New Polish government orders PiS-linked priest’s college to return state funds

Poland’s new government has ordered a college founded by Tadeusz Rydzyk, a prominent priest close to the former ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, to return an EU-funded state grant.

It made the decision because admission to the programme of studies covered by the grant requires students to provide a letter from their parish priest. However, the college’s rector claims they “met all the conditions” for the funding.

Decyzją @MFIPR_GOV_PL Akademii Kultury Społecznej i Medialnej w Toruniu(Lux Veritatis) zwróci dofinansowanie na utworzenie kierunku „Informatyka medialna”. Naruszenie naprawdę kuriozalne -warunkiem koniecznym przyjęcia na studia było zaświadczenie od proboszcza.

— Katarzyna Pełczyńska (@Kpelczynska) January 13, 2024

During PiS’s time in power from 2015 until last month, entities linked to Rydzyk received hundreds of millions of zloty from state institutions and state-owned firms. The priest regularly invited leading PiS figures to events and often spoke in favour of the party’s policies.

Among the projects that received state funding was one run by the College of Social and Media Culture in Toruń, which was founded by Rydzyk and is owned by his Lux Veritas foundation

In 2017, the college received 414,000 zloty (€95,000) to launch a course on “Media Informatics”. The money was granted by the Polish science and higher education ministry as part of an EU-funded programme.

The @nytimes looks at the influence of Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, the priest who used his dedicated following and media empire to support the ruling PiS party, with his organisations and businesses receiving generous state subsidies in turn

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) September 21, 2019

However, on Saturday the minister for funds and regional policy in Poland’s new government, Katarzyna Pełczyńska-Nałęcz, announced that her ministry was ordering the college to return funding from the project.

She said that this was due to “a truly bizarre violation: a necessary condition for admission to studies was a certificate from a parish priest”.

A requirement to study at Rydzyk’s college is providing such a letter from a parish priest. In 2022, an atheist student who was expelled for not providing one won a discrimination case against the college, which had received support on the issue from the justice minister in the PiS government.

An atheist expelled from a private Christian college has won a discrimination case, after the Supreme Court dismissed an intervention by the prosecutor general on behalf of the college, which was founded by influential priest Tadeusz Rydzyk

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) April 11, 2022

The rector of the college, Zdzisław Klafka, told the Polish Press Agency (PAP) he was surprised by the ministry’s new decision, which he says will mean having to return 100,000 zloty of funding for the project.

“We met all the conditions” and the project “was rated very highly”, he said, adding that it was made clear from the start that recruitment for the programme included providing a letter from a parish priest.

“[The letter] does not have the character of a moral opinion, with emphasis that people with different worldviews will be treated individually,” said Klafka.

„Harmful leftist entities will not receive any money from the education ministry,” says its head

He was responding to controversy over his ministry granting funds to a foundation associated with figures from the ruling party in order for it to buy a villa

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) January 24, 2023

During PiS’s time in power, opposition parties were highly critical of the amount of state money that was channelled towards Rydzyk. According to calculations by Wirtualna Polska, a leading news website, a total of over 380 million zloty (€87 million) was given by state institutions and state-owned companies.

That included 220 million zloty for a museum dedicated to Pope John Paul II and Poles who saved Jews during World War Two; 12 million zloty for a remembrance park next to the museum; 73 million zloty for the construction of geothermal plants; 30 million zloty for Rydzyk’s college; and over 30 million zloty for his TV and radio stations.

Those opposition parties are now in power, having won elections in October and formed a new coalition government last month. They have pledged to review all such grants awarded under PiS.

Last week, the justice ministry announced that it had suspended payments from a fund that it says was used under the PiS government to support political allies. Rydzyk’s foundation had been due to receive over 7 million zloty from the fund by 2026.

Wymodlił 380,000,000.00 zł.

— Radosław Sikorski 🇵🇱🇪🇺 (@sikorskiradek) October 22, 2023

Notes from Poland is run by a small editorial team and published by an independent, non-profit foundation that is funded through donations from our readers. We cannot do what we do without your support.

Main image credit: KPRM (under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 PL)

Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign PolicyPOLITICO EuropeEUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

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