The Polish government’s targeted political campaign against the LGBTQ community continues to gain traction, driven by its ultranationalist leading party and galvanized by the institutional church as well as by Polish society, of which a majority identifies as Catholic.
This ballot measure initiated by Polish citizens required a minimum of “100,000 signatures for parliamentary consideration,” and received strong support from the Polish Catholic Church. If passed, the bill would criminalize the teaching of sex education in schools and would make homosexuality equal to pedophilia.
Human Rights Watch reported that the bill would criminally ensnare numerous groups of professionals simply for discussing LGBTQ identity, stating:
“People and organizations providing sexuality education or information on sexual and reproductive health and rights, including teachers, outreach workers, authors, and health care personnel, fear the bill could land them in prison for up to three years for doing their jobs.”
Alarmingly, the church’s widespread contributions to Poland’s intensifying right-wing extremism since the Law and Justice party was elected in 2015 is well-known. The party’s message resonates culturally within Poland’s Catholic population and church leadership.
As reported by Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Catholic priests recently participated in an ultranationalist rally in Warsaw, Poland’s capital, where a crowd of 60,000 people gathered in support of the bill, where “angry young men wearing skull masks and chant[ed] ‘faggots forbidden.’”
Bondings 2.0 has previously documented how Polish church leadership has energized the country’s regressive political agenda. For example, during a homily last year, Krakow’s Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski stated that “Poland was under siege from a ‘rainbow plague’ of gay rights campaigners.” In a pastoral letter, the archbishop equated Polish LGBTQ activists with the oppressive regime that ruled Poland in the late 20th century.
But not all of Polish society supports these regressive measures. According to ABC News, Marcin Nikrant, an openly gay man, resides in a small town in northern Poland where the majority of residents voted in favor of the Law and Justice Party last year. Yet Nikrant has been elected mayor three times despite being open about his sexuality:
“‘They’re really interested in what I can do for them — if I’m helpful or not…They really don’t care about my private life. They don’t care who I am sleeping with.’”
Nikrant believes that the church’s relationship with the Polish government is troubling, and he has become weary of its influence:
“‘The church should in no way allow hate speech against homosexual people and today it does.'”
Lech Walesa, a devout Catholic, and Poland’s Cold War hero as the leader of the Solidarity movement which dismantled Communist rule in the late 1980s, reflected on the disturbing union between Poland’s democratically elected government and church officials:
“‘In Poland, I want to say that our constitution is being broken, the separation of powers is violated and we have to do something about it.’
“‘The church needs to go back to its right place…Many priests haven’t returned to their religious field because they started to enjoy their political roles.’”
Other sectors of Polish civil society are also fighting back against the nation’s right-wing extremism. A petition has been launched, urging Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, to denounce these human rights infringements. Thus far, the ‘We’re Under Attack in Poland’ petition has collected over 150,000 signatures of its 200,000 goal.
Furthermore, the outcry from the international community has been very strong. Hillary Margolis, senior women’s rights researcher at the Human Rights Watch issued the following statement:
“Given its track record of undercutting the rule of law, it is fitting that the government would move to pass abusive laws when the public demonstrations that have met these laws before are prohibited…The Polish government’s focus during the pandemic should be to protect people’s health and rights, not diminish them.”
Poland’s recent political developments and the involvement of church leadership are deeply disturbing in themselves. And holding rallies during the coronavirus pandemic, where gatherings could lead to significant public health consequences, is both egregiously unethical and cruel.
Domestic activists and the international community must continue to denounce this bigotry and hatred galvanized by the Polish government as well as the church officials who support such oppressive legislative proposals, measures that deviate enormously from God’s unconditional love for all creation.
—Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, May 12, 2020