Polish officials say Pope's trip hurt church-state ties. Political stands by Pontiff angered leaders in Warsaw
Warsaw — Pope John Paul II's pilgrimage to Poland compromised church-state accommodation in Eastern Europe, Polish and church officials say. Before the visit last week, potentially historic agreements were being discussed by Vatican and Polish officials that would formalize the Roman Catholic Church's legal status in Poland and establish full diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Warsaw.
These moves, the officials said, could have led to papal voyages to East Germany and Hungary, and perhaps even to the Soviet Union.
But while in Poland, the Pope took a much stronger political stand than expected. He called for better respect of human rights in Poland and restoration of an ``independent and self-governing trade union'' like the banned Solidarity organization. Such statements infuriated Polish communists.
``The Pope can forget any dreams of a new East European policy,'' a top-ranking Polish official told the Monitor after the Pontiff returned to Rome. The official insisted on anonymity. ``After this, even the Hungarians will not talk to him.''
Continuing his angry monologue, the official said the Pope wanted the church to take over political power in Poland and create a theocratic state. ``Welcome to Iran,'' he said. ``I fear the Khomeini-ization of Poland.''
The Vatican, of course, denies any such intentions. It is trying to limit negative fallout from the Pope's visit. Joaquin Navarro Valls, a Vatican spokesman, blamed the press yesterday for exaggerating the Pope's statements. And the Pope himself said yesterday that, with his trip over, it was important to restore ``the necessary dialogue'' with Polish officials.
``There is a feeling now, both in the Vatican and the Polish episcopate, that the Pope's very emotional behavior while in Poland was counterproductive,'' said Hansjakob Stehle, the Rome-based author of a book on Vatican-East European relations. ``It makes everything more difficult.''
Divisions within the Polish church add to the difficulties. After the Pope praised the murdered pro-Solidarity priest Jerzy Popieluszko and visited his grave in Warsaw, cautious, conservative primate Jozef Glemp will find it harder to silence politically active priests. These priests, along with lay liberal Catholic leaders, are pushing hard for the church to strongly take up demands for free association and pluralism in Poland.
``The Pope surpassed our greatest expectations,'' said a beaming Krysztof Sliwinski, a leading Catholic writer with the newspaper ZNAK. ``He gave the church here a lesson, showing it that our moral teachings must come first.''
Poland's internal stability will determine what happens next. If the Pope's encouragement provokes widespread unrest, then experts such as author Stehle say it will become almost impossible for church-state dialogue to be resumed. If Poles fall back into sullen apathy, however, then such a dialogue probably would be renewed.
``For now, the so-called normalization between the Vatican and Polish state will be postponed,'' says Stehle. ``If everything remains quiet as before in Poland, then after half a year or so, all could be forgotten.''
Both the church and the government need each other. Good relations with the government would permit the church to stabilize and consolidate its role in Poland, even leading to the return of such church institutions as the Caretas charity network, which was nationalized during the Stalinist era.
For the government, good relations with the church are indipensible in resolving social problems, such as alcohol and drug addition. And despite the Pope's strong words, the church traditionally has proved a stable, conservative political partner.
``Without the church, the government would have to talk to some other legitimate representative of society,'' says Bogumil Luft, an editor at Wiez, a Catholic daily. ``That would mean Solidarity.''
For these reasons, the authorities still seem willing to continue a dialogue with the church.
While ruling out further discussions with the Pope, the top-ranking official who spoke with the Monitor praised Primate Glemp and said the government still hopes to improve relations with the church.
``Vatican East European policy is one thing - church-state dialogue here in Poland another thing,'' the official explained. ``This trip has raised the role of Primate Glemp. We only reach a historic compromise with that reasonable man.''