Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Little has changed in the Catholic Church since Daly-Darcy clash (Opinion)

I remember very well the evening of Friday, November 3, 1995. 

How could I possibly forget it? 

For the first and last time, I was a guest on the panel of The Late Late Show – with Gay Byrne then in charge of RTÉ Television’s signature programme. 

The show was devoted exclusively to the position of the Catholic Church in Ireland with the audience jam-packed with the great, the good and the not-so-good of Catholic Ireland.

People may remember it as the night that Fr Brian Darcy and Cardinal Cathal Daly famously clashed with different perspectives on Catholicism in Ireland, each representing different planets as we might say now. 

That was almost 30 years ago but, truth be told, the same discussion now would, I suspect, generate similar orbits.

It wouldn’t happen now, of course – the programme not the planets – because the interest in religion and in Catholicism wouldn’t attract the same audience much less sustain it for a few hours. 

As media people tell us, there’s no compelling interest in religion in Ireland now. 

And if anyone knows, they know. 

As the market research shows, there’s no media audience for religion anymore. The discussion has moved on.

I’ve forgotten what I said on the night but a report on the programme I came across recently reminds me that I remarked that Catholic clergy and laity were "living in two different worlds and speaking two very different, mutually incomprehensible languages". 

Apparently, I also commented that in Irish Catholicism "something would have to die before something new might be born".

I either said nothing else or anything else I said wasn’t worth reporting. And yet, I find myself still singing from an almost identical hymn sheet – different planets, same story, change or decay.

The clash between Daly and Darcy drew the most comment. 

Orchestrated by Gaybo who had an uncanny ability to generate media copy, a row between a cardinal and Ireland’s most popular media priest was too delicious a prospect not to have its embers fanned into a flame. 

Daly was cross-questioned on women in the Church and the celibacy requirement for priests and surrendered several hostages to fortune.

After the dust settled on the Daly-Darcy fracas, what I remember is the anger of some of the women present who took exception to Daly’s defence of Pope John Paul II. 

Daly argued in response to the women’s criticism of the then pope that John Paul had done more in terms of dialogue with women than any other pope in history. 

While it might be said that the level of engagement by popes with the women’s issues wasn’t (in the pre-John-Paul years) set very high and Daly was right, at the same time it wasn’t the most productive line to take.

While fighting grimly not to let the side down is always an admirable strategy, not giving an inch (or even allowing for different opinions) though commendable to loyal supporters is almost always unwise. 

As one report suggested, while Daly was factually correct, he didn’t "acknowledge the exponentially increased expectations on the part of women". 

We can know our history and yet not realise how much has changed.

In 30 years everything seemed to have changed while, for the most part, things have more or less remained the same. 

In the unlikely event of a senior bishop appearing now on The Late Late Show, and being challenged by a group of women enraged by their part-exclusion from their rightful role in the Catholic Church (more than 60 years after the Second Vatican Council), the same drama would be played out. 

The bishop would refuse to give an inch on a settled centuries-long, unchanging and unchangeable tradition on women priests, clerical celibacy and the other hot-button issues of the day – and those who sing from a different hymn sheet – frustrated by a Church that insists (as they would see it) on living in the past – would not be slow to sponsor a different creed.

There are many imponderables at work here. 

Why do bishops on the rare occasions they feature on the media feel the need to parrot an uncompromisingly defensive position that seems forever intent on closing off avenues of obvious and necessary reform for the future of the Church?

Why can they not even admit, as surely they must know, that there is no compelling theological reason why women can’t be ordained? 

Or, even if that was not the case, why they insist on what the Jesuit theologian, Gerry O’Hanlon, calls "an almost pathological, fetish-like refuge in mantras about the impossibility of doctrinal development?" 

It’s not just that this obstructionist approach is so completely at odds with the Church’s history and tradition but that, in a number of key areas that shout to the house-tops for resolution, there is no theological impediment at all. 

And yet, in a Church that accepts that teaching was not handed over by the apostles as "a deposit of faith" but that emerged gradually over the centuries, some church leaders insist on implying that there is an unchanging tradition that is beyond their authority to question.

