Donald Tusk, the leader of Poland’s largest opposition party, has pledged to “immediately” separate the Catholic church from the state if his Civic Platform (PO) wins the next election.
He accused bishops of becoming “government functionaries” under the current Law and Justice (PiS) government, saying that it was their fault – not that of believers such as himself – that the church has already separated itself from Polish society.
Tusk, who returned as leader of PO last year, was speaking in the northern town of Stargard as part of a tour to meet with residents of smaller towns around Poland. Tusk was asked by a member of the audience when the separation of the Catholic church from the state would take place.
“There is no other way than to clearly, immediately after winning the elections, carry out the process of separation of the church from the state, with all its consequences,” Tusk answered, quoted by the Polish Press Agency (PAP).
The church has already separated itself from society, Tusk said, and it only has itself to blame. “I have no doubts that the responsibility lies with the church, and not society; believers are the victims, and not the perpetrators of this situation.”
Tusk declared that he had “no reason to be happy at seeing how the church is being separated from society”, reminding his audience that he is a Catholic himself as well as the current president of the European People’s Party, which represents “Christian democracy”.
The Catholic church – meaning its members – should be distinguished from the institution, which is “largely composed of government functionaries,” Tusk added. “I am speaking about a significant part of the clergy, bishops, not to speak of government apparatchiks like Rydzyk”.
The latter was a reference to Tadeusz Rydzyk, an influential and controversial priest who is the founder of a Catholic media group and has enjoyed close ties with PiS. His foundations have received generous state grants under the current government.
But in his remarks Tusk also warned against waging a “culture war”. “I believe that Poland today does not need a radical revolution in which some hate others or want to degrade or humiliate them,” he said.
PiS has been strongly supportive of the Catholic church and advocated for it to play a prominent role in public life. PiS chairman Jarosław Kaczyński describes the church as the “repository of the only moral system commonly known in Poland” and warns that “rejection of it is nihilism”.
As a result, PiS has faced criticism from those who say it prioritises the church’s interests over those of the wider public, such as by pursuing a near-total ban on abortion that is opposed by most Poles. The church has in turn been criticised for involving itself in politics and linking itself to a particular party.
Last year, Tusk similarly warned that “the appropriation of the church by politicians is a fatal blow”. He accused PiS and its allies within the church of “destroying” the institution and called for the church to be “protected from itself”.
Szymon Hołownia, a devout Catholic who leads the centrist Poland 2050 (Polska 2050) party, last year also set out a plan to end what he called the “corrupting” links between church and state under PiS.
Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, leader of the centre-right Polish People’s Party (PSL), has also called for “politics to be moved out of the churches”. The Left (Lewica). the second largest opposition group, seeks a strong separation of church and state and the removal of church privileges.
Main image credit: public domain
Ben Koschalka is a translator and senior editor at Notes from Poland. Originally from Britain, he has lived in Kraków since 2005.