Polish nationalist revival finding support by some church leaders

As in the rest of Europe, Poland is experiencing an upsurge in populist rightist groups and sentiment, with a measure of support from Polish church leaders, reports Commonweal magazine (July 8). The Polish church was in the spotlight in late July as it hosted Pope Francis and the World Youth Day, but there is considerable tension between the pope’s pro-immigrant message and the nationalism of a growing number of Polish young people, writes historian Piotr Koski. The nationalist movement, “for which being Catholic and Polish implies also being anti-European, anti-pluralist, and anti-liberal,” has gained seats in the Polish parliament for the first time since World War II. The rise of the nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS) last year emerged from class and regional divisions after Poland’s entrance into the European Union in 2004 and especially the economic decline of 2008.

Koski writes that World Youth Day, established by Pope John Paul II, and the nationalist movement are appealing to the same demographic—young people under 35—but the pontiff’s call to embrace migrants will be a tough sell. During his addresses at World Youth Day, the pope seemed to sense the ambivalence and tended to bundle together his pro-immigrant message with the themes of the pro-life movement and “divine mercy,” the Polish devotional spirituality, reports John Allen in the Catholic web site Crux (July 29). The Polish bishops’ conference has “contributed to this disconnect between Polish youth and their pontiff’s message of solidarity and tolerance.” The episcopate’s deputy head, as one of his first acts as archbishop of Lodz, liquidated the archdiocese’s flagship ecumenical initiative. He also frequently criticizes lay Catholics for spreading Vatican II teachings and welcomed a nationalist procession in the city’s main cathedral. “Meanwhile, his former superior, Archbishop Józef Michalik, has all but openly endorsed PiS. …With bishops sending mixed messages,” it is the independent civic organization Committee for the Defense of Democracy that has taken up the mission of protecting and repairing liberal democracy, Koski writes.

(Commonweal, 475 Riverside Dr., Rm. 405, New York, NY 10115; Crux, https://cruxnow.com)