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Mihaela Ghimici
The Polish National Church in the 1970s. An Institutional Approach
Volumele Civitas99Alumni, vol. V, noiembrie-decembrie 2005
The 1970s were a turning-point for the authoritarian-communist regime in Poland because of the emergence of a timid, still determined, opposition movement, which reached its peak in 1980-1981 under the umbrella of the Solidarnosc movement (Garton Ash, 1983). During the Martial Law of General Wojciech Jaruzelski and the negotiations for a regime -change at the round-table talks in 1989, the Polish national Catholic Church is known to have played a mediating role. In order to explain its position, one might search explanations understanding the developments of the previous years and look for some answers. This paper approaches an indefinite time span, the 1970s, as it relies on an interpretation which asks for more general considerations, rather than for detailed research. One could question where the Polish national Church fits in this historical framework. In the search for an answer, it should be stated that this was the period when the national Church opened more to the public, together with other social initiatives, as active participants in the struggle for an autonomous public sphere. The explanation is intermediated by an institutional approach, according to which a religious institution, in this case the Polish national Church, has the ability to adapt to new social and political changes in order both to preserve itself and to survive the encountered crisis. It manages to accomplish that by focusing on fulfilling four institutional needs, size, dispersion, symbolic capital, and operational ideology, which are to be discussed in a section especially dedicated. So, the general statement is that the reason for which the national Church in Poland became a mediator in the 1980s is partly explained by its attempt to adapt to the system in the 1970s, by emphasizing its institutional needs. The result would be that of gaining more autonomy from the authoritarian- communist state. These needs are analyzed in the following lines in order to illustrate how the national Church tries to make use of the public sphere. Among these institutional needs, the focus lies mainly on one accidental aspect, the election of a Polish Pope (which is considered an element of dispersion) Mihaela Ghimici, Volumele Civitas99Alumni, vol. V, noiembrie-decembrie 2005 and on one circumstantial aspect, the Polish Primate, Stefan Wyszynski (an element of symbolic Theoretical Matters
There are several terms that need clarification before going to details. When one is to regard a
religious institution, especially one which has played the role the Polish Catholic Church has played in the authoritarian-communist regime, it is of great use to denominate the working concepts: ‘national Church’, ‘authoritarian-communist state’, and ‘public sphere’. In order to elucidate the first one, one must look not only at percentages of church-goers, but also at what these church-goers might think of the Church in institutional terms. On the one hand, the result would be that over 90% of Poles declared themselves as belonging to the Roman-Catholic confession (Falk, 2003: 18) and, on the other hand, there seems to be a personal/private approach to the Church as a national reference-point in terms of The intensity of Polish devotion to the Church is not a manifestation of exceptional faith. (…) It is no country of saints. Devotion to the Church is a question of national identity. This stems back to the partition period, when the Polish nation was subjected to campaigns of forced religious and national conversion, or when Poles faced formal legal discrimination on the basis of their nationality and religion. (…) Thus Polish national consciousness came to be strongly tied to a Catholic religious identity (Bernhard, 1993: 136). Thus, as it can be observed the reference to the ‘national’ Church covers a twofold explanation: one related to religion and the other identified with a more complex issue, national identity. This twofold emphasis is needed because, otherwise, no deep understanding of the rapprochement between this institution and the ordinary people would be possible. This approaching is also necessary in order to better perceive the way in which the Polish national Church contributed to the mobilization of Poles in moments of protests, which eventually led to the necessity of a public sphere, a place where the mobilized masses express themselves through different means . The term ‘authoritarian-communist state’ might raise, at least, the same level of complexity when defining it. To clarify this, the present paper considers this term the way Barbara J. Falk does, as her explanation is rather simple and convincing, since she clearly detaches herself from the great debate on how to label the Soviet system in different Soviet satellites, like was the case for Poland in 2
