Polish bishop warns of return to “dark times of communism” under new government

A prominent figure in Poland’s Catholic hierarchy has warned in a Christmas sermon that the new government’s plans to reduce the presence of religion in public spaces mark a return to “the dark times of communism”. He also criticised last week’s takeover of public media by the new ruling coalition.

Nagranie z Pasterki na Wawelu obiegło sieć. Jędraszewski ostrzegał przed „czasami ciemności PRL”https://t.co/xR1Em7KRzz

— WPROST.pl (@TygodnikWPROST) December 26, 2023

In a homily delivered at midnight mass, Marek Jędraszewski, the archbishop of Kraków, expressed concern that a government-appointed official had removed a cross from a public room in his building while the new education minister has proposed halving the number of hours of Catholic catechism classes in public schools.

“They want to take us back to the dark times of the [communist] Polish People’s Republic by removing crosses and nativity scenes from some Polish offices,” he said, quoted by Wirtualna Polska. Jędraszewski is also head of the Catholic episcopate’s commission on relations with the government.

“Why is there an arbitrary desire to limit the number of hours devoted to [religion classes] at school, during which the full truth about Christ is proclaimed?” he asked, calling the plans an attack on “the very foundations of European culture” and a “spiritual mutilation of Polish youth like in the communist era”.

Members of the former PiS government have criticised an official appointed by the new administration for immediately taking down a Christian cross hanging in his building.

He also restored EU flags that had been removed under his predecessors https://t.co/Ra74RHSjHB

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) December 23, 2023

The archbishop also commented on last week’s government takeover of public media, which has been condemned by PiS as unlawful and a violation of media freedom.

“Attempts are being made to take away or at least curtail our civic freedom,” said Jędraszewski, who pointed to the fact that, due to the recent changes, people were no longer able to watch some of the religious ceremonies usually broadcast by state TV.

“We need to protect ourselves from all sorts of red stars, familiar to us from the communist past, as well as from modern-day stars that want to drag us into the miserable darkness of hatred, contempt for others, violence,” he concluded.

The crisis surrounding Poland’s public media has deepened after the former ruling PiS party used a state body it created when in power to name a new head of state TV despite the new government having already picked its own figure last week https://t.co/iLz2izLKT2

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) December 27, 2023

Marek Jędraszewski has long been an outspoken conservative voice in the Polish episcopate and was seen as close to the former national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government, which was removed from power this month.

In 2021, Jędraszewski declared that it is “our duty to thank God for” the “gift” of PiS chairman Jarosław Kaczyński and his late brother, former President Lech Kaczyński.

Poland’s new ruling camp, a coalition of parties ranging from left to centre-right, is more liberal and has talked about taking measures to introduce a clearer separation between church and state than was the case under PiS.

„It is our duty to thank God for the gift” of ruling party chairman Jarosław Kaczyński and his late brother, former President Lech Kaczyński, the archbishop of Kraków declared at a mass marking the 72nd anniversary of the twins’ birth https://t.co/sWIgkHti7v

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) June 19, 2021

Today, another leading church figure, Cardinal Grzgorz Ryś, reiterated the episcopate’s position that any changes to the teaching of religion in schools should first be consulted with the church. He also noted that it is already possible for schools to reduce the number of hours of catechism classes if the local bishop agrees.

Asked by broadcaster TOK FM why such classes should take place in schools at all in a secular state, Ryś argued that Poland’s “constitution does not explicitly state the secular nature of the state” but rather outlines a relationship between “autonomous entities”.

However, a United Survey poll for Wirtualna Polska published yesterday found that 67% of Poles support the education minister’s plan to halve the number of religion classes. Only 29% viewed it as a bad idea.

There was a clear divide between supporters of the ruling coalition – 92% of whom supported the idea – and those who voted for PiS or the far-right Confederation (Konfederacja), among whom only 8% were in favour with 85% opposed.

After Poland’s new education minister outlined plans to reduce state-funded Catholic catechism classes in public schools, a senior church official has called on the government to ensure that any such changes are „carried out in dialogue with the church” https://t.co/PSHkYaehQB

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) December 15, 2023

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Main image credit: Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk (under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Agata Pyka is an assistant editor at Notes from Poland. She is a journalist and a political communication student at the University of Amsterdam. She specialises in Polish and European politics as well as investigative journalism and has previously written for Euractiv and The European Correspondent.

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