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Polish Archbishop urges calm before elections

13 October 2023

ALAMY

A trailer with a political campaign billboard for left-wing candidate Wojciech Konieczny is seen in Czestochowa, Poland, last week

A trailer with a political campaign billboard for left-wing candidate Wojciech Konieczny is seen in Czestochowa, Poland, last week

THE Primate of Poland, Archbishop Wojciech Polak of Gniezno, has urged politicians to stop “spreading hatred” before the parliamentary elections on Sunday, and warned against right-wing attempts to use the Roman Catholic Church in the country as a “tool for party interests”.

“The Church proclaims values and attitudes deriving from the gospel, such as mutual respect, a culture of dialogue and concern for the common good — you can’t just spread hatred and destroy people for your own interests,” the Archbishop said.

“These elections will pass, leaving us with the unhealed wounds we’ve inflicted on ourselves. The deliberate polarisation and brutalisation of narratives is irresponsible and very harmful socially.”

He made the appeal amid final campaigning for the 460-seat Sejm and 100-seat Senate. The governing Law and Justice party (PIS) is hoping for a record third term after eight years in power.

The Archbishop told the Polish Catholic News Agency that politics should be concerned with “service to the common good”, and that he was shocked at how the harshness of political debate had whipped up social emotions.

“Catholic teaching clearly indicates that a properly formed Christian conscience cannot allow support for political programmes or laws that undermine the basic principles of faith and morality.

“But the Church is not and should never be a tool for conducting ad hoc politics — or for instrumentalising and using in an unauthorised way for narrow party interests”.

Led by the former Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński, PIS won an outright majority in October 2015, and a second landslide in 2019, and has pledged in its 300-page programme to pursue regional development and support families and the elderly, while also upholding “the presence of Christianity, above all of the Catholic Church”.

Its government has been threatened with European Union sanctions, however, over alleged interference with media and judicial independence, and has faced street protests for backing LGBT restrictions and a tightened ban on abortion.

Its main rival, the Civic Coalition, headed by another former Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, who was president of the EU’s European Council for 2014-19, has declared abortion, contraception, and in vitro fertilisation to be fundamental rights, and has committed itself to restricting religious education and state funding for church activities.

Election observers say that devout Roman Catholics will find it difficult to back the Coalition’s anti-clerical platform, at a time when seminary admissions and Sunday mass attendance are falling in Poland in the wake of secularisation and sexual-abuse scandals.

The Church has also clashed with the PIS government on numerous issues, including state treatment of migrants and refugees. In August 2021, the government was accused by the President of the Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan, of “displaying unprecedented disrespect” and violating constitutional and treaty norms in its disregard for the Church’s rights.

In a statement last May, Polish bishops instructed the clergy to “keep their distance from political parties”, insisting that the Church would avoid standing “on the Right, Left, or Centre”.

In a late-September “Election Vade Mecum”, they listed support for life, family rights, and monogamous marriage as criteria for voter choices, alongside respect for religious freedom and “ethical economic processes”; but they also called on citizens to respect the outcome of the election.

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