Mihaela Ghimici, Volumele Civitas99Alumni, vol. V, noiembrie-decembrie 2005 First, this term [authoritarian communism] normatively describes the system at hand as “authoritarian” linking it in some respects with other authoritarian regimes and as theoretically and practically distinct from democratic regimes. Second, the term communism manages somewhat imperfectly to unite internal des criptions (by both its dissenters and its official representatives and defenders) with the external description of common parlance (Falk, 2003: xxx-xxxi). Another reason for which this paper uses this term is the institutional approach to which the national Church is referred at, an approach that is to be discussed in the following section. Overall, ‘authoritarian-communism’ gives the reader a feeling of the way the system worked in a Sovie t Maybe the most interesting term to define among the three is ‘public sphere’ due to its exotic meaning within an authoritarian-communist system, most commonly defined as being deprived of it. One of the best identification is emphasized by Michael H. Bernhard, who, trying to explain the controversial term of ‘civil society’ in its proto-stage refers to the ‘pub lic sphere’ as: (…) a sphere of autonomy, which I will call “public space”, was created between the official public life of the monarchy, state, and the nobility, and that of private and/or communal life. In time, a range of associations and organizations (voluntary, professional, cultural, social, trade union), political parties, social movements, and communication media (the press and publishing) came to populate it. These forces were able to organize themselves outside the official political sphere and compel the state, through political struggles, to recognize and respect their existence (Bernhard, 1993: 3). As it is shown, this segment of society appeared in the 1970s and has continued its development up to nowadays. The most interesting side of the story is that it started function in Poland, among all the other authoritarian-communist regimes from Central and Eastern Europe . This paper does not intend to refer to the public sphere as a social construct underlining its criteria and functions, but as a segment of public life where the Polish national Church contributed to what was often called ‘an alternative society’, a term which will be defined, but not discussed in this paper. By ‘alternative society’ it is meant that segment of society under authoritarian -communism, which functioned virtually as an anti-system network summing the dissatisfactions of people, who gathered voluntarily in the hope of fulfilling those needs the system failed to fulfill. The relation between the Polish national Church and the alternative society is one of the most interesting to look at due to its few, but powerful points, where they intersected, among which the desire to become autonomous entity. The way the national Church in Poland wanted to achieve this autonomy from the state is detailed in the following 3
Mihaela Ghimici, Volumele Civitas99Alumni, vol. V, noiembrie-decembrie 2005 section, which tries to show that this institutional organization, actually followed traditional patterns to receive this autonomy, using to its advantage the public sphere. The Polish National Church as a Religious Institution
When identifying themselves, individuals usually refer to their belonging to an ethnical group, social
class, community, nation, and, very often, a religious group. This means that religion has become a conscious means of self-identification of individuals and of peoples, respectively. Trond Gillberg strengthens the role of religion by saying that it touches more complex spheres than the Religion spans politics, social life, ethics and morality; it is a fundamental force in the lives of human beings. Because it spreads not merely through its own force, but clearly, as a result of the acts of the empires and their leaders, religion is a political force of primary imp ortance. In fact, religion is a fundamental glue for the political order itself because it helps establish and nurture the notion of self and collectivity (Gillberg, 1990: 1). In this context, the national Church appears as the instrumented form of religion that shows two characteristics. First, it embodies the creed of individuals in an almighty God within a religious organization and second, it belongs to a national or international institution, which, in time, has turned it into a political actor. The famous Polish philosopher, Leszek Kolakowski, refers to religion as being ‘a collection of statements about God’ (Kolakowski, 1993:10). These secular perceptions of religion show that the national Church (in an opposite perception, the house of God) becomes a very important mobilizing force of the masses. The authoritarian-communist system pushed the masses into seeking for a parallel environment, which the National Church partly offered: Celebrations by the Church and national anniversaries, the coronation of icons, mass pilgrimages to the Jasna Gora and other sanctuaries, planned pastoral activities undertaken on a national scale: all these were extremely important in strengthening the role of religious identity and at the same time the sense of nationhood and national solidarity, if only for the occasional mobilization of people to an exceptionally inner effort (Kloczowski, 2000: 324). Religion is a very broad concept, which cannot be analyzed within a system, like the authoritarian-communist one, unless translated into more functional terms. This section analyzes the national Church as a religious organization for this precise purpose. The theoretical model used by 4
