outlook for Poland
THE imminence of a "catacomb" existence for the Church in Poland is revealed in reports reaching the CantuLIC HERALD this week. These confirm , that Church-State relations, acutely strained over the past year, will worsen in
But the Communist Government is probably not yet sufficiently firmly established to risk an open clash with the Church—the only bulwark between the Polish people and complete oppression.
That the Church should retain so great a measure of freedom—. making Poland an anomaly in the Soviet bloc—is due to two factors. First, unlike other satellites, it is almost 100 per cent. Catholic, with B fervour augmented in the past by patriotic opposition to Orthodox Russia and Protestant-dominated Germany.
Second, in 1956 the Communists were more careful than in Hungary to avoid unrest erupting into revolution, while M. Gomulka was built up as a "patriot" on his release from jail—where, according to a rumour successfully spread by the Communists, he had returned to the sacraments.
Hence the Polish Government has preferred to use indirect, rather than open, methods in fighting the Church. Over the next year we are likely to see these intensified and some new ones added. The clergy are being hampered by trying and sentencing priests on charges not of being good Christians but of being bad citizens. The Communist bureaucracy first issues regulations making the priest's work almost impossible and then arrests him for breaking them.
For example, it is pretty well impossible to get hold of building materials through the official channels for a church. A priest who has got all the necessary legal permits to build therefore finds himself forced to turn to the black market.
Exorbitant taxes cripple Church institutions and the clergy: the latter are then approached by proGovernment " peace priests" who offer financial aid with strings attached.
Religious instruction in schools is another battlefield. The Church sticks to its demands for this to be provided, but the Communists are increasing the number of "free schools " where no religious instruction is given — ostensibly because of popular demand. It is difficult, too, to find somewhere suitable apart from the school for giving religious instruction. The churches arc unheated —and the Polish winter is bitter.
The Communists arc also attacking the Church by trying to sap people's moral standards. The weakest spot in the Catholic armour is the question of birthcontrol: marriage in Poland, because of the shocking housing shortage. means all too often a whole family living in one room. and one flat will house several families. A large family comes to demand heroic virtue.
The Communists exploit this by flooding the country with birthcontrol propaganda. Abortion has been made legal and easy.
The State also turns the problem of alcoholism to its own advantage. Drunkenness is prevalent in Poland partly because life is so grim while alcohol is cheap.
The Communists are officially concerned about alcoholism—it damages the country's economy and lowers productivity. But alcohol is a State monopoly forming the biggest single source of revenue.
Despite everything the Poles are clinging to the faith. The attempted Communist indoctrination of youth has quite failed. The Communist youth organisations—the Socialist Youth and the Peasant Youth— have also failed: expected to provide the country's future Communist elite, they have become a breeding-ground for opportunists. The churches are all packed to the doors on Sundays. despite attempts to make it difficult to attend. Some, admittedly, go out of hatred for the regime rather than for love of Christ, but the problem of mixed motives is not peculiar to Communist-dominated societies.