Poland yields ground on church demands
Vienna — Poland's communist government has made substantial moves to improve its relations with the country's powerful Roman Catholic Church. The concessions are not only a followup to last year's visit of Pope John Paul II to his native land.They are also part of the Gierek regime's bid for popular support for a rigorous austerity program.
Among recent concessions disclosed by a church authority May 2 were:
* Immunity from draft for military service of young Poles studying for the priesthood. The church had long sought such an exemption.
In line with that change, 200 seminarians in service at the time were given leave for the Easter festival and subsequently released altogether from military service.
* Lifting of a 15-year ban -- imposed at a time of severe strain between the church and the regime of Wladislaw Gomulka -- excluding those engaged in church administration from state social-security provisions. Some 6,000 priests will now be elegible for benefits.
* Exempting senior Western church visitors from the regulation requiring tourists to change, on arrival in Poland, a minimum of $15, in hard currency, on arrival in Poland, a minimum of $15, in hard currency, for each day they plan to stay. (Visiting clergy are usually lodged in church residences).
Perhaps even more illustrative of the regime's conciliatory stance is the free hand the Catholic Church has been given to distribute in Poland the new Polish edition of the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romana.
The decision to launch it was a sequel to the Pope's visit, and some 6,000 copies of the first issue have been sent to Poland without government objection. A church spokesman, the Rev. Franciszek Goscinski, said they were told "we may bring in as many copies as we wish."
Although many other major church demands -- raised with new vigor since the papal visit -- have not yet won response from the government, church-state relations have improved "markedly," a spokesman said.
The current concessions appear to represent a "package," or at least part of it, foreshadowed earlier this year by government officials responsible for church affairs.
But these officials indicated that the church's hopes for bigger newsprint allocations for its publications were unlikely to be realized. Economic conditions are forcing imports cuts that are likely to reduce newsprint supplies for the whole Polish press, even Communist Party publications.
Other church provisos for cooperation go deeper. The church reminded the government of the urgent need to concede citizens more freedom to participate in public affairs at a time when "national unity and social accord" were so greatly stake.
The bishops' concluding statement mixed conciliation with firm emphasis on prerequisites. It said church and state, though from different standpoints, "serve the individual and social vocation of the same people." But it insisted that "the church's freedom is the basic principle" in relations between them.
It was an allusion to declared Catholic readiness to cooperate with the regime in tackling the country's many mounting social ills, such as grave problems among youth and alcoholism. But the church insists its social organizations must be allowed a role, and discrimination in jobs and other areas against active believers must be discontinued.