Mihaela Ghimici, Volumele Civitas99Alumni, vol. V, noiembrie-decembrie 2005 Pedro Ramet is of particular significance because it allows interpretations of the national Church behavior within a given historical context. According to the author there are four factors which determine the institutional needs of a religious organization: ‘(1) Size: the more numerous a religious organization is, the greater the pressure on it to reach a compromise with the (2) Dispersion: a religious organization, which depends on an external clerical center and has strong links with similar organizations from abroad, has great chances to escape the control of the totalitarian regime; (3) Symbolic capital: the increase of the symbolic capital of a religious organization leads to the increase of its capacity to (4) Operational ideology, especially the strategy to convince new adherents (Ramet, 1983: 193). Following this fourfold presentation, it is interesting to position the Polish national Church in the second half of the 1970s to see whether one can explain its behavior in matters of institutional survival. The significance of these four institutional needs is directly related to the issue of survival, as all four lead to the preservation and continuation of an existing set of characteristics. In the upcoming lines, what can be argued about the nature of these four institutional variables is that the size and the operational ideology are more probable to be constant over time, than are the dispersion and the symbolic capital, which are directly linked to religious actors who play social and political roles, as it will be shown in the case of the Polish national Church in the 1970s. Another reason for this delimitation is the tangent points referred to, above. The dispersion and the symbolic capital are considered to be the most exposed to the intersection with the public sphere, since the national Church’s needs to communicate with the believers, its main target, are, in this way, satisfied. This is to be explained when taking these Regarding the size of a religious organization, it has been mentioned above the fact that the Polish national Catholic Church is the Church of the majority of Poles. Immediately after the establishment of the authoritarian-communist regime in Poland as elsewhere in the Central and Eastern Europe, one of its main prerogatives was to subordinate all types of organization in order to obtain total control over society. The Church was among these targeted institutions, especially that it embodied the majority of population: “The party intended to subordinate the Church, the last major independent social force; and so the government issued a whole series of instructions and decrees and activities. In March 1950 the Church’s landed property was confiscated, although some land was 5
Mihaela Ghimici, Volumele Civitas99Alumni, vol. V, noiembrie-decembrie 2005 left for the parish priests” (Kloczowski, 2000: 315). Despite this negative aspect which the national Church had to deal with, there was a positive, though incidental, one. This freezing of individual’s liberties (including that of freedom to join any confession) favored the national Churc h greatly because, in this way, it was deprived of an additional effort which had to do with the fourth institutional need, the operational ideology of Catholicism. Catholicism, as a religious confession, relies on a doctrinaire foundation based on the Holly Bible and the Church tradition. The Pope is considered ‘the Vicar of Christ on Earth’, unfailing whenever pronouncing himself in matters of doctrine. He denominates the archbishops of different dioceses. The opposition to Orthodoxy, its traditional opponent, would clarify more on this issue. This opposition refers to Filioque (the Holly Ghost comes ‘from Father and Son’ that caused the Great Schism), in relation to which the Orthodox Church recognizes only the Father. The unfailing character of the Pope, the existence of the Purgatory as an intermediary stage between Heaven and Hell, as well as the focus on the purity of the Virgin are complementary elements coming to define the Roman- Catholic cult. For Catholicism, the linkage between God and the people is perceived through the presence of the Pope as a direct follower of Peter, the apostle (Pope John Paul II, 1995: 29-36). The structure of the institution of the Roman Catholic Church is pyramidal, having the Pope as its leader. It has a transnational character, which means that the organization of the Roman Catholic Churches in the world is directed from Vatican and has an international religious message. Thus, these two somehow similar variables show that the Polish national Church as a religious institution preserved a traditional ideological basis to relate to, whenever facing the issue of legitimacy. The issue of legitimacy is particular important for an institution within the public sphere because this is the place of the competition market, where the religious institution competes with other institutions. For the Polish case, these are the authoritarian-communist state and the emerging opposition in the form of KOR, the Society of Academic Courses, the Movement for Defense of Human and Civil Rights, student movements and peasant movements in the 1970s (Bernhard, 1993: 131-150). With respect to the dispersion and symbolic capital of the Polish national Church in the 1970s, it can be argued that they were represented successfully by two significant ind ividuals, both belonging to high rank clergy, Karol Wojtyla and Stefan Wyszynski. The former became Pope in the autumn of 1978 and the latter was Poland’s Primate since 1950s till the beginning of the 1980s. At a first look, these two religious personalities could easily be associated with what Pedro Ramet called ‘symbolic capital’. It is true that their activities led to a unanimous appreciation both from the secular side and 6
