Polish anti-religious campaign

The Polish Anti-Religious Campaign was initiated by the communist government in Poland which, under the doctrine of Marxism, actively advocated for the disenfranchisement of religion and planned atheisation.[1][2] To this effect the regime conducted anti-religious propaganda and persecution of clergymen and monasteries.[2] As in most other Communist countries, religion was not outlawed as such (an exception being Albania) and was permitted by the constitution, but the state attempted to achieve an atheistic society.

The Catholic Church, as the religion of most Poles, was seen as a rival competing for the citizens' allegiance by the government, which attempted to suppress it.[3]

The Catholic Church in Poland provided strong resistance to the Communist regime and Poland itself had a long history of dissent to foreign rule.[4] The Polish nation rallied to the Church, as had occurred in neighbouring Lithuania, which made it more difficult for the regime to impose its antireligious policies as it had in the USSR, where the populace did not hold mass solidarity with the Russian Orthodox Church. It became the strongest opponent of the regime throughout the rule of Communism in Poland, and provided a more successful resistance than had religious bodies in most other Communist states.[3]

The Catholic Church unequivocally condemned communist ideology.[5] This led to the antireligious activity in Poland being compelled to take a more cautious and conciliatory line than in other Communist countries, largely failing in their attempt to control or suppress the Polish Church.[4]

Communist takeover (1944–1956)

The predecessor to the Communist government in Poland was the Polish Committee of National Liberation, which first took office in Soviet-occupied Lublin in 1944. It initially gave favourable promises to the Church in Poland, including restoration of property that the Nazis had taken and exempting Church property from agrarian reform.[6]

The experiences in and after World War II, wherein the large Jewish minority was annihilated by the Nazis, the large German minority was forcibly expelled from the country at the end of the war, along with the loss of the eastern territories which had a significant population of Eastern Orthodox Belarusians and Ukrainians, led to Poland becoming more homogeneously Catholic than it had been.[4]

After Soviet troops occupied Poland at the end of World War II, the Soviet-backed government enacted a gradual approach aimed at gaining control of the Catholic Church in Poland.[5]

After the war was finished the government permitted Catholic welfare services to resume work, and the government rebuilt damaged or destroyed churches at a substantial public cost.[6] The Catholic Church in Poland during the first few years was treated much better than most other religious bodies in the newly liberated states of Eastern Europe. This more lenient approach came as a result of Communism's lack of popularity among Poles and the difficulty the new regime had in presenting itself as the legitimate government of Poland; attacking the Church at this time, which was well supported by most Poles, was considered too risky to attempt.[7]

General Karol Świerczewski, who had fought in the international brigade in the Spanish Civil War, was given Catholic funeral rites, Polish radio broadcast mass until 1947, and Bierut's presidential oath in 1947 ended with the phrase 'so help me God'.[8]

Policy of isolation

The Polish government made many concessions to the Church that antagonized Moscow; on the other hand, the campaign against the Church weakened their public support and made them dependent on the USSR.[3] An important concession was the retention of religious instruction in schools, which was upheld from as early as 1945; at the same time, the state made manoeuvres to try to limit and eliminate such instruction through other means.

Boleslaw Bierut, as part of a faction of the Polish Workers' Party (the Communist party in Poland) that favoured emulating the Soviet Union (Gomulka wanted to create a uniquely Polish system), took control in 1948 and attempted to turn Poland into a Stalinist state, wherein religion was actively discouraged in favour of Communism.[1] This occurred during a general period of increasing control and repression in the Eastern bloc countries. The regime sought to eliminate the presence of Catholicism and religion from the culture, and to this effect it pursued a policy of isolation from the Vatican, creation of public opinion antagonistic to the Church, and provoking antagonisms within the Church itself by replacing religious leaders with others who worked with the regime.[9] Marriage was secularized in 1945, and civil records were removed from the clergy's jurisdiction in 1949.[1]

Polish society was prepared for the persecutions post-1945 due to its long history prior to the Bolshevik revolution of operation under the rule of regimes that were hostile to it.[5] Underground universities taught uncensored history and ethics lessons, and many people openly attended Church.[10]

A letter by the primate of Poland on elections, instructing Catholics not to support parties that were opposed to Catholic teaching, was suppressed in 1946.[11]

Patriot Priests

A notable feature of the antirelgious campaign in Poland included "Patriot Priests" who opposed the Church hierarchy and supported Communism. They were rewarded, and even sometimes allowed to travel to Rome. Some of them had experienced prison camps; some had been chaplains to the Red Army during World War II. The bishops often let them remain at their posts, although they were commonly ostracized by the laity; these priests failed to achieve much popular support.[5] The state supported priests who collaborated with them; the remainder of the clergy was accused of reactionary activities, lack of solidarity with the nation and conspiracy with the Vatican.[9]

