Poland’s church struggles to contain its latest crisis

National Catholic Reporter

June 20, 2019

By Jonathan Luxmoore

When Polish Catholics marked 40 years since Pope John Paul II’s first home pilgrimage in early June, it was a moment to look back on their church’s legacy of much-lauded struggles for justice and human rights.

Today, with that legacy tarnished by a spate of controversies and scandals, some Catholics fear its authority and prestige face serious erosion, whereas others insist the church has come through disasters before, including those of its own making.

“The church has asked people to pray, reflect and do penance — it doesn’t really know how to react to failures and never tackles the root causes,” Malgorzata Glabisz-Pniewska, a senior Catholic presenter with Polish Radio, told NCR. “It senses it’s too well rooted in Polish society and culture to be seriously damaged by negative publicity. This time, things could be different, though it’ll clearly have to respond effectively.”

In 1979, the newly elected John Paul II preached 32 homilies before 13 million enthusiastic people in the space of a week, in what was to be the first of nine visits to his Polish homeland.

The pilgrimage included his famous invocation of the Holy Spirit in Warsaw’s Victory Square, and was widely credited with inspiring the Solidarity union’s uprising against communist rule in August 1980. It marked the start of great epoch for the Polish church, which led on to the peaceful restoration of democracy, pluralism and the rule of law a decade later.

Solidarity’s victory in semi-free elections, whose 30th anniversary was also marked in early June, was followed by years of bitter struggle over the church’s place in the new post-communist Poland, and over the values the country would live by as it gained in stability and prosperity.

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