In a new document on LGBTQ issues, the bishops of Poland have claimed that church teaching on homosexuality is infallible, while also advocating for conversion therapy programs.
The 27-page document issued August 28 is entitled “Position of the Polish Bishops’ Conference on LGBT+ Issues.” Paragraph 50, is the most notable as it makes the novel claim that Catholic teaching that condemns same-gender relationships is infallible. The paragraph reads (via Google Translate):
“50. In view of the various biblical and theological-moral interpretations that deny the moral evil of homosexual behavior, the Church recalls that her teaching in this matter is based on the Word of God, on the living Apostolic Tradition and on the natural law. It is therefore universal, unchanging in time and space, and is infallible. This teaching is accompanied by the assistance of the Holy Spirit (cf. Second Vatican Council. Constitution on God’s Revelation Dei Verbum. Rome 1965 No. 10; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual People No. 5).”
Also noteworthy is paragraph 38, in which the bishops advocate for conversion therapy to be available to LGBTQ people. It reads, in part (via Google Translate):
“38. In view of the challenges created by gender ideology and LGBT + movements, and especially having regard to the difficulties, suffering and spiritual tears experienced by these people, it is necessary to create a counseling center (also with the help of the Church or with its structures) to help people who wish to regain their sexual health and natural orientation sexual. These clinics also make sense when full sexual transformation is found to be too difficult, but still help to deal with psychosexuals to a significant extent challenges. The postulate of such counseling centers is clearly in contradiction with official opinions in LGBT + circles, with positions regarded as scientific, and yes known as ‘political correctness’. However, there are testimonies of people who, at some point, realized that their different sexuality wasn’t some kind irrevocable judgment or irretrievable coding, but is a symptom of wounds on different levels of their personality. . .”
Conversion therapy is condemned by nearly every reputable expert despite some church leaders’ support for these harmful practices.
The document is structured in four parts: 1) an explanation of the church’s traditional teaching on sexuality; 2) the bishops’ analysis of LGBT+ movements in a democratic society; 3) an exploration of LGBT+ people in the church; 4) a guide for the sexual education of children.
The Polish document valorizes gender complementarity, warns against the dangers of same-gender civil marriages, contraception, the adoption of children by LGBTQ people, inclusive sex education programs, the ban on gay men entering seminary, and the like. Much in the document relies heavily on the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education’s 2019 document, Male and Female He Created Them. You can read the full text in Polish here. [Editor’s note: We are still waiting for an authoritative English translation.]
LGBTQ advocates have been quick to condemn the Polish episcopal conference’s new document. It comes at a time when LGBTQ people in that nation face intensifying prejudices, like the institution of so-called “LGBT Free Zones” in some towns and the re-election of Andrzej Duda, who was backed by the dominant Law and Justice Party that made opposition to LGBTQ equality a centerpiece of its campaign.
In Poland, theologian Stanislaw Obirek and attorney Artur Nowak published an article (English translation available here) chastising the bishops for seeking to impose Christian teaching as the law, rather than advancing a pluralistic, democratic society. “Listening to Polish clergy, one gets the impression that Jesus did not come to earth to bring the Good News, but to regulate the sexual life of his followers in detail,” they said.
They also identify two important appointments in the bishops national conference which are troubling and telling. Archbishop Andrzej Dziega was selected for the Permanent Council and Archbishop Marek Jedraszewki as named co-chair of the Joint Commission of the Government and the Polish Bishops’ Conference. Both have used extreme anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, including comparisons of the LGBTQ movement to totalitarian regimes. Taken together, all of this points to Poland’s bishops wanting a theocratic regime where the religious majority suppresses the rights of religious minorities and of those who do not affiliate with any religion.
Equally troubling is the potential implications of the bishops’ document within the church. The German group “Homosexuals and the Church” (HuK) stated in a press release that by claiming church teaching on homosexuality is infallible, “the Polish bishops assumed a teaching authority to which they are not entitled. Catholic LGBT people are concerned about the absolute demands of this formulation and whether they still have a future in their church.” HuK also names the reality that the Polish bishops’ document may, in part, be a reaction to the German church’s “Synodal Way” which has explored church reforms, including blessing for same-gender couples.
This question about claiming infallibility is complicated. As Vatican II made clear, there is a hierarchy of teachings; not every teaching is equal and not every teaching is infallible. Indeed, the church’s history is replete with examples changed and even reversed teachings. The condemnation of same-gender sexual activity has been defined as a doctrine, meaning it must be taken seriously by believers who strive to assent to and abide by it, but that level of teaching is open to the possibility that the church is erroneous. None of this undermines the central role of conscience in how an individual relates to any church teaching. Even the Vatican’s harshest documents against LGBTQ people have not claimed such teachings are infallible.
Further complicating this matter is whether a national episcopal conference has the authority to define binding teaching and, if so, at what level. Pope Francis has hinted at wanting to strengthen bishops conferences as part of a wider push towards a synodal church, but there have been Vatican interventions against the German bishops’ attempts to act more assertively. A central question is whether Poland’s bishops could actually claim with any real authority that church teaching on homosexuality is infallible and, even if they could, what would that mean for the universal church.
For now, the Polish bishops’ document remains an outlier, but if allowed to stand, it could set a dangerous precedent. Regardless of its ecclesial consequences, it continues a wantonly destructive record of anti-LGBT rhetoric from Poland’s bishops. Most recently, Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw described the placing a rainbow flag on a statue of Christ as “desecration” and “vandalism” that has caused “pain for believers. This year as well, Polish church leaders endorsed a government proposal to define LGBTQ people as child abusers. Last year, in a homily, Archbishop Jedraszewski stated that “Poland was under siege from a ‘rainbow plague’ of gay rights campaigners.” Later, the archbishop equated Polish LGBTQ activists with the oppressive regime that ruled Poland in the late 20th century. Bishop Wieslaw Mering of Włocławek said the archbishop was being persecuted like Jesus for refusing to “submit to political correctness” when Jedraszewski faced criticism for his comments. Several other Polish bishops, as well as church leaders in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary expressed their support for the archbishop. In the past, church leaders in Poland have either remained silent when LGBTQ equality marches were violently attacked or offered weak condemnations.
One thing that this document cannot do is prevent the ongoing debate about LGBTQ issues, in which the church as the People of God, not simply the hierarchy, continues to evolve in history.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 1, 2020