Do they not know that there is an unholy impatience with trumpeting as progress towards change what are generally regarded as merely token and cosmetic developments – votes at synod for a few nominal women or representational membership of a few Vatican dicasteries – especially when, in more central and compelling developments, there is a reluctance on decidedly specious grounds to release the ball though we’re well over the line.

And do they not know how embarrassing it is to listen to bishops getting themselves in a twist trying to hold a line that most Catholics have already crossed? 

And, in the exchange, compounding the unenvied reputation of the Catholic Church as the only significant institution in Irish society that refuses to accept the equality of women.

It’s a salient reminder that in the 30 years since the Darcy/Daly spat, very little has actually changed.

Bishop warns that Catholic Church in Ireland facing ‘pivotal’ decline

The Church in Ireland is at a “pivotal point” in its history and can no longer “ignore” the reality it finds itself in, a bishop has warned.

Addressing clergy at a planning gathering’ on the future of the Church in the Diocese of Elphin, Bishop Michael Duignan, who is Bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh as well as Clonfert, said the current climate for faith and faith communities is “difficult” and there are challenges from within and without.

“Our congregations are fast declining in number and increasing in age. Our clergy are greying. Vocations are scarce,” he admitted. He revealed that at 53 he is the youngest priest in the diocese of Clonfert and the sixth youngest priest in Galway.

“Between the two dioceses we have over ten parishes now without a resident priest. Financial resources are scarce but perhaps even more concerning the people we can rely on and depend on to help are few in number. There often is no one to succeed them.”

Bishop Duignan told Elphin clergy that the dioceses of Clonfert and Galway are in the middle of a similar planning exercise and that the process requires “a profound engagement” from all involved as well as spirit-led discernment.

“Change is difficult – the older you get the harder it is,” he acknowledged but underlined that they could choose to be the victims of change or the agents of change.

He said much was being done today in dioceses and parishes that “we have to ‘free ourselves from’ in order to ‘free ourselves for’ things and activities that better further the life of faith and the life of our faith communities”.

He added, “We have to leave behind much that at a time served us well but no longer serves us now. We need to be brave enough to try new ways and walk new paths. Most of all, I think need to be missionary in our approach, seeking not solely to service the converted but rather to gain new believers – new faith-filled Christians in the pews.”

He acknowledged that this is not easy for people, priests or faith communities.

Brazilian priest charged with support for coup attempt

Pe. José Eduardo de Oliveira e Silva

A priest charged with supporting an attempted coup in Brazil last January is a specialist in bioethics who has represented the country’s bishops in legal debates.

Fr José Eduardo de Oliveira e Silva, from Osasco in greater São Paulo, faces investigation for his alleged role in attempts to undermine the results of the 2022 presidential election which saw Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva defeat the incumbent Jair Bolsonaro.

A disinformation campaign during the election process later extended to a mob attack on the government building housing the presidential palace, the Congress and the Supreme Court on 8 January 2023, shortly after Lula took office.

Details subsequently emerged about the planning of the attack, leading to accusations that Fr Oliveira e Silva advised its organisers and drafted documents for them. 

After a warrant was issued by the Federal Supreme Court, police entered his home on 8 February and seized documents and computers.

Fr Oliveira e Silva gained a master’s and a doctorate in moral theology from the Holy Cross University in Rome, run by Opus Dei, and is regarded in Brazil as an expert on bioethics.

He argued on behalf of the bishops’ conference in the Supreme Court during its deliberations on liberalising Brazil’s abortion laws

Under existing legislation, abortion is legal after rape, where the mother’s life is in danger or where the foetus is considered unlikely to survive.

The priest is active on social media, where he has criticised “gender ideology” in terms similar to Bolsonaro. 

After the first round of the presidential elections in October 2022, which gave Lula a significant lead, Fr Oliveira e Silva posted a photo of the Brazilian flag with a statue of Our Lady and words adapted from the psalms: “Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but we trust in the Lord and so we shall resist.”

Fr Oliveira e Silva has denied the charges against him. “To breach the established order would be fundamentally contrary to my principles,” he said. “In our country the Federal Constitution is second only to God.”

Also charged on the same count are Bolsonaro’s minister of justice, Anderson Torres, Colonel Mauro César Cid, described in the media as the former president’s “right hand man”, and Filipe Martins, special adviser to Bolsonaro, whom Fr Oliveira e Silva has described as “a great friend”.

