11 January 2016, The Tablet

Catholic bishop first to defend Polish government against EU attacks

First indication of Catholic church in Poland entering political fray since October elections

A Polish Catholic bishop has defended the new ultra-conservative government of the country against rising criticism from the European Union, and in particular Germany, in the first sign of the Catholic church entering into the political fray since elections in October.

The church frequently criticised policies on gender equality, in vitro fertilisation and some other issues backed by the previous Polish centrist government, before it was voted out on 25 October last year but has avoided openly supporting the new pro-Catholic ruling party.

But Bishop Wieslaw Mering sharply rejected European criticism of the new Polish conservative government's dealing of the constitutional court and public media in an open letter to the president of the European Parliament.

"The problem is that those who had hitherto been in power lost the election therefore they do not want to surrender to the verdict of the elections and are using the European Parliament for their own interests,” Bishop Mering wrote to Martin Schulz.

Schulz has recently said that political developments in Poland are akin to a "coup d'etat" sparking an angry reaction in government circles in Warsaw.

“There are no politicians today in Brussels of a higher class, or people seeking the common good of societies making up the European Union, Bishop Mering continued. "Political correctness coupled with pettiness is not conducive to wisdom. It is a pity that you – as Mr Chirac once quipped – likewise 'missed an opportunity to keep quiet'.”

His letter coincided with Poland's ruling Law and Justice party summoning the German ambassador to Poland, Rolf Wilhelm Nikel (pictured above leaving the meeting on Monday), to discuss comments made by a number of senior politicians in Germany suggesting that Poland should be considered for economic sanctions over its handling of state media.

The ultra-conservative ruling party in Poland has made moves to put control of senior figures in the state media under direct government control and make changes to the constitutional court, prompting protests in Warsaw and accusations from elsewhere in the EU that it is undermining democracy in Poland.

Last week Gunther Oettinger, a German EU commissioner, said that Warsaw should be put under the EU's rule-of-law supervision, a statement that Poland's justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro dismissed as "silly", questioning Berlin's own record on media freedoms.

The European Commission is scheduled to hold a "political debate" on the rule of law in Poland on Wednesday (13 January).

Despite Bishop Mering's strongly-worded letter in support of the Polish government's stance the Catholic church hierarchy continues to preach neutrality as the political debate over the country's direction continues.

Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, immediately dismissed the notion of Catholic church engagement in the political argument.

“We do not have political ambitions, because we have greater ambitions,” said Cardinal Dziwisz during his Epiphany homily in Krakow and stressed that the church's role is to promote God's "love, solidarity, forgiveness, reconciliation and peace”.



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