Religion and politics in Poland: John Paul II and the government
In Poland, religion and politics are intimately related. Read about how this affects views on abortion, LGBTQ+, and the scandal surrounding John Paul II.
Religion and politics in Poland
Poland is known as one of Europe’s most Catholic countries. Catholicism plays a defining role in Polish society and leaves a considerable imprint on its politics. The Polish Catholic Church remains a powerful institution, partly owing to its close ties to the ruling political party.
The ban on abortion
In Poland, many political decisions are rooted in Catholic values. For example, the Polish government has traditionally upheld restrictive abortion laws. These laws have always been championed by the Polish Catholic Church, which persistently campaigns against abortion. In October 2020, Poland adopted a near-total abortion ban which allows abortion under very limited circumstances: in cases of rape or incest, or when the mother is endangered by continuing the pregnancy. The adoption of this law followed a motion filed by the ruling Law and Justice party.
This strict abortion policy sparked a wave of protests. In late 2020, a group of 32 people protested against the near-total abortion ban in a cathedral during Sunday Mass. They were initially accused of “maliciously interfering with a religious act,” but have recently been acquitted of these charges.
The campaign against LGBTQ+
The Polish Catholic Church and the ruling Law and Justice party are also united in their fierce anti-LGBTQ+ viewpoints. The Archbishop of Kraków stated that Poland is under attack of a “rainbow plague.” In a similar vein, Jarosław Kaczyński, chairman of the ruling party, has called the LGBTQ+ community “a threat to Polish identity, to our nation, to its existence, and thus to the Polish state.”
Przemysław Czarnek, the Polish minister of education, also referred to the LBGTQ+ community and their ideas as a threat. He said that the “LGBT ideology” has caused a rise in attempted suicides by Polish children. According to Czarnek, Poland must teach its children the difference between good and evil by reinforcing traditional values. He emphasised the importance of Christianity and church attendance. In the past, Czarnek claimed that the “LGBT ideology comes from the same roots as Nazism” and that its adherents “are not equal to normal people.”
The intimate link between Polish religion and politics is also reflected in Poland’s blasphemy laws. According to a study by the OSCE, Poland has the strictest blasphemy laws of all democratic countries. Under the ruling Law and Justice party, these laws are being used more and more often.
During the 2021 Equality March in Częstochowa, two women held up an image of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus with rainbow halos around their heads. On account of this action, these women were found guilty of “offending religious feelings.” In Poland, this offence can result in a prison sentence of up to two years.
Adam Darski, lead singer of Polish metal band Behemoth, was recently found guilty of this same offence. He was charged on account of an image he posted on social media in 2019, showing his foot on the face of a picture of the Virgin Mary.
A man who vandalised a statue of Pope John Paul II was also charged with the crime of religious offence. This incident followed allegations suggesting that the late pope was responsible for covering up child abuse by clerics.
Pope John Paul II and the elections in Poland
These abuse allegations shocked many Polish people. In Poland, the former Polish pope is perceived as both a saint and an anti-communist hero. Because of his support for the anti-communist opposition during the Cold War, he has become a major national symbol.
Recently, however, John Paul II was accused of covering up child abuse within the Polish Catholic Church during his time as Archbishop of Kraków. This news has triggered fierce discussions among the Polish people, including Polish politicians. The ruling Law and Justice party stands by the legend of John Paul II. In the lead-up to the autumn parliamentary elections, the political party is actively defending the late pope’s name to gain the support of conservative Catholic voters.
The Catholic faith still plays a significant role in Polish society. However, more and more people are turning away from the Catholic Church. Younger generations of Poles are growing increasingly secular. Apart from this, its rigid abortion views, anti-LGBTQ+ campaigning, and the abuse allegations about John Paul II have made people more critical of the Church. There appears to be a shift in Polish society, away from religious conservatism.
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