THE Catholic Church in the UK is so full of itself these days, claiming vast numbers of fresh recruits – mainly from among new, young Polish immigrants coming to this country in ever increasing numbers.
I am sceptical of these claims because they simply do not square with the conversations I have had with young Poles in Britain’s most godless city – Brighton – where their presence is felt everywhere from new bars to convenience stores – now full of wildly colourful and mysterious food products which I have so far held off from buying because I simply cannot read the labels, nor the instructions for their preparation.
Yet, all my attempts to find a definitive study showing a link between young Poles leaving Poland because of the jack-booted religiosity of the Polish state, rather than for economic reasons, have been in vain. If no such study has been done, I would suggest that now is the time to embark on one, if only to take some of the wind out of the smug Catholic Church’s sails.
There is, however, no doubt that Poland has been stitched up like a kipper by the Church, and that its government now largely comprise brown-nosers who are prone to saying incredibly stupid things, and enacting incredibly stupid laws to keep the Catholic clergy sweet.
Last month, you may recall, the government-appointed children’s rights spokeswoman, Ewa Sowinska, who said she was concerned that the popular British children’s show, the Teletubbies, promoted homosexuality, and that she was taking “expert” advice to see if this was, in fact, the case. Ms Sowinska, a former lawmaker from the far-right, ultra-Catholic League of Polish Families, said she was planning to gather a group of experts to investigate the show.
She seemed blissfully unaware of the fact that the porcine televangelist Jerry Falwell had already been there, done that, and, in the process, made a complete horse’s arse of himself.
I noticed (Tinky Winky) has a lady’s purse, but I didn’t realise he’s a boy. At first I thought the purse would be a burden for this Teletubby … Later I learned that this may have a homosexual undertone.
Poland’s right-wing government had already upset human rights groups and drawn criticism in the European Union over its anti-gay initiatives. Education Minister Roman Giertych had proposed laws to sack teachers who promoted “homosexual lifestyles” and to ban “homo-agitation” in schools.
But in a sign that the government wanted to distance itself from Ms Sowinska’s ultra-barmy comments, Parliamentary Speaker Ludwig Dorn said he had warned her against making public pronouncements “that may turn her department into a laughing stock”.
Apparently chastened by this rebuke, Sowinska then announced that she no longer suspected the show of promoting homosexuality. Or, presumably, of encouraging purple-handbag-toting among male toddlers.
“The opinion of a leading sexologist that this series would have no negative effects on a child’s psychology is perfectly credible,” concluded Sowinska, who sounds like a person in need of expert examination herself – ideally of a psychiatric nature.
“But in today’s Poland there is no mutual independence of State and Church. The Catholic Church in Poland has, to a large degree, been beyond any democratic or legal control, even if its activities have been unconstitutional or plainly criminal. At the same time the Church has constantly, and without any self-restraint, violated the autonomy of the state. The Church has significantly reinforced its political and economic power and today there is practically no public authority or other organisation that would dare to criticise or oppose its activities or aspirations.”
But while the Church has gained enormous political clout, religiosity in the country as a whole is, according to the PHF, on the decline, particularly among teenagers. A survey conducted in 1999 by the Statistical Institute of the Catholic Church among the students of secondary schools (15 to 18 years of age) showed that more than 21 percent of young Poles were religiously indifferent, while only ten per cent said that they were deeply religious.
This phenomenon was regarded so seriously by Church authorities that they decided to introduce evangelisation of the unfaithful to school curricula.
Polish knowledge about central Catholic dogmas is also limited. For example, only 26 per cent of the adults in one survey understood the duality (the human and divine nature) of Jesus. People asked to name the Holy Trinity quite commonly answered: the Father, Joseph and Mary. Other studies showed a wide gap between Catholic teaching on the one hand, and moral convictions and attitudes of Poles on the other.
The survey conducted by the Statistical Institute of the Catholic Church showed that 75 percent of Poles accepted contraception, 68 percent premarital sexual contacts, and 55 percent supported the idea of legalising certain forms of euthanasia. One Catholic sociologist, the Rev Wladyslaw Piwowarski from the Catholic University in Lublin, said that two-thirds of Poles were unaware that they were, in truth, heretics who did not understand the tenets of the Catholic faith.
The PHF points out that, since the early 1990s, Poland is now close to being a theocracy, heading:
Towards a religious state and, despite four years of Social Democratic rule, when this process slowed down.
In 1997, the electoral victory of the ultra-conservative coalition called the Electoral Action “Solidarity” resulted in the newly- elected authorities rewarding the Church by adopting several laws to its advantage, and assuring the clergy that future government policies would satisfy their economic, ideological and political aspirations.
What followed was a large body of legislation which turned some aspects of Catholic doctrine into national laws, and reinforced the position of the Church in social life. The first piece of such legislation legalised religious instruction in public schools and ensured that catechism teachers were paid by the state, which, however, had no say whatsoever as regards the content of such instruction.
Another example is a law enforcing respect for “Christian values” in television and radio programmes, which resulted in bans on broadcasts that might be regarded as offensive to the Church. And a relatively liberal law on abortion was then overturned by the conservative majority in parliament, resulting in a ban on abortion being reintroduced.
Said the PHF.
Today, the Church is treated by Polish authorities as a source of law and, at the same time, as an institution whose interests are above the 1aw. There are numerous examples of the clergy violating laws with impunity: insults hurled at ‘disobedient’ MPs, racist and anti-Semitic speeches, and infringements of financial regulations.
Institutions dealing with the administration of justice abstain from prosecuting in such cases, and those few prosecutors who try to instigate legal proceedings against clergymen are being punished by their superiors.
Its case against the Catholic Church is nothing if not convincing, and is certainly borne out in the conversations I have had with young Poles. Depressingly, they all expressed deep pessimism about Poland’s ability to break the power of the Church.
Said one young Polish holidaymaker I met in a gay bar on the Costa Blanca:
It won’t happen in my lifetime, and I doubt whether it will in the lifetime of the next generation.
Embarrassingly, he then threw his arms around my neck and burst into tears.
“Why are you so upset?” I asked.
“Because I am going back to Poland tomorrow,” he sobbed.