16 December 2017, The Tablet
The president of Poland's Bishops Conference has urged a calming of "hatred and prejudice" in national life, warning they risk damaging the country's international image.
"We have witnessed a disturbing rise among Poles of social tension and disrespect for people with different views - accompanied by a brutalisation of language, threats and aggressive behaviour", said Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan. "Aware of possible provocations aimed at distorting the true picture of our society and at igniting opposition, we must explicitly condemn all acts of violence directed against political opponents, representatives of other faiths, religions and foreign nations".
The archbishop issued the appeal as Church and state representatives commemorated the 1981 imposition of martial law, which temporarily crushed Poland's dissident Solidarity movement. He said "discussions, debates and opinion exchanges" were natural in a democratic state, and contributed to Poland's "wealth and intellectual potential". However, he cautioned that "respect for laws and customs" was needed for "stability in friendship and harmony", and criticised acerbic attacks on the country's centre-right government, headed since last week by premier Mateusz Morawiecki.
"It is necessary to condemn all manifestations of disrespect towards our Republic's highest offices and the people holding them", Gadecki added. "Divergent opinions cannot obscure their democratic social mandate or ever justify using non-parliamentary means of discussion. Whenever brother has risen against brother, Pole against Pole, our unity and independence have suffered from it".
The appeal follows condemnation of projected reforms by Poland's governing Law and Justice party by the European Union, as well as by international church bodies such as the Brussels-based Commission of EU Bishops Conferences (COMECE).
The Polish Bishops Conference launched a glossy English-language Twitter feed last week in a bid to counter accompanying criticism of the Church, while its Catholic Information Agency (KAI) listed previous appeals for unity and harmony by Archbishop Gadecki and other Church leaders.
However, the agency also carried a speech last Friday by Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski of Krakow, denouncing left-wing politicians, after a pro-life conference was cancelled because of protesters. "Lefties don't know how to respect human life - their ideologies, at times shrill and linked to physical and media violence, are winning", the archbishop told Krakow Catholics. "We are witnessing what Benedict XVI denounced many times - the dictatorship of a minority".
In his appeal, Archbishop Gadecki said social peace could only be achieved if Poles began renouncing "hatred and prejudice", and if Christmas was used as "a time for calming emotions and making rational decisions on how public debate will be conducted in coming months - for the benefit of future generations and the good of our homeland".
PICTURE: Catholics take part in a procession through the streets of Krakow ©PA