Poland’s bishops have condemned anti-LGBTQ violence that occurred earlier this month during Pride festivities, but many equality advocates are not satisfied with the hierarchy’s response given the church’s alleged role in fomenting anti-LGBTQ sentiments.
Archbishop Tadeusz Wojda of Bialystok released a statement condemning violent attacks against the city’s “Equality March” that occurred two days before. The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) quoted the archbishop as saying:
“‘Acts of violence and scorn are incompatible with the attitude of a Christian and disciple of Christ. . .At the same time, I encourage prayer and care for the family and its internal purity, so our families, strong in God, can offer an example of beautiful love in the pattern of the Holy Family. These latest incidents show we still have much to do.'”
The anti-LGBTQ violence happened during Bialystok’s first ever Pride celebration on July 20th. Right wing protestors attacked the Pride participants, throwing objects like rocks and firecrackers at them and shouting slurs. At least two dozen people were detained by police who had to intervene with tear gas to stop the violence, reported PinkNews.
NCR reported that Wojda had previously described the Equality March as “an initiative alien to our land and society” and “an act of discrimination against Catholics,” writing in a July 7th message that LGBTQ advocates “insulted Christian values, profaned sacred symbols and uttered blasphemies against God.
Other church leaders in Poland offered LGBTQ-negative responses to the Equality March violence NCR reported:
“In a July 21 statement, the Polish bishops’ conference spokesman, Fr. Pawel Rytel-Andrianik, said the Catholic Church would continue speaking out against the ‘deadly sin’ of homosexuality, while ‘unequivocally disapproving’ acts of aggression. . .
“Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, president of the Polish bishops’ conference, told the Catholic Niedziela weekly July 21 that previous rallies had included the parodying of images of the Virgin Mary and Christian symbols in Czestochowa, Krakow and other cities, suggesting those demanding tolerance often incited ‘hatred for the church and its clergy,’ and turned their meetings into ‘places of blatant intolerance, obscene presentations and scorn for Christianity.’
“He added that recent revelations about sexual abuse by Catholic priests were being ‘used for attacks against the church with the aim of stripping away its moral credibility’ as ‘the last voice in society not compromising with contemporary demoralizing trends.'”
In related news, the Polish bishops released a statement supporting a former IKEA employee, identified only as Tomasz K., who the company terminated for posting anti-homosexuality material on social media. The bishops accused IKEA of promoting “LGBT indoctrination” and said it was “unacceptable to attack” Tomasz, according to The Local.
LGBTQ advocates have therefore been unconvinced by the bishops’ condemnations of the violence in Bialystok. Anna Dryjanska charged Wojda with “two-faced incitement” that spurred Catholic protestors on. NCR reported:
“‘There was a pogrom atmosphere in Bialystok – if the police hadn’t been there in force, something truly dreadful would have happened. . .When it turned out people had been beaten and injured, the Catholic bishops washed their hands with banal statements about opposing violence.'”
The risks for LGBTQ people in Poland have escalated dramatically in recent years. The right wing Law and Justice Party has chosen LGBTQ people as the target of scapegoating and politicking in the hopes of keeping power. This campaign intensified this summer, reported LGBTQ Nation. In one instance, a government-supported newspaper began distributing “LGBT Free Zone” stickers. Elsewhere, local governments in at least thirty places have declared themselves as such zones. In May, an artist was arrested for depicting the icon of the Mother of God of Czestochowa with a rainbow background which a top government official said was intended to “humiliate Catholics.”
Of particular concern for Catholics who care about LGBTQ equality is how closely this uptick in anti-LGBTQ sentiments and violence is tied to the church. While Poland’s bishops at times have distanced themselves from Law and Justice, the party has strong support from the lay Catholic faithful, who comprise 95% of Poland’s population. And the bishops have not shied away from harshly condemning LGBTQ equality on their own.
In such a traditionalist country, nothing will fundamentally change until the bishops take responsibility for the real harm they are causing. They should be able to condemn, without qualification, all discrimination and violence targeting LGBTQ people. The clash in Bialystok was an easy moment to show such solidarity, and yet they failed to do so. Let us pray that should such violence ever happen again, the bishops will find the courage to offer an unqualified condemnation. Until then, it seems best that they just remain quiet.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 26, 2019