Papal delegate to Foyers de Charité resigns

Mgr Michel Dubost, c.j.m. - Église catholique en France

The Vatican accepted Feb. 14 the resignation of the pontifical delegate for the Foyers de Charité, a troubled international association of the faithful co-founded by the French mystic Marthe Robin.

The Foyers de Charité said in a Feb. 16 press release that Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life, had accepted the resignation of Bishop Michel Dubost, the 81-year-old bishop emeritus of Évry-Corbeil-Essonnes, almost two years after Dubost was appointed pontifical delegate.

The Foyers de Charité, which was co-founded in 1936 by the bed-bound mystic Marthe Robin and her spiritual director Fr. Georges Finet, was placed under the control of a pontifical delegate in February 2022. 

The Vatican often names pontifical delegates to oversee changes to groups that have governance problems or are struggling after revelations that their founders lived double lives.

Pope Benedict XVI, for example, asked the then Archbishop Velasio De Paolis to serve as pontifical delegate to the Legionaries of Christ in 2010, following the exposure of its founder Fr. Marcial Maciel.

After abuse allegations were aired in 2019 against Finet, who died in 1990, the Foyers de Charité established an independent commission to assess the claims. 

In May 2020, the association — which was founded in Châteauneuf-de-Galaure, southeastern France, and whose principal work is offering retreats — announced that the commission’s report revealed “seriously deviant acts committed by Fr. Finet.” 

It said that 26 women, mainly former pupils at a school in Châteauneuf-de-Galaure, reported being touched by Finet and subjected to intrusive questions about their sexuality in the confessional, when they were 10 to 14 years of age.

The Foyers de Charité said it was launching “a general audit of the Foyers and all of their activities.”

At the time, the association had 970 members who had made life-long commitments, based at 78 centers in four continents. As well as hosting retreats, some Foyers also run schools, dispensaries, and holiday accommodation. The association’s members include married couples and priests, as well as lay people consecrated to celibacy.

In a decree dated Feb. 3, 2022, Cardinal Farrell appointed Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, the retired Archbishop of Bordeaux, as pontifical delegate, with a “mission is to govern the association, temporarily, with full governmental powers.”

He said that Ricard would “accompany the members of the association in a review of the charism and a clarification of the ecclesiology that underlies the vocation of the Foyers, along with a consequent reform of the life, the formation and the government of the association at statutory level.”

Farrell also named Dubost and Laurent Landete, the director of the Collège des Bernardins in Paris and a member of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life, as pontifical vice-delegates.

Dubost was appointed pontifical delegate in March 2022, replacing Ricard, who was said at the time to have stepped aside for “health reasons.”

In November of that year, Ricard admitted to abusing a 14-year-old girl in the late 1980s. The Vatican said that the cardinal would face a preliminary canonical investigation. 

The results of the probe have not been made public, but the French newspaper La Croix reported in September 2023 that the 79-year-old cardinal had been banned from public ministry for a renewable period of five years, except in the diocese where he lives.

When Dubost was named pontifical delegate, Sr. Christine Foulon, a member of the Religious of the Assumption, was appointed as vice-delegate, serving alongside Landete.

The Foyers de Charité said Feb. 16 that Foulon and Landete would succeed Dubost, serving as co-pontifical delegates.

“Their experience will make it possible to continue the work of reforming the Work begun in 2019, so that the charism of the Foyers, a ‘precious work of the Lord’ in the words of Cardinal Farrell, continues to unfold and to be placed at the service of the Church and the evangelization of the greatest number of people,” the association said.

In an interview published Feb. 16 by the French Catholic weekly La Vie, Foulon said: “The Holy See wants to send a signal to the Foyers de Charité with the appointment of a governance based on synodality. We are in a particular, new configuration as co-delegates. Our mission is to work together.”

Foulon explained that she, Landete, and Dubost were presented with “a precise roadmap” for the Foyers de Charité in December 2023. She and Landete “spontaneously agreed” to the proposal, but Dubost asked for time for reflection.

