FaithWorld

Polish bishops call IVF “younger sister of eugenics”

cloneBishops of Poland’s influential Roman Catholic Church have branded in vitro fertilization (IVF) “the younger sister of eugenics” in a letter aimed at swaying lawmakers ahead of a parliamentary debate.

Their intervention, two weeks after the Vatican condemned the awarding of the 2010 Nobel Prize for medicine to IVF pioneer Robert Edwards, triggered an unusually sharp response from lawmakers who say the clergy should not meddle in politics. (Photo: A cloned human embryo, created at the Centre for Life in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, 19 May 2005/handout)

“The in vitro method comes at great human cost. To give birth to one child … many humans suffer death at different stages of the medical process,” said the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters on Tuesday.

The letter alluded indirectly to the practice of eugenics by Nazi Germany during World War Two, which involved ruthless medical experiments on prisoners and ethnic minorities as part of a drive to strengthen the “purity” of the German race.

Poland lacks laws precisely regulating IVF. Parliament will debate several bills ranging from a complete ban to ensuring full state co-financing of the procedure.

Polish maverick MP launches anti-clerical party

polandA flamboyant millionaire lawmaker could have an instant impact on Polish politics with a new, anti-clerical party that would legalise abortion on demand, provide free condoms and curb the Catholic Church’s clout.

Janusz Palikot told the founding congress of his Modern Poland (NP) movement late on Saturday that he would quit Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s ruling centre-right Civic Platform (PO) and also resign his parliamentary seat on December 6. (Photo: A statue of the Virgin Mary in Kobylin-Borzymy, June 27, 2010/Kacper Pempel)

“The Modern Poland movement demands the removal of religious instruction from schools, liquidation of the clergy (pension) fund… and state ceremonies at which we do not have to view the fat bellies of bishops,” Palikot told 4,000 cheering supporters.

Poland’s cross wars revive debate on role of Catholic Church

cross 2 (Photo: Protesters urging removal of the cross at the presidential palace. The road sign reads “Attention! Cross defenders.” August 9, 2010/Kacper Pempel)

A simple wooden cross honouring victims of a plane crash that killed Poland’s president in April has spurred demands that the influence of the powerful Roman Catholic Church be pared back to forge a more secular Poland.

A scout group set a crucifix outside the presidential palace in Warsaw, which turned into a shrine for the victims. Four months later, the three-meter-high cross is still there, festooned with candles and flowers despite attempts by the state and some clergy to move it to a nearby church. The “cross defenders” stood their ground, squabbling with police.

The cross debate reflects political divisions. It has become a rallying point for radical rightists backed by the main opposition, the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party led by Kaczynski’s twin brother, Jaroslaw.

Russian Orthodox and Polish Catholic churches eye major reconciliation

krakowRussia’s Orthodox Church and Poland’s Roman Catholic Church have pledged to help their nations overcome a painful shared past and move towards reconciliation.  The two churches, very influential in their own countries, agreed at a rare meeting of senior clergy to draw up a joint document that will express their Christian vision of how the two Slavic neighbours can come together.

“The idea is to look at the history of our nations from our Churches’ point of view. During the history of our nations we
have experienced glorious moments but also very painful ones,”
Stanislaw Budzik, a Polish bishop, told a news conference on Thursday.   “As Christians we should reflect on the history of our nations and call for mutual love and cooperation,” said Budzik, general secretary of the Polish Bishops’ Conference. (Photo: Saint Mary’s Basilical in Krakow, 18 april 2010/Pawel Kopczynski)

Conflicts between Russia and Poland stretch back centuries. Soviet Russia joined Nazi Germany in 1939 in carving up Poland and Josef Stalin ordered the murder of 20,000 Polish officers in 1940 in Katyn forest. After World War Two, Moscow imposed an atheistic communist regime in Poland that lasted until 1989.