The government achieved some success in these efforts; an estimated 1,700 out of 11,000 priests in Poland had attended conferences of the "progressives" by 1955.[9] In 1949 the President of Communist Poland, Boleslaw Bierut, held a reception at the Belweder Palace in Warsaw for priests who were participating in a conference held by the Union of Fighters for Freedom and Democracy (ZBoWiD). At the conference some of the priests told Bierut that a lack of agreement between the hierarchy and the government made the work of clergy difficult. Bierut blamed this problem on the hierarchy:

the unfavourable attitude of higher Church authorities toward the People's state... In many cases one can hear from priests...words which are often simply criminal, anti-state.[9]

Bierut gave cooperative priests privileges including vacations, financial support, tax exemption and protection from punishments under canon law (which were not forbidden by the state).[3]

Following this conference, a Commission of Priests attached to ZBoWiD was created, which in the following year commenced publication of a bi-weekly entitled Citizen Priest (Ksiadz obywatel), superseded in the same year by Priests' Forge (Kuznica kaplanska). They held conferences in almost all provincial capitals. Young priests were forced to enroll in special classes on Marxism, with the intention of causing a schism in the Church.[9]

The state also attempted to penetrate the Church through the creation of several other organizations: the Polish Committee of Peace Partisans, the Catholic Social Club, and the Society of Children's Friends.[9] The lay association, PAX, was founded under the leadership of Bolesław Piasecki, a leader of a pre-war fascist organization, and tried to remove the obligation of obedience to the hierarchy from members of the Church; this organization supported the regime's antireligious efforts, and also an anti-Semitic campaign in the late 1960s.[12]

The ZBoWiD priests' commission supported the Peace Campaign, supported the government's protests against the remilitarization of West Germany, supported the planned economy, and said that the new constitution was fully in conformance with moral principles and Christian conscience.[9] They gained mass popularity by supporting Poland's retention of the western territories which had been part of Germany.[9]

The government failed to produce a schism in the Church due to lack of popular support, so they disbanded the organization in 1955 and called on people to instead join the movement for peace partisans.

Bureau for Religious Affairs

In 1950 the Polish government created the Bureau for Religious Affairs, which had jurisdiction over personnel decisions and organisational functions.[13]

The Main Commission of Intellectuals and Catholic Activists attached to the Peace Committee of Polish Partisans, was founded in 1950 and originally comprised members of theological faculties, representatives from the catholic university in Lublin and active Church workers. In 1950, this group participated in the second International Peace Congress in Warsaw.[9] In 1951, this organization sponsored the first national conference of clergy and laymen representing Catholic public opinion. This organization attempted to mould public opinion and formulate principles pertaining to the behaviour of Catholics. It actively promoted the peace campaign, as well as government protests against remilitarization in West Germany and for support of holding the western territories. It criticized the Catholic Church in West Germany for allegedly being exploited for anti-Polish purposes.[9]

Another organization, called the Catholic Social Club, that supported the regime and even had representation in the Polish parliament, however, it lacked popular support.[9] It attempted to reconcile Catholic teaching with dialectical materialism.

The Society of Children's Friends (TPD) was created by the Communist Party in 1949 to secularize the public school system, and it established kindergartens, primary schools, teachers' colleges, camps and recreation centers for youth. A principle aim of the Society was to educate the youth as atheists and supporters of the regime. By 1950, the TPD had established more than 500 schools. The Catholic Church actively opposed the attempts to remove religious instruction, and Church influence, from public schools, and encouraged the faithful to support the church in its opposition. By 1956, religious education in public schools had been almost completely eliminated.[3] The Soviet-style propaganda campaign created museums, associations and publications devoted to atheism.[12]

The official press launched a campaign to safeguard Poland from subversion (this was in reference to the Vatican). The government conducted a propaganda campaign in the early years that depicted the Vatican and Polish hierarchy as germanophiles; the Vatican refused to change Poland's diocesan boundaries to mark the state's new territory.[9]

The Vatican was often attacked in Polish propaganda as a negative influence on Poland, and claimed that Poland ceased to exist in the 18th century because the Vatican had weakened it.[11] Propaganda also tried to link the Vatican with fascism, and claimed Pius XII was responsible for Franco's coup in Spain and the Vichy regime. Polish clergy loyal to the Vatican were also considered as fascists in the propaganda.

