THE basic relationship between Church and State in Poland can be described as sniping from fixed positions.
This view was expressed to me before I left by a non-Catholic Western diplomat who had been for some time iii Warsaw and observation confirmed the general fairness of his analysis.
My visit took place while the Cardinal was in Rome and there seemed to, be a truce on both sides though appearances were deceptive—the authorities having just chosen the eve of the Primate's departure to notify him of their refusal to grant his request for an investigation into illegal measures against the Church.
Behind the diplomat's remark was recognition that the Slate in Poland is Communist and that party secretary Gomulka himself does not hide that he would dearly like to see the Church liquidated.
He has also admitted, however, that the Church will remain a force in Poland for many generations to come. He needs the support of the Polish people and there is thus a strict limit to what he can do against a Church which they love while they merely tolerate the regime. if he presses too hard the result will be new riots of the kind that took place in Nowa Huta when the local authorities overstepped the mark in their quarrel with the 'parish priest.
But with Russia just across the border, determined that the regime shall stay Communist, there is no hope of a change in the forseeable 'uture. This means that, rights notwithstanding, there is also a limit to what the Church can hope to obtain.
THE position of Poland within the Communist system is anomalous. Throughout the earlier part of 1956, the country was travelling the same road as Hungary, and in October there was a profound shakeup in the leadership of the Polish United Workers' Party. The national leaders wanted Gomulka as their party secretary and he was willing to serve but only on conditions the Russians were not prepared to countenance.
Khruehchev, Mikoyan and others came to Warsaw and there was a stormy meeting from which Gomulka emerged the victor after a Militant exercise of brinkmanship. October, 1956, has henceforth become a kind of watershed in Polish affairs.
Before that, roughly speaking, were the Stalinist and immediate post-Stalin periods when Communist rule was imposed on the people without any degree of popular consent. Since then, the Polish Communists have tried to rule with as much support as possible.
They have obtained a good deal because the people recognise that they are authentically Polish and want as little Russian interference in internal affairs as possible. This is the strength — almost the only strength — of men like Gomulka whose religious outlook differs from that of ninety per cent of their countrymen.
To get popular support they relax pressure on the Church from time to time. At other periods, they increase it to advance their communist policies or keep the Russians happy. There is thus a continual swing of the pendulum.
THE first big relaxation came soon after the events of 1956, when religious teaching was once more permitted in schools, provided the parents gave written permission. This concession was later whittled away as parents were influenced to keep their children from the classes.
Last summer, the permission was withdrawn entirely and catechism was restricted to Church premises. At the same time the authorities introduced measures to enable the State to interfere with the teaching.
The hierarchy's reaction was immediate, firm, and partially successful. A joint pastoral. dated September 2, 1961, was issued from the shrine of Our Lady at Czestochowa and read from the pulpit in most parishes in spite of visits to parish priests by officials to try to persuade them to ignore it.
The bishops also sent a letter to the clergy, ordering those who had agreed to the State regulations to withdraw their co-operation. The vast majority complied and the government eventually modified its demands.
Another means of coercion freely used by the State is the tax law. Church institutions are assessed at a level they cannot hope to meet and the full rigour of the law is then rarely invoked. This means that a lever is always available to press the Church towards conformity. The great Catholic university of Lublin, for instance, is at the moment disputing its assessment and if the decision were to go apaiust it and then
be applied, it would probably have to close down.
Since this would cause an uproar the University is safe unless relations between Church and State deteriorates much further. Seminaries also have a difficult time for they are treated as revenue-earning catering establishments.
Catholic publishing is restricted though in fairness it should be added that all publishing and journalism have a bad time owing not only to censorship but to restrictions on newsprint arising from the economic situation.
An unfairly large share is, however. allocated to the more or less quisling Pax organisation. This body. which produces newspapers, books and repository articles, remains the biggest private enterprise empire in Poland although it blotted its copybook by showing too great an attachment to the old order at the time of the changes in 1956.
From many points of view, however, the religious position in Poland is heartening, and Cardinal Wyszynski was not speaking lightly when he recently promised that Poland would still be Catholic at the celebration of its second thousand years of nationhood — it has just celebrated the first millennium.
There can be few countries in which the countries are fuller or in which a higher proportion of the population is made up of practising Catholics. As far as one can say from a limited stay in the country, it is also true that being a Catholic is not a bad mark against a man in an ordinary employment, provided he does not indulge in any form of active postolate. Religion is not all free in Poland. as we have shown, but worship is relatively so.
WHEN one turns from the institutional and administrative side of the Church's situation to the spiritual and pastoral aspects, the balance-sheet is hard to draw up and foreign visitors come away with diametrically opposed impressions. One reason is that, apart from the influence of an officially atheist regime, Poland is in rapid transition and the Church has all the extra pressures of an industrial revolution to contend with while hampered by the State's efforts to restrict her influence.
Polish Communism is itself undergoing an important change. In the economic and social field, it is becoming more pragmatic and less dogmatic so that the old-fashioned Marxist materialism is gradually giving place to something resembling Anglo American materialism, with a superstructure of anticlericalism and secularism.
Whether the Church can hope to gain from this remains to be seen. The danger is that the influence of the environment is becoming more insidious and this explains why some Catholics go so far as to prefer the harshness of the Stalin period.
Some of the basic theory behind even the economic policy of the Polish Communists is incompatible with the Church's teaching. This does not mean, however, that the whole lot must be rejected. A leftwing Catholic government might justifiably follow the same line in many things and there is a field in which co-operation raises no problems of conscience. There is another in which it is definitely out of the question and a third in which there are honest differences of opinion among Catholics.
Officials and party men will tell you crisply that the Church must learn that she cannot have a policy differing from that of the State. 7 his is a lesson the Church must always refuse to learn if she is to remain true to her mission, and there is bound to be severe tension so long as Poland remains under a Cornmunist government.
SOME Polish Catholics. however, believe that their hierarchy is, in fact, too firm and that the Bishops would obtain more by reassuring the State with a co-operation extending to the limit of what is theoretically permissible. It is equally arguable, however, that the hierarchy have already gone to the limit of what is practically legitimate. The Church has to consider the consciences of the mass of the people and an over-subtle policy could easily give immense scandal.
This applies particularly in relation to birth control. The State, unable to cope with the economic and administrative problems of an exceptionally high birth rate, has turned to immoral solutions. The strength and form of the Hierarchy's opposition is frequently cited by government advocates as an example of interference in politics. The private view of some good Polish Catholics is that their bishops pay too little attention to the economic aspects and are not sufficiently ready to pronounce on the use of methods that do not infringe the moral law.
Too much is involved for any snap judgment on a delicate problem, but it has to be remembered that the bishops need to consider not only economic factors and text-book theology but the practical effects of their attitude on the moral behaviour and temptations of their flocks. They have one set of priorities and the State has another.
They also know that the human will, properly directed, can make a bigger dent on the iron determinism Contd. in next column