Mihaela Ghimici, Volumele Civitas99Alumni, vol. V, noiembrie-decembrie 2005 from the authoritarian-communist regime. This might meant that their religious charisma was very influential in terms of national religious symbols. But, at a deeper understanding of the Polish case, one may become aware that, despite this overlapping of the two symbols there is something which distinguishes them. It is their institutional role within the Catholic Church that makes them different. Therefore, in the following lines, Karol Wojtyla will be considered an element of dispersion, as representative of the universal Catholic Church, having tremendous importance for the Polish public sphere, at an international level, whereas Stefan Wyszynski will be regarded as bearing the traditional position of the national Church in Poland , the search for autonomy in a moderate way. When discussing dispersion the connection of the Polish national Church with the Vatican saved it from the total control of the regime. To better understand that, a comparison with the Romanian case, where the national Church belongs to the Orthodox framework, would help. As religious organizations, the two Churches differ in many ways, among which the institutional structure and the dispersion of the message. With respect to the message, the Orthodox Church is national in purpose, while the Catholic one is international. As related to their structure, the Orthodox Church’s organization has a horizontal structure, which is coordinated by a Synod, composed of several members of the high clergy. On the contrary, the Catholic Church presents a pyramidal structure led by one high clergy, the Pope. In order to clarify the stand of this paper, the best way to achieve this is by quoting from one of the most open critics of the Church before the Pope’s first visit to Poland in 1979, Adam Michnik, who wrote the following lines after the first visit of the John Paul II to Poland, in 1979. The words of the Pope were impressive. (…) Just as the Polish historical experience is unique, so it is the experience of the Polish Catholicism. (…) Church-society relations, according to the pope, take precedence over Church-state relations. The normalization of the latter must be based on “basic human rights, among which the right to religious freedom has an indisputable, and in a certain way a fundamental and central meaning. The normalization of relations between State and Church is evidence of the practical respect of this right and all that it entails in the life of the political community” (Michnik, This fragment clearly shows the point where the representative of the religious institution intervenes in the public sphere, where debates on human rights and religious freedom are common topics for all The symbolic capital refers to the activity of the clergy as related to the constant attempts of the authoritarian-communist regime to control and even repress the national Church representatives. 7
Mihaela Ghimici, Volumele Civitas99Alumni, vol. V, noiembrie-decembrie 2005 Like every successful organization, the religious one needs charismatic figures, maybe more than any other institution. The attention paid by Michnik to Primate Wyszynski may be regarded as a success of the Polish religious institution within the public sphere: It was he [the Primate] who shaped the attitude of the Polish Church, one marked by the determined resistance against sovietization yet tempered by the realist’s feel for the situation, in which there was room for firmness and heroism yet also for reasonable compromise. It was this stance that led to the present situation, in which the Roman Catholic Church in Poland could reveal to the world its true nature. (…) It is now quite clear to everyone that the Church in Poland is a force against which it is impossible to exercise power (Michnik, 1993: 224). In other words, the symbolic capital of the Primate interacts with the public sphere to the most upper emotional level as it is implied by the author in the last lines of the above quotation. After the events of 1989, the Polish national Church has regarded the state as the political entity, which must support its traditional values among the citizens instead of being impartial in matters of the individual’s private sphere. This comes to reflect upon the issue of survival raised at the beginning: was the interaction with the emerging public sphere a common creed shared among all involved in opposition movements, or was it a rational choice the national Church made in order to surpass the period of crisis. This paper tried to emphasize the latter perspective. Bibliography
Bernhard, M. H. (1993). The Origins of Democratization in Poland. Workers, Intellectuals, and Oppositional Politics,
1976-1980. New York: Columbia University Press. Falk, B. J. (2003). The Dilemmas of Dissidence in East-Central Europe. Citizen Intellectuals and Philosopher Kings . Budapest and New York: Central European University Press. Garton Ash, T. (1983). The Polish Revolution: Solidarity. London: Granta Books. Gillberg, T. (1990). Nationalism and Communism in Romania. The Rise and Fall of Ceausescu’s Personal Dictatorship. Boulder, San Francisco, and Oxford: Westview Press. John, Paul II (1995). Sa trecem pragul sperantei. Trans. S. Marculescu. Bucuresti: Humanitas. (Let’s Pass the Threshold Kloczowski, J. (2000). A History of Polish Christianity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 8
Mihaela Ghimici, Volumele Civitas99Alumni, vol. V, noiembrie-decembrie 2005 Kolakowski, L. (1993). Religia. Daca nu exista Dumnezeu… Despre Dumnezeu, Diavol, Pacat si alte necazuri ale asa- numitei filozofii a religiei. Trans. S. Marculescu. Bucuresti: Humanitas. (If there is no God…On God, the Devil, Sin and Other Worries of the so-called Philosophy of Religion). Michnik, A. (1993). The Church and the Left. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. Ramet, P. (1987). Cross and Commissar: the Politics of Religion in Eastern Europe and the USSR. Bloomington: Indiana 9



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