Soviet Communist Party, opposed as they are to Mikhail Gorbachev's bold reformism, were also delighted by the Auschwitz convent controversy, which held out the promise of sowing poisonous dissent in Poland at a time when cooperation was crucial. They also hope that no massive economic aid will be forthcoming from the West: in this way, the economic situation in Poland will deteriorate so badly that there will be new reason for a military coup. Their logic is simple: any blows to the democratic reforms in Poland, especially anything that provokes widespread and dangerous unrest, will hurt Gorbachev and even cripple his policies of perestroika, glasnost, liberalization, and peaceful competition with the West. Glemp's anti-Semitic slogans helped to mobilize the most uneducated, backward elements of Polish society--here is the paradox--in support of Stalinist reaction. And so Polish right-wingers forged a strange alliance with Stalinist hardliners in their own country, and also helped to serve the interests of hardliners in the Soviet Communist Party who hope to reverse Gorbachev's experiments in liberal reforms. Anti-Semitism, anti-intellectualism, and authoritarianism are the cements which unite them, and they are pleased that the Primate of Poland--dogmatic, unreasonable, and lacking political imagination--has assented to become the spokesman for his country's own worst enemies. The leaders of Solidarity immediately perceived the dangers of Glemp's homily and were quick to denounce it. They knew that the stakes were high: the soul of Solidarity and the shape of Polish democracy. Catholic Weekly also acted quickly. After the Vatican intervened in the Auschwitz controversy, Cardinal Glemp reluctantly accepted Catholic Weekly's invitation for an interview and recanted his previous shameful statements--albeit in the style prescribed by Orwell's Ministry of Truth. Between the lines, one can read Glemp's continuing desire to substitute a clerical authoritarianism, colored by pre-war fascist tendencies, for the prevailing liberal and humanistic philosophy of Solidarity's current leadership and its enlightened Catholic allies. Like Solzhenitsyn, the Polish reactionaries represented by Glemp oppose communism but favor a crackpot militaristic nationalism. Like the Russian group Pamiat (Memory), they want to replace communist dictatorship with a chauvinistic "white guard" clerical regime that will fulfill the mystical demands of the national soul; they hold in contemptuous regard the "decadent" freedoms and tolerance of the democratic West. The present leadership of Solidarity--including Lech Walesa, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Adam Michnik, Bronislaw Geremek, Jacek Kuron, Andrzej Stelmachowski (the Marshall of the Senate), and others--are sincere Western-style democrats and humanists; they support a gradual, peaceful, and systematic evolution towards a free-market economy, parliamentary democracy, national independence, and a welfare state. It should also be stressed that their notions of government embrace a well-elaborated concept of Catholic social doctrine, that of the developmental "third road" (noncapitalist and nonsocialist) traditionally espoused by the Popes, beginning in 1891 with Leo XIII and his encyclical Rerum Novarum and continuing through John XXIII up to John Paul II. Of course, in the eyes of certain hardline Western conservatives, this constitutes "creeping communism." No wonder, then, that Senator Jesse Helms and the members of the Heritage Foundation prefer the Polish right-wingers to the present "social-democratic" leadership of Solidarity. There is one other element uniting various Polish right-wingers with certain Western Cold Warriors: they do not wish to transform the existing communist system by means of evolutionary democratic reform-- rather, they want the immediate and total collapse of all communist parties and regimes. They naively think that in this way, the hydra of communism will be eradicated once and for all. These simpletons do not understand that during its death agony the hydra may destroy the world; that the hydra has many heads which may regenerate; that these nations are fed up with all wars for the sake of paradise, including a new revolution for the sake of that kingdom of happiness called "free enterprise." These right-wingers, East and West, are indeed bolsheviks a rebours--as zealous as their old hardline bolshevik counterparts. During the years 1987 to 1988, the Polish communist regime realized that its fate depended on cooperation with the Catholic Church and the semi-legal opposition groups centered around Solidarity. The wave of strikes that staggered the country made 2t clear that the old regime was unable to govern any longer using the old methods. Moreover, both the Polish Communist Party and the opposition forces had already drawn all the necessary conclusions from the Soviet interventions in Berlin (1953), Budapest (1956), and Prague (1968); from the years of stagnation and terror; from the imposition of martial law; and from Vatican realpolitik and communist "strategy." Thus, the oppressors and their prisoners met at the Round Table to liberate Poland, to ensure new economic, social, and political order without provoking the Soviet Union by seeming to endanger its crumbling Warsaw Pact empire. Nevertheless, the Polish compromise and the peaceful transfer of power to the new noncommunist administration became a barrel of dynamite that was to explode in Eastern Europe. For the communist system, the example of Poland was dangerous indeed. Finally, the infamous domino theory started to work--not in Asia, but in Eastern Europe with the rapid fall of consecutive communist regimes: Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and finally Romania. Moreover, except for the fearsome violence attending the collapse of the Ceauceauscu regime in Romania, these revolutions have been unexpectedly bloodless. This "incredible lightness" of the revolutions--their strange peacefulness and lack of violence--actually poses some hidden dangers. It can be a source not only wishful thinking and harmful illusion, but also of autocratic--be it fascist or neo-Stalinist--counterrevolution. In every Eastern European country, there are legions of newly unemployed workers and professionals and bands of disgruntled former "luminaries" to lead them. Exacerbated by economic crisis, this is the social basis for a new demagoguery--of whatever threatening stripe--to build its influence and power. When Cardinal Glemp struck out against the "incompetence" of certain liberal Western European and Polish cardinals, he signaled the start of the battle between reactionary elements within the Catholic Church and Polish and Western liberal humanists, reformists, and adherents of anticlerical, antichauvinist parliamentary democracy. The battle which Cardinal Glemp initiated with his anti-Semitic salvo is a battle for the soul of Solidarity and the future of the Polish nation itself. However, it must be stressed that this is not merely an internal Polish conflict. The Auschwitz convent affair is but the first indication of the assault that authoritarian forces will mount against the democratic, reformist trends in the communist nations of Eastern Europe. These reactionary elements are even prepared to enter into alliances with neo-Stalinist communist hardliners who have their own agenda for strangling the infant democracies in their cradles. There is a real danger that the end result of this treachery may be the replacement of the communist dictatorships with some form of authoritarian government--be it clerical, nationalistic, fascist, or neo-Stalinist. Western humanist organizations should monitor these dangerous developments and fight those groups or individuals in our own countries who would support such anti-democratic attempts. The "cult" of the communist personality must not be replaced by the cult of the clerical personality--or by any other form of authori- tarianism--but, rather, by rationality, tolerance, and constitu- tional guarantees of the rights to freedom of speech, conscience, and thought. In view of this, it is important that we remain in touch with the newly organized humanist groups in Central and Eastern Europe. [Editor's Note: To this end, the International Humanist and Ethical Union has become active in organizing Humanist groups in former communist countries and bringing new organizations into IHEU membership. To contact the IHEU to learn more about this, write or call -- ERICA SCHULTE NORDHOLT IHEU NIEUWEGRACHT 69a 3512 LG UTRECHT THE NETHERLANDS Phone: 011-31-30-312155 FAX: 011-31-30-364169 ] For while the victories of liberty and reason in Central and Eastern Europe are magnificent, the tree of freedom is still fragile and exposed to many hostile winds. ------------------------------------------------------------------ Mieczyslaw Maneli, former member of the board of directors of the American Humanist Association, is a professor of law and political science at Queens College in New York City. He is the author of fifteen books, including _Freedom and Tolerance_ and _Juridical Positivism and Human Rights_. This is the original text of an article that appeared in the March/April 1990 issue of The Humanist, pp. 19-23, 36--though the editor's note in the last paragraph was added in January 1994. (C) Copyright 1990 by Mieczyslaw Maneli So long as profit is not your motive and you always include this copyright notice, please feel free to reproduce and distribute this material in electronic form as widely as you please. All other permission must be sought from the author through the American Humanist Association, which can be contacted at the following address -- AMERICAN HUMANIST ASSOCIATION PO BOX 1188 AMHERST NY 14226-7188 Phone: (800) 743-6646


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