“We then learned of his resignation on Feb. 14,” Foulon said. “We had different methodologies, which could have created awkwardness or even injuries, but I will not speak of a ‘crisis.’”

Landete suggested that the appointment of co-pontifical delegates may “come from a desire for greater efficiency, with a certain increased transparency, and perhaps a new rigor.”

Foyers de Charité co-founder Marthe Robin was confined to her bed from the age of 21 until her death at the age of 78 in 1981. She reputedly bore the stigmata and for years had no other sustenance than the Eucharist.

Pope Francis recognized Robin’s heroic virtues in 2014. But in a book published in 2020 called “The Mystical Fraud of Marthe Robin,” the Belgian Carmelite Fr. Koen De Meester argued that the mystic was a plagiarist who claimed falsely to have survived only on the Eucharist.

Landete told La Vie that Dubost had been responsible for a commission examining the theological foundations of the Foyers de Charité, but that the commission’s mission needed to be clarified.

The Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life published a new charter of government for the Foyers de Charité on Oct. 18, 2023.

Landete explained that the roadmap presented by the dicastery would involve the association resuming responsibility for its own governance.

“We’re going to set up a provisional council made up largely of members of the Foyers de Charité alongside external figures,” said Foulon.

“We’re here to get the reform underway, but it’s the members of the Foyers who are going to make it happen.”

German Theologians Seek Pro-LGBTQ+ Revisions to Vatican Licensing Process

Catholic Theological Faculty

Theologians in Germany have called for revisions to the process by which theology professors are granted teaching licenses by the Vatican. 

The desired reforms are prompted, in part, by LGBTQ-related academic disputes and a desire to end sexual identity-based discrimination. Equally important, the theologians’ reform campaign could expand academic conversations about gender and sexuality in the church, not only in Germany but beyond.

The Catholic Theological Faculty Association (KThF), which represents members at dozens of church- and state-run universities in Germany, issued a statement asking the country’s bishops to revise procedures in the nihil obstat process. 

The nihil obstat (“nothing prevents”) is obtained from the Vatican and required to teach theology.

An independent study conducted by the Forum of Catholic Theologians and the Bochum Center for Applied Pastoral Research was highly critical of the current process. The KThF expressed desire for procedures that are more transparent and accountable. 

According to Katholisch.de, the theologians say the current process may infringe on academic freedom, and in some cases, cause scholars to refrain from certain research areas, including on sexuality and gender.

In addition, individuals’ rights can also be in danger. The KThF would like scholars to be protected from discrimination based on their private lives and relationships, protections German LGBTQ+ church workers in other areas have. 

Greater transparency would help prevent such discrimination. Because the nihil obstat process is not transparent, scholars do not learn why they have been denied a teaching license.

For the most part, German professors who need the Vatican-issued nihil obstat receive it. This outcome has been especially true under Pope Francis. Still, the Francis era is not without the problems KThF has raised. One situation involving a German theologian and LGBTQ+ issues highlights the issue.

In late 2022, Fr. Martin Lintner, OSM was elected as new dean by the faculty of the Philosophical-Theological College of Brixen/Bressanone, Italy. The  Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith intervened, however, denying Linter the approval needed to become head of the college. 

The decision was never communicated to him, the college’s faculty, or Bishop Ivo Muser, the local diocesan ordinary, until Muser inquired at the Vatican months later. 

At the time, Muser, other bishops, and professors across Europe protested the Vatican’s interference in what many considered an academic question.

Despite these protests and requests, the Vatican dicastery offered no explanation for its decision.  America magazine, however, reported that many believe the denial was based on Lintner’s pro-LGBTQ+ views:

“What might the Vatican have found problematic in Father Lintner’s teaching? A leading theory is that he openly supports blessing same-sex couples and that he has advocated for greater conversation between theology and gender studies, especially on transgender people—positions that, Father Lintner points out, ‘reflect the majority positions of colleagues in Germany and Austria.’ (Father Lintner is a resident of South Tyrol, the German-speaking part of Northern Italy. ‘I am strongly involved in German-speaking moral theology,’ he said.). . .

“Father Lintner remains uninterested in a formal appeal. For one thing, he knows ‘from comparable cases that these procedures take a very long time, even several years.’ For another, the Vatican’s refusal specifically permits him to continue teaching.