The Church signed an agreement with the government in 1950, after the old 1925 concordat was thrown away by the government on grounds that the Vatican had violated it by supporting Germany in World War II (the Vatican had allowed a German bishop in Danzig to have jurisdiction over Germans living in Poland).[9] This agreement was not approved by the Vatican.[7] This agreement contained some features favourable to the Church (which the government would not always observe in the following years), including the right to teach religion in schools and to allow children to receive religious instruction outside of the school, permitting the Catholic University of Lublin to continue operating, Catholic organizations still being permitted to exist, allowing the Catholic press to exist, allowing public worship in churches to continue to exist, allowing pilgrimages, allowing religious processions, allowing religious care in the armed forces, allowing monastic orders to continue to function and continuing to allow the Church to conduct charity work (many of these things had been outlawed in the neighbouring USSR, in great contrast). In return the state required the Church to submit to it politically and condemn Catholic activities that the state did not permit.[9]

Communist constitution

In 1952 the new Polish constitution was created, which did not include previously given protections to religion and the position of the Church in the country was worded ambiguously enough to allow for almost any new law of the Seym to not be in contradiction with it.[6]

Persecutions of individuals for religion in the first few years were rare, because the state initially was concerned strictly with suppressing armed political resistance. From 1947-1953, the Catholic Church in Poland became the primary target for persecution in Communist Poland.[5] All social and charitable organizations affiliated with the church were made illegal ('Caritas' was taken over by the government in 1950[6]), Catholic schools were closed, crosses were removed from classrooms and hospitals, and a terror campaign was enacted against parishes and monasteries; clergy began to be arrested and put on trial (this included the notable arrest of a group of Jesuits headed by Father Tomasz Rostworowski).[5] Many bishops were arrested or removed from their positions, with government approved administrators then taking over the dioceses; in some cases the government sent people loyal to it to "assist" the bishop in running his diocese.[3] About 900 priests were imprisoned.[8] Nine priests were sentenced to death in 1949; in 1950 the Bonifratres Order and the Catholic charity Caritas were put on trial (the latter trial led to the government seizure in the same year).[11]

When the Vatican published its order excommunicating Catholics who actively supported communism in July 1949, the government called it an act of interference in Polish internal affairs and that clergy found trying to enforce the order (e.g. denying communion to excommunicated persons) would be punished by Polish law.[9] The new law passed for this purpose in 1949 guaranteed the right of antireligious propaganda and also declared a penalty ranging from three years imprisonment to death, for those who abused the right of freedom of religious for 'purposes hostile to the system of the People's Republic'.[11]

The already stressed relations between the Vatican and the Polish government deteriorated after that point, and the Polish government began to more actively strike the church; members of religious orders were required to register and give accounts of their activities as well as assets, and Catholic publications were more greatly suppressed.[6]

The Minister of Justice commenting on the new legislation claimed he resented,

the negative attitude of the hierarchy towards the People's Democracy, who during the five years of the existence of the regime, had shown not a single sign of appreciation of the achievements of the regime.... (the Church) had declined to combat capitalism, and had endeavored to undermine the enthusiasm for socialism.[11]

Salesian schools and orphanages were closed. All Church private schools were closed by 1950; this was accomplished by the authorities simply refusing to grant work permits to the Catholic schools that applied for them (as religious instruction was still officially permitted, these means were instead used to eliminate Catholic education).[9] Government-run private schools, of course, did not possess religious instruction; despite the provision in the 1950 agreement permitting religious instruction in schools, this right was being eroded. Marxism became an obligatory subject in the school system. Priests were dismissed from instructor positions for refusing to sign the Stockholm Peace Appeal, and nuns were barred from teaching in public schools, thereby leading to a common situation where other teachers were not available to give religious instruction; in some places the religious instruction was taken away on account of alleged demands of parents. By 1955 the only Catholic institution of higher learning still existent in Poland was the Catholic University of Lublin, which was being slowly liquidated by the regime.[9] A total of 59 seminaries were closed between 1952–1956 and restrictions were imposed on training new priests.[9] The Rozanystok seminary, which was created in 1949, was brutally liquidated in 1954.[5] It had been moved from Wilno and had been run by Salesians for training candidates for the priesthood as well as for giving Catholic education for boys. The seminary was situated in Eastern Poland, it employed former residents of the territory annexed by the USSR in 1939, and it had arisen great concern to the government, provoking its brutal closure.

Much landed property was confiscated from the Church and affiliated organisations(the only land that was not taken away was the farmholdings of parish priests, provided this land did not exceed 50 hectares, or 100 hectares in some parts of the country[6]), severe limitations were placed on charitable activities associated with the Church, and the government took control of the recording of vital statistics.[9] In 1950, all Church property was nationalized without compensation, except that which was used by parish priests for their own subsistence (but such land could not exceed 50 hectares, and any income from such land had to be used religious and charitable purposes).[9] This nationalization was accompanied by a promise from the state that it would set aside resources for the upkeep of parishes and clergy.[11] The Church did not provide much resistance to this confiscation, thereby denying the communists the opportunity to attack the Church as an institution chiefly concerned with protecting its property (as Lenin had attempted with the Russian Orthodox Church). The government's confiscation led to the Church becoming even more popular among the lower classes.

