January 15, 2007
Troubles in Poland
— Martin E. Marty
Names like Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski, Stanislaw Wielgus, Andrzej Zybertowicz, Stefan Wyszynski, Andrzej Paczkowski, Konrad Stanislaw Hejmo, Michal Czajkowski, Stanislaw Dziwisz, and Janusz Bielanski are likely to become household, or at least church-hold, words in the days ahead. Add to them up to thirty-nine more priestly names to be revealed in a forthcoming book by Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski. Virtually all of the names have titles before them: "Reverend," "Father," "Bishop," "Archbishop," and "Cardinal." Because no sexual and probably no financial scandal is associated with them, they may escape being pursued by paparazzi or featured in the tabloid press. In their homeland of Poland, however, the "crisis" -- the Polish church's name for it -- that they have occasioned is more profound and more troubling than sexual and fiscal matters could be. The public resents churchly non-disclosure most.
If their stories of Communist collaboration, more and more of them corroborated by others or confessed by themselves, prove true, what they have done touches the very heart of the soul, or the soul of the heart, of Polish Catholicism, and thus of Poland. Throw in "and of European Catholicism" or "Pope Benedict" or "Catholicism." This is the case because Polish church resistance, or at least creative foot-dragging in the face of Communist repression, suppression, and oppression, was seen to be so massive, consistent, heroic, and effective that it made for one of the great stories celebrating the triumph of the human spirit in the century past.
These collaborations may not have always produced direct damage. Many say they hurt no one personally by their cooperation with secret police. Indirectly, however, they hurt every Catholic and no doubt every Pole who loved freedom and hated the oppressor. They are not alone. (We) Lutherans are not proud of East German clerics who cooperated even minimally with the hated Stasi, their secret police. It is likely that in almost all cases of totalitarian inflictions some who are weak, or who find it convenient, play along. So they did in Hitler's Germany, on a scale that still is haunting. Recovery, if any, is slow.
Decades ago, when describing the way Christianity is "moving south" globally, I would orally present a map. "Starting west of Poland, crossing Western Europe and the British Isles (except for Ireland), Canada, and the northern United States into Japan is the 'spiritual ice-belt' where many people live who are so remote from church life that they cannot even imagine why Africa, Latin America, and Asia are so religious and 'churchy.'" Later I had to cross off Ireland, as its Catholics increasingly deserted church participation as they reacted to scandal and found salvation in materialist goals. Now church participation in Poland declines precipitously, and this collaborationist scandal will hurt.
In the United States a few books by atheists sell well but probably drive few from the pews and, maybe even against the wills of their authors, lure some people to faith. Pope Benedict XVI has it more or less right when he talks about secularization in the form of desertion of the European churches. That's a less dramatic but more undercutting mode of reducing the sphere of active Christians than atheism ever could be.
The article "In Poland, New Wave of Charges Against Clerics" by Craig S. Smith (New York Times, January 10, 2007) can be read here: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/10/world/europe/10poland.html?_r=2&th&emc=th&oref=slogin&oref=slogin.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.
The current Religion and Culture Web Forum features "From Artaxerxes to Abu Ghraib: On Religion and the Pornography of Imperial Violence" by Bruce Lincoln. To read this article, please visit: http://marty-center.uchicago.edu/webforum/.
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