“In the meantime, Father Lintner has been using the publicity his case has garnered to advocate for changes in the nihil obstat process. ‘Transparency, willingness to engage in dialogue, [and] regulated deadlines’ are among the changes Father Linter would like to see, along with ‘the recognition of authority and leadership of bishops and theological institutions.'”

“For those involved [under investigation or facing sanction], they are a burden, combined with the feeling of humiliation and with emotional pain; in some instances, professional careers suffered lasting harm. And the personal identification with the church can also suffer through this situation. Many prefer to remain silent, out of fear that they may lose their reputation as a theologian and that they may be suspected of a lack of loyality to the Church.'”

One source of hope for some better resolution remained, America reported:

“[Lintner] described the appointment of [Cardinal] Víctor Manuel Fernández as prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith as ‘a sign of hope,’ because Fernandez himself was once denied a nihil obstat. ‘His bishop at the time, now Pope Francis, stood up for him and in this way obtained approval from the Vatican Curia. So, he knows from his experience what it’s all about.'”

Both Lintner and the KThF raise the same top-level concern, expressed by Lintner as: “It would have to be clarified to what degree due freedom of theological research has to be accepted by the magisterium.” In other words, what is the appropriate role for the church’s hierarchy to have over theologians.

For decades, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI sought to limit theologians’ freedom and cracked down on those providing more positive appraisl of LGBTQ+ identities and relationships, such as Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley or Rev. John McNeill. 

But Pope Francis has shown he is not inclined to do so, making it an ideal time to reform not only the spirit of how the institutional church and theologians interact, but the structures, too. 

Doing so would surely deepen and widen the dialogue on LGBTQ+ issues in the church, both in Germany and beyond.

Texas Priest Arrested Over Allegation of Sexual Misconduct With Minor

A priest in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, has been arrested after being accused of sexual misconduct with a minor victim. 

Brownsville Bishop Daniel Flores said in a statement last week that diocesan officials had “received an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor by Father Fernando Gonzalez.”

Bishop Flores had received the report in early February from the diocesan victim’s assistance coordinator. The following day he “removed [Father Gonzalez] from active ministry” and “prohibited him from exercising any priestly ministry anywhere.” 

“The individual who came forward, who is now an adult, spoke to the Diocesan Victim’s Assistance Coordinator and was advised to report the allegation to the police,” the bishop said. “The investigation is in the hands of law enforcement and is ongoing. The diocese will fully cooperate with the investigation.”

Law enforcement reportedly arrested the priest last week. 

The Cameron County Sheriff’s Department lists Father Gonzalez as arrested on charges of sexual abuse of a child and “trafficking of persons.” 

His total bond appeared to be set at $600,000. 

The Cameron County District Attorney’s office told local media that as part of his bond conditions Father Gonzalez “must install an ankle monitor before release, surrender his passport, and not leave Cameron County” while the case is pending.

Prior to the charges the priest had served as pastor of St. Luke’s Catholic Church in Brownsville. As of Monday Father Gonzalez had been removed from the parish website’s list of parish staff.

“I am deeply saddened and ask you to join me as I pray for the individual who came forward and the family, and all the parties affected, including parishioners and the clergy across our diocese who tend to their faithful with fidelity and compassion,” Bishop Flores said in his statement.

Does the Advent of the Tusk Government Foreshadow an Erosion of Poland’s Christian Culture?

An inflammatory atmosphere has prevailed in Poland since the recent parliamentary elections in October 2023 — and these ongoing political and ideological clashes have not spared the Church, still a central institution in the life of the Eastern European nation. 

The new government, led by former European Council President Donald Tusk, was sworn in on Dec. 13, bringing to an end the eight-year rule of the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party. 

While technically the conservative party remains the country’s largest ,with more than 35% of the votes in the Oct. 15 elections, it lost its parliamentary majority to a coalition of the centrist Civic Coalition (KO), center-right Third Way (Trzecia Droga) and The Left (Lewica) parties.

Supported by the European Union’s leadership, which is currently studying the possibility of releasing the 76 billion euros of the Covid Recovery Fund that the European Commission has frozen since 2022 due to EU concerns over the independence of the Polish judiciary, the new executive has already implemented a series of measures and interventions designed to liquidate the legacy of its predecessor.