INTERVIEW-Lisbon treaty to boost EU, church contact-Cardinal Dziwisz

dziwisz 2There was something missing from our post yesterday entitled Pope John Paul remains touchstone for Poland’s Catholic Church — a link to the story Reuters published based on the interview that Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz gave to Gabriela Baczynska and me. Since it hasn’t been posted separately on the web, here’s the story:

KRAKOW, Poland, Dec 16 (Reuters) – The Roman Catholic Church should use the EU’s new Lisbon Treaty to make its voice heard on moral issues in a Europe that has lost its Christian moorings, a leading Polish churchman said.

Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who spent decades in the Vatican as private secretary to the late Pope John Paul II, also said Poland, still one of Europe’s most devout countries, was helping to shore up the faith by sending priests to several continents.

Pope John Paul remains touchstone for Poland’s Catholic Church

JP2 commemoration (Photo: Candles in Warsaw on fourth anniversary of Pope John Paul’s II, 2 April 2009/Peter Andrews)

Four and a half years after his death, Pope John Paul II remains a dominant presence in Poland’s Roman Catholic Church. Pictures of him are still ubiquitous in his homeland, and not only in churches. His former private secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, regularly invoked the name of the Polish-born pontiff during an interview in Krakow with Reuters, either lauding his role in the victory of democracy over communism in eastern Europe two decades ago or speaking of the need for the church today to follow his example in reaching out to other faiths in a spirit of ecumenical dialogue.

Perhaps the issue playing most on the cardinal’s mind was the expected beatification of John Paul by his successor, Pope Benedict XVI. Beatification is the last step before sainthood. Benedict put his predecessor on ae fast track shortly after taking over at the Vatican in 2005. Dziwisz said the process was now well advanced but the timing of a final decision depended on Benedict.

“(The beatification) is important not only for the Catholic Church,” he said. “This Pope is still alive, the memory of him is still vivid and he is still the reference point for many people. This love is still present.”

Popes at Yad Vashem: comparing John Paul and Benedict

Pope Benedict’s speech at the Yad Vashem today took a different approach from the speech his predecessor Pope John Paul delivered at the Holocaust memorial on 23 March 2000. Polish-born John Paul mentioned the Nazis twice while Benedict, a German, did not. John Paul recalled the fate of his Jewish neighbours; Benedict offered no personal wartime memories. John Paul spoke in a broader perspective, mentioning godless ideology, anti-Semitism, the “just” Gentiles who saved Jews and the shared spiritual heritage of Christians and Jews. Benedict took a narrower approach, meditating on the significance of names and speaking only of the Catholic Church rather than Christians in general.

Here are a few quotations comparing and contrasting the two speeches:

INTRODUCTION:

yad-jp2-1POPE JOHN PAUL: “In this place of memories, the mind and heart and soul feel an extreme need for silence. Silence in which to remember. Silence in which to try to make some sense of the memories which come flooding back. Silence because there are no words strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy of the Shoah. My own personal memories are of all that happened when the Nazis occupied Poland during the War. I remember my Jewish friends and neighbours, some of whom perished, while others survived. I have come to Yad Vashem to pay homage to the millions of Jewish people who, stripped of everything, especially of their human dignity, were murdered in the Holocaust. More than half a century has passed, but the memories remain. Here, as at Auschwitz and many other places in Europe, we are overcome by the echo of the heart-rending laments of so many. Men, women and children cry out to us from the depths of the horror that they knew. How can we fail to heed their cry? No one can forget or ignore what happened. No one can diminish its scale. We wish to remember. But we wish to remember for a purpose, namely to ensure that never again will evil prevail, as it did for the millions of innocent victims of Nazism.”

POPE BENEDICT:“I will give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name … I will give them an  everlasting name which shall not be cut off” (Is 56:5). This passage from the Book of the prophet Isaiah furnishes the two simple words which solemnly express the profound significance of this revered place: yad – “memorial”; shem – “name”. I have come to stand in silence before this monument, erected to honor the memory of the millions of Jews killed in the horrific tragedy of the Shoah. They lost their lives, but they will never lose their names: these are indelibly etched in the hearts of their loved ones, their surviving fellow prisoners, and all those determined never to allow such an atrocity to disgrace mankind again. Most of all, their names are forever fixed in the memory of Almighty God. One can rob a neighbor of possessions, opportunity or freedom. One can weave an insidious web of lies to convince others that certain groups are undeserving of respect. Yet, try as one might, one can never take away the name of a fellow human being.”

