A Polish bishop has praised the government for carrying out Jesus’s work during a service at the country’s holiest Catholic shrine. He also likened two ministers to the Evangelists, while defending them from criticism.
His words were met with surprise and criticism from commentators, including from within Poland’s Catholic community, who argued that such explicitly political remarks were inappropriate.
Speaking during a prayer addressed to the Virgin Mary at the icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa (also known as the Black Madonna) at Jasna Góra Monastery, Emeritus Bishop of Częstochowa Antoni Długosz referred to the struggle to contain the coronavirus pandemic, reports RMF 24.
He praised the authorities for their work in tackling the crisis, saying that “it is the dedicated service of our government that has limited the sower of death’s yield in our country”. He then went on to compare two ministers to biblical figures.
“Two representatives of our government, chosen by the majority of Poles, embody the charisma of two of the Evangelists,” said Długosz. “The Evangelist Mateusz [Matthew] Prime Minister Morawiecki is looking after the life of our nation, so that it may live better.”
“Meanwhile the Evangelist Łukasz [Luke], Professor Szumowski [the health minister], is an extension of the deeds of Jesus, taking care of our lives and health,” continued the bishop. “We thank the Mother of God for their service.”
Bishop Długosz went on to defend Szumowski, who as health minister has become the public face of Poland’s response to the coronavirus crisis but has also faced allegations of cronyism and corruption, which he and the government deny.
“For all the radical positions of some Poles, who harmfully assess the actions of Minister Professor Szumowski, we should recall out gratitude to him and those people…taking caring of [those] suffering during the pandemic,” said Długosz.
The remarks were quickly met with condemnation after being widely shared in a video on social media, even leading a fact-checking service to make sure that a recording had not been faked. The bishop responded by saying that people today should seek to emulate “biblical heroes”.
Tomasz Terlikowski, a prominent Catholic commentator, criticised Długosz’s remarks, saying that “such words are not only imprudent, bringing the Church into a political brouhaha, but also un-Catholic”.
“We believe in God, not PiS [the ruling Law and Justice party],” continued Terlikowski. “We read the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, not a minister and the prime minister’s speeches, regardless of our views.”
Ani czas, ani miejsce, ani osoba. Takie słowa są nie tylko nieroztropne, włączają Kościół w nawalankę polityczną, ale też niekatolickie. Wierzymy w Boga, a nie w PiS, czytamy Ewangelię Mateusza i Łukasza, a nie przemówienia ministra i premiera. I to niezależnie od poglądów. https://t.co/5B4HFZOoGA
— Tomasz Terlikowski (@tterlikowski) June 12, 2020
Catholic priest Daniel Wachowiak, who last year was handed a temporary ban on using social media and speaking to journalists after taking part in a protest against plans to bury an archbishop accused of sex abuse in Poznań cathedral, agreed that the comments were imprudent.
“This has surprised, saddened and annoyed me. This is not what one says, not what one believes,” he wrote on Twitter.
Such was the surprise at Bishop Długosz’s comments that there were even numerous suspicions that the television recording showing them might have been faked, according to Konkret24. The fact-checking service carried out an analysis before confirming its authenticity.
But the conservative radio station Radio Maryja, which, along with its sister television channel TV Trwam broadcast Thursday’s service, defended the emeritus bishop from what it called attacks from “left-liberal media and organisations”.
In an interview for the station, Długosz explained:
As a catechist, and not a politician, I wished to note the important truth that all the events in the Old and New Testament are manifested in the lives of each of us. Today, we take on the positions and conduct of biblical heroes, and on the canvas of our lives the Lord writes the story of salvation.
The conservative ruling PiS party is seen to have a close relationship with the church. Its chairman, Jarosław Kaczyński, last year promised that under his party’s rule Poland will “fulfil its historical mission” of supporting “everything that is the foundation of Christian civilisation”.
Kaczyński argued that the Catholic church represents “the only common system of values” in Poland, even for non-believers. “Beyond the church is only nihilism,” he warned.
Ben Koschalka is a translator and the assistant editor at Notes from Poland. Originally from Britain, he has lived in Kraków since 2005.