Page 3, 26th June 1987

26th June 1987
Page 3
Page 3, 26th June 1987 — Polish church still clutching a major trump card

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Locations: Warsaw, the Holy See


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Polish church still clutching a major trump card

The Polish authorities have censored a bishops' plea for greater freedoms which echoed Pope John Paul's words during his recent visit. Noel Clark, a former BBC correspondent in eastern Europe, examines the situation in Poland in the wake of the Pontiff's homecoming.

THERE was a bitter ring to General Jaruzelski 's farewell as the Pope ended his third pilgrimage to Poland in eight years. "You can take memories away with you, but not our real problems," he said. "We have our own path." So, was the visit a failure?

An anonymous Pole described it as "a gift from God." But some of us in the West, it seems to me, may be losing our capacity to marvel. It is surely very extraordinary — and encouraging — that a religious leader of John Paul's political 'resonance can fly into a communist-controlled country and not only lead millions in prayer but openly — if diplomatically — rebuke the communist leaders and criticise their domestic policies.

Stranger still, in Gdansk, the Pope gave his blessing, in effect, to what the regimes of Eastern Europe regard as a banned resistance movement. Its principles, he said, were those of the Church and its name, Solidarity, a word the world must not forget for the sake of peace among nations.

He conferred with Lech Walesa, chairman of the banned union and officially a nonperson. To newly-ordained priests, he commended Fr Popieluszko — murdered three years ago by state security men — as a martyr to the cause of human rights. Few of the wrongs and disabilities afflicting the peoples of Eastern Europe escaped his censure — from economies subjected to "illconsidered" experiments to the menace of "programmed atheism".

Once again, John Paul called on the government to honour the UN Charter of Human Rights, to make good the 1980 Gdansk Agreements, providing among other things for free and independent Polish trade unions, and to open a genuine dialogue with the people.

Officially, the visit was pastoral, coinciding with the Eucharistic Congress.

Inevitably, it was also political. This, General Jaruzelski certainly realised in advance, though it's doubtful whether he bargained for quite so many firecrackers and thunderflashes among the Roman Candles and Golden Rains of otherwise not unwelcome moral exhortation. The truths spoken aloud by the Pope clearly delighted the majority of his compatriots as much as they must have embarrassed and dismayed the General.

Some people thought — and the General may have hoped — that the Pope had come to grant the accolade of full Vatican recognition to his Communist government in return for official recognition of the Church's status as a Polish institution. Such an agreement might have been presented as a proud feather in the General's cap, in his continuing struggle to win the confidence of Poland's 95 per cent Catholic population. However, for by far the strongest and most independent Church in Eastern Europe, the advantages are rather less clearcut and the solution perhaps less urgent.

It is worth recalling that, a month after the Pope's 1983 visit to Poland, martial law was lifted — only to be replaced by another set of stringent rules. The following year, Fr Popieluszko was murdered. That crime, though condemned by the authorities, was seen by many Poles as a shattering rejection of the Pope's pleas for tolerance and conciliation.

It was also a severe test of the Polish people's faith — as advocated by the Pope — in progress towards reform by nonviolent means and the moral regeneration of the individual. Poland withstood the test in dignified calm.

This month, the Pope returned to a Poland superficially quiet, but whose economy remains burdened by huge debts and whose people, tired and sceptical after so many false starts and frustrated hopes, seemed likely to sink into resigned apathy.

To be sure, General Jaruzelski told the Pope on arrival that the fires and storms were past and the nation, though still divided, set firmly on the path of renewal, reform and reconciliation. To some extent, the Primate, Cardinal Glemp, echoed this optimistic view.

But the Pope at once broached the subject of human rights. Had the Pope attached overriding importance to an agreement between Warsaw and the Holy See on the status of the Church — either to pave the way for a papal visit to the Soviet Union or, as some have suggested, further to strengthen his own hand in the running of the Church in Poland — he could easily have taken a more accommodating line. By doing so, however, he would certainly have dismayed the bulk of his compatriots.

Possibly having decided to put glasnost to the test, he chose to say as clearly as he could in the circumstances that the communist system itself is the root cause of Poland's troubles and that fundamental reforms are vital to achieve real progress. Indeed, much of what he had to say implied strong support for the public appeal, issued just before his visit and signed by 46 prominent Polish academics, economists, theologians and Solidarity leaders, to the effect that Poles have a right to live in a fully independent country and to determine their own economic order in democracy, truth and respect for the law.

Since he was speaking at a time when superpower relations have begun to show tentative signs of a new impetus towards understanding, one may assume that John Paul had carefully weighed the likely effect of his pronouncements. Not only did he appear to commend the challenge of solving Poland's problems to the General; in the wider context, he seemed to suggest that the shape of Poland's future might well be taken as a touchstone for progress towards a new and healthier relationship between East and West.

The Pope's message to his fellow-countrymen was roughly: "Keep the faith while maintaining peaceful pressure for your rights. Hold on — we are with you." After 40 minutes with John Paul, Lech Walesa said his batteries had been recharged. That probably goes for millions of other Poles as well — which is not necessarily bad news for General Jaruzelski. Any success he may achieve in implementing his promised reforms will depend on the joint efforts of a people with renewed faith in themselves and their future. That faith the Pope was clearly anxious to restore.

To his bishops, the Pope reportedly said that lack of full diplomatic relations between Warsaw and the Holy See was abnormal. And so it is, given that Poland is arguably the most Catholic country in Europe. However, he is also said to have assured them that he would never go over their heads. Nobody is more aware than the Pope himself that, in a country which has so many times been "sold down the river", traditional fears exist lest some day, by some other Pope, yet another East-West deal might be struck to Poland's disadvantage. Vatican recognition remains a trump card in the Church's hand — its value further enhanced by the Pope's visit. Present indications are that John Paul is not about to surrender it lightly.

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