‘Brutal Methods’

To this end, Prime Minister Tusk’s government has resorted to methods deemed brutal and even authoritarian by its opponents and some foreign commentators. The most emblematic case is the spectacular arrest at the Presidential Palace of former Law and Justice ministers Mariusz Kamiński and Maciej Wąsik, on Jan. 9. 

The two MPs had been convicted in a Polish lower court in 2015 of abuse of power and pardoned that year while appealing the court decision by President Andrzej Duda, who as head of state has unimpeded constitutional authority to confer pardons. The case subsequently triggered a legal battle between Supreme Court and Constitutional Court judges. 

Last June, the Supreme Court invalidated the presidential pardons, on the grounds that they were issued before the full judicial process had been completed. The Constitutional Court, for its part, upheld the validity of the pardons, but its authority is being questioned by some legal experts, notably following a 2021 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that the Polish court is not founded in law due to the presence of a judge appointed by the conservative PiS party through President Duda, who is aligned politically with the PiS. 

This situation has led some observers to fear the emergence of a long-term constitutional crisis.

“Since the new government is picking and choosing which rulings of different courts they would obey, ignoring the fact that our constitution gives the president an absolute power to pardon citizens, then it is difficult to deny that its officials are breaking the law,” Iwo Bender, a Warsaw-based political commentator and manager of EWTN East Central Europe, told the Register. The Register is a service of EWTN News.

Moreover, the new government deemed it advisable to liquidate the public media outlets TVP, Polskie Radio and Polish Press Agency (PAP), in order to “depoliticize” these leading media outlets. Opponents have condemned these actions as a bid by the Tusk government to suppress critical media voices for its own political advantage. These methods have also been questioned by outside experts, including the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, which stated in a press release that they “raise serious legal questions.”

The End of Christian Poland?

Beyond the constitutional crisis that is shaking the country, another dynamic is at work, the effects of which could be more profound and decisive for its future. 

Poland, which is around 90% Catholic and has stood out as an exception in recent years in a predominantly post-Christian Europe, faith has necessarily become a battleground between opposing ideological camps. While the PiS conservatives and their allies were notable during their eight years in power for their closeness to the country’s religious authorities, and by a series of laws supporting the institution of the family, religious freedom and the defense of human life, their opponents have aligned themselves with the progressive views of the European Union, based in Brussels, and campaigned on relatively anti-clerical stances.

Although a self-professed Catholic, Tusk, when in opposition, had in 2021 called for the removal of all crucifixes and other religious symbols from public spaces, starting with the Sejm Cross in Parliament (in place since 1997), a wish that his government’s local representatives are beginning to implement.

As early as mid-January, the new coalition introduced a plan to reduce the Church Fund — state subsidies worth several million zloty (the Polish currency) each year — which is due to be discussed in parliament by the end of March. Similarly, the new minister of education has already announced a reduction in catechism classes in state schools. 

The government has also announced that a series of compensatory measures for the country’s LGBT community are being studied, including the possible introduction of same-sex civil marriage.

According to Belgian historian David Engels, research professor at the Instytut Zachodni in Poznan in northern Poland and author of numerous works on European political and civilizational movements, an “ideological revolution” is currently taking place under the stunned eye of the opposition. “We see the supporters of the ‘progressive’ side having fewer and fewer scruples about imposing their vision of a ‘great reset’ of our civilization, using every means — the media, politics, education, rights, economics. This gives the not entirely unjustified impression of witnessing the beginning of a new ‘soft’ totalitarianism,” he said in an interview with the Register. 

This strong movement towards secularization, which could herald a major turning point in the history of the Catholic Church in Poland if the new government’s policies take hold over time, has left its hierarchy in a quandary. While many bishops are already seeking dialogue with members of the new government, some of whom openly declare themselves to be Catholic, tensions are also emerging — including the recent controversy surrounding the president of the Polish Bishops' Conference, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, who offered to mediate between the current minister of justice and the two imprisoned former ministers Kamiński and Wąsik, offering the latter “humanitarian help.” This initiative earned him accusations of interference in public matters and political bias.

