The head of the Polish Church's mission to England and Wales has expressed disappointment that Church representatives are again being excluded from a major bilateral forum sponsored by the British and Polish governments, convened to discuss shared values and civil society links between the two countries after Brexit.
"If there's a large community here with clearly defined values, the organisers should take this into account," said Msgr Stefan Wylezek, rector of the London-based Mission, whose 120 priests run over 220 parishes and pastoral centres for Polish Catholics in England and Wales. "But it clearly never even occurred to them that we should be there, just as happened last year when no Church representatives were present."
The 2020 Polish-British Belvedere Forum will bring together 300 parliamentarians, academics, non-governmental activists, media and business leaders at London's Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, on 3-4 March.
Mgr Wylezek told The Tablet that the Polish Catholic Mission had "heard nothing" about the Forum and had not been asked to participate.
The director of the Polish Church's Catholic Information Agency (KAI), Marcin Przeciszewski, confirmed no Catholic media had were invited to the previous forum in 2019 either. The Warsaw archdiocese spokesman, Fr Przemyslaw Sliwinski, said the exclusion of Church representatives from "a sphere for common dialogue and action" was an "affront to democracy".
A Chatham House organiser, Anna Dorant-Hayes, told The Tablet it was hoped the 2020 Forum would be "more informal and discussion-based", to allow "as much networking between participants as possible". She added that the programme had been decided by researchers from the British and Polish institutes, who had not discussed inviting "representatives of the Catholic Church or other religions" to join the panels.
Mgr Wylezek said he would discuss the exclusion of Catholics from Belvedere Forum during late February talks with the Polish Bishops Conference.
Eileen Cole from the English and Welsh bishops' Catholic Media Office told The Tablet on Monday the Bishops' Conference co-operated closely with the Polish Catholic Mission, but said it was entirely up to the organisers to decide the programme and invitations for the Belvedere Forum. She added that she understood two British church-linked charities, Faith Matters and Aid to the Church in Need, had been represented on a panel on migrants in 2018.