Two priests who were sentenced in 1951 for being part of an underground organization opposed to the state provided ammunition for a new campaign in which the government began liquidating the temporary ecclesiastical administration in the western (former German) territories and removed apostolic administrators from these areas. The vatican began to appoint Polish bishops to these bishoprics after this point.

In May 1951 the clergy and government signed the "National Charter for Peace Plebiscite", following which subsequent trials were conducted, including notably against the Jesuit Order and St Bernard Order (leading to two death sentences). Three Salesian bishops, who were under heavy fire in the official propaganda, disappeared in 1952; in the same year several priests in Cracow were arrested on charges of espionage and sabotage. In January 1953, five dignitaries, including Archbishop Baziak in Cracow were arrested; public protests in Cracow were suppressed with violence.[11]

In February 1953, four priests and three laymen were charged with espionage and put on trial. The government announced that, under the supposed pressure of public opinion aroused by the trial, they had to take control of the Church. Therefore, the government required all ecclesiastical posts to receive government approval.[3] The government used this power, as well as other measures aimed at controlling the Church's activities in these years, to weaken the Church in order to aid in helping to remove it from society.[9] Cardinal Primate of Poland, Stefan Wyzynski, attempted to manoeuvre around this obstacle by gaining permission from the Vatican to relax canonical rules in order to appoint parish administrators instead of pastors, since parish administrators were not subject to this government veto. The government claimed that it seldom used its power of veto, although Cardinal Wysynski in his role in appointing bishops reported that he found himself largely obstructed.[3]

Wyszynski attempted to publish a letter protesting the government's treatment of the Church, and he was secretly arrested and put under house arrest (confined to a convent) in 1953; this followed from the arrest of a number of other bishops prior to his arrest (including the primate, 11 bishops were arrested in that year[12]) including the trial of Bishop of Kielce Kaczmarek before the military tribunal in Warsaw (on charges of espionage).[14] After this, the free bishops agreed to cooperate with the government's decree in February.[11] This arrest later became public knowledge; the government offered to release him in 1955 if he stepped down from resuming his post as cardinal-primate.

The state tried to take control of the Polish Orthodox Church (with a membership of about half a million) in order to use it as a weapon against the Roman Catholic Church in Poland, and it attempted to control the person who was named as Metropolitan for the Polish Orthodox Church; Metropolitan Dionizy (the post-war head of the POC) was arrested and retired from service after his release.[13]

After the government's coming to power the prewar press legislation was abolished, the printing industry and plants were nationalized, and prepublication censorship was imposed. In July 1946, a government decree created the Central Office For Control of the Press, Publications and Public Performances under which all press and printing activities were controlled.[3] Poland's vast and diverse Catholic press network from the pre-communist era was mostly eradicated, with the exception of some publications that continued to exist under heavy censorship, a reduction of their circulation and a requirement to only speak on purely religious matters (as opposed to political or social).[3] Catholic publications that still existed included Tygodnik Warszawski (which was defiant to the regime and closed in 1949), Tygodnik Powszechny (whose editors resigned under pressure in 1953 after they failed to produce a correct obituary for Stalin, and pro-regime Catholics took over, but its old editors returned in 1956), and Dzi's i Jutro (a publication that attempted to promote coexistence of Catholicism and communism). This was a liberty that was not allowed to other places in the Soviet bloc (including the USSR most notably, which had banned church publications in 1929). The founders of Tygodnik Warszawski were incarcerated, of which Father Zygmunt Kaczynski and Antoni Antczak both died in prison. Cardinal Wyszynski attempted to intervene on behalf of Father Zygmunt.

Following with the forcible conversion of Eastern Catholics in the USSR to Orthodoxy, the Polish government called on the Orthodox church in Poland to assume 'pastoral care' of the eastern Catholics in Poland. After the removal of Metropolitan Dionizy from leadership of the Polish Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Macarius was placed in charge. He was from western Ukraine (previously eastern Poland) and who had been instrumental in the compulsory conversion of eastern Catholics to orthodoxy there. Polish security forces assisted him in suppressing resistance in his taking control of Eastern Catholic parishes.[13] Many eastern Catholics who remained in Poland after the postwar border adjustments were resettled in Western Poland in the newly acquired territories from Germany. The state in Poland gave the POC a greater number of privileges than the Roman Catholic Church in Poland; the state even gave money to this Church, although it often defaulted on promised payments, leading to a perpetual financial crisis for the POC.

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