When Marek Jędraszewski was nominated by Pope Francis to be the new archbishop of Krakow, I wrote that he was a strong culture warrior unafraid of proclaiming the Church’s teaching in an uncompromising way. In the two and a half years since, this has exactly been his leadership style in the former see of Saints Stanislaus of Szczepanów and John Paul II. In recent weeks, Archbishop Jędraszewski has become a lightning rod for controversy due to his explicit criticism of the LGBT ideology, being reviled by some Poles and defended by many others.
In the 1980s, Polish society was overwhelmingly united in its nonviolent struggle against the communist regime. Solidarity claimed ten million members, a third of Poland’s working-age population, and the moral affinity of all Poles save for a handful of communist apparatchiks. After the transition to democracy and the free market in 1989, however, Poland has been in a constant fratricidal cold war.
Questions of morality (especially abortion), the place of the Church in public and social life, the concordat between Poland and the Holy See, the reinstitution of religious education in public schools, and the inclusion of articles defending Christian values in Poland’s 1997 constitution were the topic of heated debate throughout the 1990s.
In recent years, axiological debates have resurfaced. The LGBT ideology in particular has proved to be very polarizing. An annual gay pride parade has been held in Warsaw since 2005, but only in the past couple years have similar events been organized in smaller cities, often meeting with strong backlash. In July, such a parade was held for the first time in Bialystok. Eight hundred LGBT activists (many driven in from other parts of Poland) were confronted by a larger group of counter-protesters, many of whom were nationalists and soccer hooligans who threw insults and firecrackers at parade participants.
Before the parade, Archbishop Tadeusz Wojda of Bialystok criticized it in a letter to his faithful, correctly noting that during previous such events LGBT activists vulgarly insulted and mocked Christians and what is sacred to them. After the attacks on marchers, however, Wojda condemned the violence in another letter. “Acts of violence and derision cannot be reconciled with the attitude of the Christian, an imitator of Christ,” he wrote. Still, LGBT activists accused Wojda of provoking the attacks, unfair criticism given that while he had previously disagreed with the holding of a gay pride march in his city, he did not suggest aggression as a response, implicitly or otherwise.
Throughout this summer, Poland has descended into a culture war over the organization of gay pride events. They have without exception met with strong protests from Catholics. Most, however, have not responded with violence but with prayer. For example, the image of a fifteen-year-old boy in Plock holding up a crucifix and rosary in front of LGBT activists has gone viral. In Bialystok, meanwhile, in addition to the young ruffians who attacked marchers, 1,000 to 3,000 locals participated in Eucharistic adoration in the cathedral to pray for moral renewal.
Poland has become most polarized, however, since August 1, when during a Mass commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the outbreak of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising Archbishop Jędraszewski said in his homily: “The red [communist] plague no longer walks on our earth, but a new neo-Marxist one that wants to conquer our souls, hearts, and minds has appeared. It is not a red, but a rainbow plague.”
Those strong words divided Poland. Robert Biedroń, an LGBT activist who has tried to build a left-liberal political party with little success, called Jędraszewski “the devil personified” (an interesting statement given that, as an avowed atheist, Biedroń presumably does not believe the devil exists). Some in the Church, such as Father Paweł Gużyński, OP, have also criticized Jędraszewski, accusing him of stirring up violence against homosexuals (since then, however, Gużyński has been disciplined by his Dominican provincial for criticizing the archbishop). By contrast, Polish President Andrzej Duda, a devout Catholic, has defended Jędraszewski, claiming that he has great respect for all people.
There is a clear but fine line in Church teaching between opposing homosexual acts while also affirming the dignity of every person. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. (par 2358)
Later, however, Archbishop Jędraszewski clarified that in his homily he was not referring to homosexuals as people, but to the LGBT ideology and its postulates, as the Catechism teaches. Since then, Cardinals Dominik Duka, archbishop of Prague and head of the Czech bishops’ conference, and Zenon Grocholewski, former prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, have issued public statements of support of Jędraszewski, as have the episcopal conferences of Slovakia and Hungary, yet another indication that the Church in East-Central Europe remains faithful to Church teaching and tradition.
While liberal media and political elites in big cities such as Warsaw may hate Archbishop Jędraszewski, the Polish masses are largely on his side. Since the now-infamous homily, two protests have been held against Jędraszewski, one in front of the curia in Krakow and one at the apostolic nunciature in Warsaw. They attracted 100 and 200 participants, respectively. Last Saturday, however, 3,000 people – ten times the number that participated in both anti-Jędraszewski protests – attended a prayer vigil and rally in support of the archbishop.
This should be unsurprising to any close observers of Polish society, which, like in most other post-communist states, is conservative on LGBT matters. According to a recent poll in the conservative Rzeczpospolita daily, Poles are split on the question of introducing domestic partnerships for homosexual couples, with 44 percent in favor and 46 percent against. Homosexual “marriage” is opposed by a larger margin of Poles (56 percent opposed, 32 percent in support), while the adoption of children by LGBT couples enjoys very little support in Polish society (12 percent support versus 76 percent opposition).
Yet LGBT activists aren’t backing down, and Archbishop Jędraszewski in particular is a symbol of Poland’s culture wars. During a recent “Mr. Gay” event in Poznan, a drag queen simulated the murder of the archbishop, whose likeness was glued to a blowup doll.
Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, such a blatant example of hate speech is unsettling. Equally disturbing, though, is the fact that in Bialystok some young conservatives and Catholics resorted to brutal, non-Christian aggression. Even if insulting the Catholic faith is not foreign to LGBT activists, such zealots should remember that Jesus prayed for His persecutors (Luke 23: 34).
Now is the time to pray for Archbishop Jędraszewski, that he may remain vocally faithful to the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family while affirming the dignity of all. As well as prayers for the conversion of those who preach tolerance yet spread hatred against the archbishop and other Catholics, and for those who claim to be defenders of Christian values yet fight against anthropologically flawed ideologies in ways that contradict the Gospels.
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