''The beginning of the beginning of stabilization,'' predicted a well-connected European visitor just back from Poland. ''It's closer (than before) to normalization,'' declared a Soviet official in Moscow in evaluating the situation in the wake of Pope John Paul II's June visit to Poland.
Both men were describing what seems to be an emerging church-state social contract in Poland that enjoys Soviet approval.
For now this compact excludes the Polish workers, as personified by Lech Walesa, leader of the banned union Solidarity. And it will exclude the alienated younger generation of Poles for a long time to come. Yet it is a modus vivendi that the government hopes will eventually win worker acquiescence.
The compact is a second-best for everyone.
For the Polish United Workers (communist) Party it amounts to official acknowledgment that the party and government lack all moral authority. They are relying for social order on the moral authority of the Roman Catholic Church - and on the rawthreat of police power.
Furthermore, even for sheer political initiative the government is leaning heavily on Poland's Roman Catholic Church and the Polish Pope in Rome.
The Pope's personal oversight of Polish politics is shortly expected to be strengthened, according to information reaching Bonn, by the appointment of Polish primate Jozef Glemp to the Vatican Curia and the naming in his stead of Krakow Archbishop Franciszek Macharski.
The Pope initially wanted to make his old Krakow confidant primate, it is understood, but he acceded to the testament of the venerated primate Stefan Wyszynski in appointing Glemp in 1981.
Even for the church the emerging social contract is a second-best solution, however. For the church - a distinctly political as well as spiritual institution in Poland, but one that has preferred to play its politics discreetly - the compact means a high political and economic profile. Such direct political responsibility runs the risk of transferring the Poles' chronic political disgruntlement to the church.
Nonetheless, the church is about to take on a highly visible political role in guiding the prospective several-billion-dollar fund to aid private agriculture. Much of the capital for this fund is supposed to come from West German and other foreign episcopates.
For the third party to the Polish compact - the Soviet Union - the political and ideological bankruptcy of the Polish United Workers Party (PUWP) is especially humiliating. According to Leninist precepts, the party is the vanguard of society and the determining political force.
Yet the Kremlin - as it signaled in awarding the Order of Lenin to Polish leader Wojciech Jaruzelski after the Pope's visit to Poland - is now approving an arrangement in which the PUWP clearly shares power with the church.
The PUWP's dependence on the Polish church was most obvious in the second meeting between the Pope and General Jaruzelski during the Pope's trip. That meeting - according to information reaching Bonn that contradicts the official version - came about at the request of Jaruzelski rather than the Pope.
Jaruzelski and the Politburo are said to have traveled from Warsaw to Krakow to see the Pope - but the Pope chose to see Jaruzelski alone.
Other unwelcome aspects of the emerging social contract that Moscow is nonetheless tolerating include the expansion of the private sector in the Polish economy and the strengthening of patriotic displays.
The major emphasis in saving the economy now looks like it is being directed at private farmers, but a number of small private cafes are also said to be opening.
As for symbols of nationalist favor, both interwar dictator Jozef Pilsudski and London-based premier in exile and World War II hero Wladyslaw Sikorski suffice. Fresh flowers are heaped daily on Pilsudski's mausoleum, and even the official press showered accolades on General Sikorski this month on the 40th anniversary of his death.
The test of how much further the Kremlin might be prepared to go in recognizing the position of the Roman Catholic Church might come in Poland's neighbor Republic of Soviet Lithuania. Reports from both Poland and Rome say the Soviet Union may soon allow an unprecedented visit by this Lithuanian-speaking Pope to Lithuania - a region that despite official Soviet atheism is probably even more Catholic than Poland.
Despite their distaste for certain aspects of the new social contract, all three institutions - the Polish party, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Kremlin - apparently deem the present arrangement preferable to the alternative of chaos or strains that would amount to political civil war. The developing modus vivendi is therefore expected by some observers to be a durable one.
The European traveler back from Poland, noting General Pilsudski's 12-year incumbency as Poland's head of government, even anticipated a comparable tenure for Gen. Jaruzelski.
Certainly Jaruzelski's present position seems strengthened in terms of factional party politics. With both the Pope's and the Kremlin's blessing, he is unchallengeable domestically from either right or left. The Polish party hard-liners are said to be effectively scattered now.
And the one prominent reformer, Deputy Prime Minister Mieczyslaw Rakowski, is said to be isolated from everyone, ignored by the party apparatchiks and despised by the intellectuals he once represented because of his part in the repression of solidarity.
The exclusion of the Polish workers from the new arrangement is evident both in the reserve with which the Pope greeted Walesa in Poland, and in the continued failure of the official trade unions to win members.
The European traveler reports hearing from two Polish sources that the Pope granted Walesa only five minutes to discuss his own and Solidarity's affairs, then decisively steered the remaining 15 minutes with the Walesa family's audience to Mrs. Walesa and the children.
The government hopes that workers can eventually be persuaded to tolerate the new situation if the economy can be patched together and the standard of living raised.
But at present - despite government claims that 20 percent of workers in large factories are becoming members of the new official unions - no more than 5 or 6 percent are joining, the European traveler reported after talking with workers in some factories.