First rabbis since Holocaust ordained in Poland

New rabbis read Torah at Chabad Yeshiva in Warsaw, 30 June 2008/Kacper Pempel“The opening of our yeshiva (in 2005) and the ordination of the new rabbis is the best answer we can give to Hitler and the Nazis, it shows they did not win,” said Rabbi Shalom Stambler. The ordination of nine new rabbis on Sunday evening in Warsaw, the first in Poland since the Nazis murdered most of what was one of the world’s largest Jewish communities, was a proud moment for the Warsaw-based head representative of Chabad Lubavitch of Poland. “Poland was always a centre of Jewish study in the world,” he said. “People used to come from all over the world to study the Torah here. This was stopped by the Nazis … We hope the yeshiva will grow and grow.”

Read our feature “Pride, hope as Poland ordains first postwar rabbis” here. Apart from his comments in the feature, Rabbi Stambler told me a recent controversy in Poland over a book accusing Poles of persecuting Jews in the years after the Holocaust had told him something about today’s Poles. “I saw how many people entered into the dialogue, students, intellectuals, people who wanted to know how their grandparents had acted,” he said.

Fear, by Jan GrossJan Gross’s book Fear argues that anti-Semitism remained prevalent in Poland under the communist regime after 1945. In a sign of the continued sensitivity of the subject in Poland, state prosecutors investigated whether the book had slandered the Polish nation but finally decided not to press charges.

Euro 2008: do Catholic countries have the edge?

The Euro 2008 flag flutters near Zurich’s Grossmünster church, 25 May 2008/Arnd Wiegmann“Do Catholic countries have better football players?”

I was surprised to see this headline on the Austrian Catholic website kath.net today… and even more surprised to see they seemed to mean it seriously.

“A look at the participants in the final round of the European football championship in Switzerland and Austria suggests this,” kath.net writes in a report from Vienna. “In seven of the 16 participating countries, Catholics are clearly in the majority: Poland (95 percent of the population), Spain (92 percent), Italy (90 percent), Portugal (90 percent), Croatia (77 percent), Austria (69 percent ) and France (51 percent). Only one Protestant stronghold confronts them, Sweden. Of the 8.8 million inhabitants of the northern European country, 80 percent are Lutherans.”

Poland’s team with coach Leo Beenhakker (C) attends Mass in Bad Waltersdorf, 6 June 2008/stringerThere’s no hint of analysis of why this should be relevant, or mention of the personal faith — or lack thereof — of the players on these national teams. This purely statistical view (sports fans love stats, don’t they?) goes on to point out which participating countries have large numbers of both Catholics and Protestants (Germany, Switzerland and Netherlands).

Faith factors at play in two European elections at the weekend

Two general elections on Sunday made it an interesting weekend on the religion&politics beat in Europe. Put simply, a pro-Catholic party lost in Poland and an anti-minaret party won in Switzerland. There was no link between the two votes and religion was not the main issue in either. But the faith factor was in the air and it highlighted two trends at the crossroads of church and state in Europe.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski (L) in church with brother Lech (R) and Lech’s wifePoland’s Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski lost his election despite strong support from the powerful media empire of right-wing Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, whose outlets include the controversial Radio Maryja that critics call xenophobic and anti-Semitic. Kaczynski and his twin brother Lech , Poland’s president, have enjoyed support from older Poles and many clerics because of their fervent Catholicism. But Jaroslaw’s government got mired down in infighting and picked fights with the European Union, Germany and Russia. The Polish bishops, sensing the Church was being used for political purposes, told priests not to use the pulpit to endorse any candidates.

The Polish Catholic Church played a major political role before 1989, standing as an alternative to the Soviet-backed communist government in Warsaw. Since then, however, democracy, economic growth and European Union membership have changed the country profoundly. The close ties between some conservative political parties and the Catholic Church faded in most of Europe years ago and are fading now in Poland, even while a majority of Poles still attends church regularly.