The Stumbling Block of Abortion 

But it is the sensitive issue of abortion that has crystallized the nascent antagonisms, with the Polish clergy formally opposed to any idea of liberalizing abortion access, which was severely restricted by the outgoing government in 2020. 

As soon as he came to power, Tusk expressed his desire to introduce a bill allowing abortion under any conditions up to 12 weeks. 

At present, abortion in Poland is only permitted in cases of rape, incest or danger to the mother. Eugenic abortion — in cases of fetal abnormality — was banned by a ruling of the Constitutional Court on Oct. 22, 2020. This ruling led to the country being sanctioned by the European Court of Human Rights in 2023. 

In addition to this broader project to liberalize abortion access, the new parliamentary group also plans to enact a law allowing the morning-after pill to be sold over the counter to minors age 15 and older.

But beyond the opposition of the episcopate, which remains an influential voice in the country, on these societal issues the coalition will probably have to face the veto of President Duda, known to be a devout Catholic hostile to abortion, and whose term of office will not end until 2025. 

Curiously enough, the issue has upset the usual political divides since some members of the new government are not in favor of much liberalization of the existing abortion laws, whereas former PiS Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki partly blames the right’s electoral defeat on the harshness of its anti-abortion legislation, as do some conservative analysts including Engels. Indeed, it was the massive mobilization of the female electorate —  with a turnout of almost 75%, the highest since the fall of communism in 1989 — in favor of the left-wing parties that caused the conservative camp to lose its majority in Parliament. 

Activist Kaja Godek, who spearheaded the vast “Stop abortion committee citizens group” that prompted parliament to legislate in 2020, takes issue with these diagnoses. “There is no such a thing as ‘historical necessity’ to justify moving from pro-life to pro-abortion policies,” Godek told the Register. “The West in general lost this battle for life whenever they believed they should not fight further, but count on the little they had. And in doing so, they eventually lost the little they had left to protect the unborn. 

“We should not repeat that mistake,” she continued, adding that while the current coalition in the parliament will certainly “try to impose pro-abortion measures, what will really happen will ultimately depend on ordinary people.”

Inoculated Against Anti-Christian Ideology? 

But if a majority of the country was still hostile to abortion in 2020, mainly out of religious sentiment, the cultural landscape is being transformed at high speed by the effects of globalization and the spread of progressive currents among young people, in particular woke culture — further facilitated by the expansion of social networks and other channels such as the Netflix platform — whose foundations are mostly at odds with Christian anthropology. In 2021, the Polish government was already reporting a significant decline in religious practice among young people since the 1990s.

This makes David Engels fear that the current secularization movement will rapidly take root, starting in the major urban centers. In his view, this is more likely as Poland’s conservative ranks struggle to find adequate tactics of resistance to counterbalance the prevailing trend. 

“During their eight years in power, the Conservatives failed to create independent media, thinktanks or academies that they could now use as remote defensive positions. Using only the means that the state made available to them, they literally lost everything by losing the majority,” he said.

In contrast, he pointed out that the current progressive government enjoys the support of European institutions, a majority of Western media and the German government, making the ideological battle unequal.

However, he nuanced his remarks with the observation that the radicalization of part of the liberal side is making “the absurdities, even the dangers of wokism more apparent to citizens,” as is “the brutality with which dissenting opinions are vilified as ‘far right,’ pushing more and more people into active resistance.”

This ties in with Iwo Bender’s point of view, who suggests that young people in rural areas, where 40% of the population still live, tend to be much more inclined to preserve the spiritual and cultural heritage of their parents, thus making them more impervious to political and ideological movements from the big cities and abroad.

He pointed out that in a country deprived of a state between the end of the 18th century and 1918, then again under the Nazi (1939-45) and Soviet communist (1952-1989) yokes, national identity is intrinsically linked to faith, with periods of conquest and occupation by outside forces often accompanied by intense religious persecution, especially during the communist era. 

“These various inoculations have made ideologies tinged with anti-Christianism absolutely unpalatable to a large majority of Poles,” Bender said, “which suggests that they will not allow themselves to be dispossessed of their religious affiliation without a strong fightback on the ground, and it is highly doubtful that this flame will ever be extinguished.”