06 May 2020, The Tablet

Polish church urges restraint ahead of ballot

Polish church urges restraint ahead of ballot

Representatives of political parties on the Act on Presidential elections: Krzysztof Bosak, Robert Winnicki.
Grzegorz Banaszak/Zuma Press/PA Images

Poland's Catholic bishops have appealed for calm in the run-up to planned postal presidential elections designated for 10 May, urging politicians from all sides to ensure democracy and legality are upheld despite the Covid-19 pandemic. 

"The Church has no mandate to participate in purely political disputes on the form or date of elections, still less to declare for this or that solution," the Bishops’ Conference said. "Its mission, full of goodwill, is always to recall the special moral and political responsibility facing those active in political life. So we appeal to the consciences of people concerned for the common good of our homeland, in both power and opposition, to reach an agreed joint position in this exceptional situation".  

The appeal came as Sunday's Constitution Day was marked by a Mass at the Jasna Gora national sanctuary, re-dedicating Poland to the protection of Virgin Mary. The bishops said they were grateful to all professionals and volunteers, including priests, nuns and Caritas staffers, currently helping control the coronavirus, which had caused 683 registered deaths nationwide by last weekend. However, they warned that rising tensions ahead of the 10 May elections risked undermining trust in democratic principles and procedures. 

"We call for dialogue between the sides to seek solutions which will not arouse legal doubts and suspicions that the binding constitutional order is being violated", the bishops added. "In such a difficult situation, we should take care to cultivate a mature democracy, defend the state of law and build a culture of solidarity despite our differences."

Opposition candidates and politicians have complained of being unable to campaign and threatened a boycott, if Poland's Law and Justice government goes ahead with its plans for a postal ballot. With only 30 per cent of citizens planning to vote, according to surveys, in which the incumbent President Andrzej Duda holds a strong lead, concerns have also been expressed by the European Commission, which has opposed the centre-right government's controversial reform programme. 

Sunday's ceremonies, commemorating Poland's 1791 constitution, which is widely seen as Europe's first democratic charter, included a Mass in Warsaw's St Jan cathedral, attended by President Duda and a small congregation in face masks, although a traditional military parade was cancelled. Preaching during the Jasna Gora re-dedication, the Bishops Conference president, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, said "profound changes" would be needed after the pandemic to "rebuild the homeland on something more than just a lust for endless development, consumption and pursuit of money."

"This virus was needed to shut everyone up – our boisterous towns suddenly felt silent, as streets full of people and cars emptied and great calm reigned, and as everything which most preoccupied us – the economy, holidays, media polemics – seemed less important", the archbishop said. "When everything crumbles, what remains are only the marriage bond, the family and friendship. We've rediscovered we're connected by the unseen but no less real links of a given nation – and that we depend on God". 

Poland's places of worship have remained open to limited congregations throughout the pandemic, although Archbishop Gadecki requested a further relaxation of restrictions last week in a joint open letter to premier Mateusz Morawiecki with Orthodox, Protestant and Muslim leaders. 




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