Thursday, June 30, 2011

Poland Asks Vatican to Muzzle Controversial Priest

The Polish government has asked the Holy See to quiet a Catholic priest who recently called his native Poland “uncivilized” and close to “totalitarian” after getting a fine for illegal fund-raising. 

The diplomatic note to the Vatican follows this government’s visible move away from the Catholic Church ahead of a parliamentary election set for later this year.

During a trip to the European Parliament in Brussels last week, Tadeusz Rydzyk, a Polish Redemptorist monk, said: “It’s scandalous, we’re feeling excluded, discriminated against, it’s like totalitarianism. What we’re dealing with in Poland is tragic, mean — to put it mildly. It’s Poland’s tragedy that since 1939 Poland hasn’t been ruled by Poles. It’s not about blood or allegiance — they don’t love the Polish way, they don’t have a Polish heart.”

In reaction, the government over the weekend gave a diplomatic note to a Vatican official requesting action that would keep Father Rydzyk from “making statements detrimental to Poland’s good name and the Church in Poland.”

The priest is at the helm of a Catholic radio station and a related television channel, and also runs a newspaper — all of which share much of the conservative political line of the opposition Law and Justice party.

The priest’s business ventures include a private university and a search for hot springs that could be used for heating and power generation. During the government of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Rev. Rydzyk’s foundation secured about $10 million of a European Union subsidy for the hot springs project. 

The subsidy was canceled soon after the current prime minister, Donald Tusk, came to power. 

The state-backed environmental agency that administers the funds pointed to procedural errors made by the priest’s foundation. 

The priest was recently fined about $1,000 for failing to observe Poland’s laws on fund-raising when trying to collect cash from his followers to continue the search for thermal waters.

Mr. Tusk said Monday that the controversial Redemptorist won’t face discrimination, but also won’t enjoy any privileges. 

The government’s vocal reaction to Father Rydzyk’s remarks raised some eyebrows in Poland because the state had complained about its own national to a foreign authority.

However, the note coincides with Mr. Tusk’s acknowledgement that a bill introducing same-sex civil unions could be debated soon after this year’s parliamentary election.

Mr. Tusk’s Civic Platform party has recently welcomed a popular leftist politician to its ranks.

Mr. Tusk recently said his government won’t “kneel in front of any priest” after years when he and his Civic Platform party, usually described as center-right, were careful not to upset relations with the Catholic hierarchy of Poland. 

Whether in the opposition in 2005-2007 or leading the government since 2007, the party was sending conservative messages about Poland’s abortion laws or the possibility of state recognition for same-sex unions.

But opinion polls on such matters published over the years show Polish society is changing. 

The number of voters who haven’t experienced communism, or weren’t even alive during that era, is growing rapidly. 

Church attendance is still high, but is declining—in 2010 41% of the Church’s members were attended the Sunday mass, down from 47% in 1992. 

The society still predominantly dislikes homosexuals, but a majority of respondents has recently supported a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enjoy the same inheritance rights as married couples do.

Political battles of yesterday — over how to punish communists or uncover the murky past of some of the country’s billionaires — seem ancient to younger members of the society who are more concerned with their own liberties and careers.

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