Poland’s Catholic episcopate has adopted an official “position on the question of LGBT+”. While stressing that LGBT people, like all others, deserve respect, the bishops say that this “does not mean accepting their views uncritically”.
The detailed, 27-page document rejects a number of postulates associated with the LGBT movement, which the bishops say is aiming to “force moral and cultural transformation by gradually accustoming society to behaviours that until recently were considered morally reprehensible”.
They also call for the creation of “clinics to help people who want to regain their…natural sexual orientation”. Such “conversion therapy” has been rejected by the established medical community as unethical and harmful, and has been completely or partially banned in a number of countries.
— Church in Poland (@ChurchInPoland) August 27, 2020
The bishops’ statement came during a plenary meeting of the Polish Episcopal Conference (KEP), the central organ of the Catholic church in Poland, at Jasna Góra monastery, home to Poland’s holiest shrine, the Black Madonna of Częstochowa.
The three-day gathering, which ended on Saturday, was the KEP’s first plenary session since the beginning of the pandemic. Among other issues discussed were the teaching of Catholic catechism in public schools and the church’s response to sexual abuse of children.
“Clearly contrary to human nature”
“The requirement of respect for all people, including people identifying with LGBT+, is entirely correct, and a democratic state with the rule of law should ensure that none of the fundamental rights of these people are violated,” reads the KEP’s position.
“Any acts of physical or verbal violence, any forms of hooligan behaviour and aggression against LGBT+ people are unacceptable,” it adds.
However, the bishops make clear that they believe the fundamental rights of LGBT people do not include anything “clearly contrary to human nature and the common good (such as same-sex relationships or the adoption of children by such couples)”.
They also reject “the right of a person to self-determine their gender without reference to objective criteria determined by their genome and anatomy”, and in particular the “radical separation between biological sex and cultural gender“.
The document adds that, while LGBT people’s rights should be respected, they in turn must also respect “the rights of other members of society, especially their religious feelings, moral principles and the principles of public order”.
Three LGBT activists were recently charged with the crimes of offending religious feelings and insulting monuments after they hung rainbow flags on statues in Warsaw, including one of Christ. Their actions have marked the rise of a new, more radical and provocative form of LGBT activism in Poland.
Conversion therapy clinics
In their document, Poland’s Catholic hierarchy say that it is “necessary to create clinics (including with the assistance of the church) to help people who want to regain their sexual health and natural sexual orientation”.
The bishops admit that this idea “stands in clear contradiction to positions regarded as scientific, as well as to so-called ‘political correctness'”.
But they say the clinics would help people who realise that their sexuality is “a symptom of wounds on various levels of their personality” and who wish to “regain a healthy identity and spiritual harmony”.
The premise that non-heterosexual orientations are a mental illness has in recent decades been rejected by leading medical bodies, including the World Health Organisation in 1990. The practice of “conversion therapy” to “cure” or “correct” such orientations has also been deemed unethical and harmful.
In a number of countries, various forms of prohibition of the practice are in place. Earlier this year, Germany introduced a ban on conversion therapy for minors and on advertising such “treatments”. In Ecuador, it is classified as a form of torture, with prison sentences of up to ten years for those practising it.
"Conversion Therapy" practices rely on the medically false idea that #LGBT persons are sick and that their sexual orientation or gender identity can and should be changed. They inflict severe pain and suffering, resulting in long-lasting psychological and physical damage. #IESOGI pic.twitter.com/zArpr7EHbr
— Victor Madrigal-Borloz (@victor_madrigal) May 29, 2020
Further countries are currently considering legislation to outlaw the practice. In 2017, the Church of England declared conversion therapy to be a “discredited” and “theologically unsound” form of “abuse”, and called on the British government to ban it.
Last month, UN experts called for a global ban on the practice, which they said “inflicts severe pain and suffering on LGBT persons”.
The episcopate’s spokesman, Father Leszek Gęsiak, emphasised that the proposed counselling centres would be voluntary, providing “a place of help if people want and seek it”.
However, another priest, Father Jacek Prusak, who is an academic psychologist and deputy rector of the Jesuit University in Kraków, criticised the episcopate. They are “treating the Bible as a psychology textbook and a constitution for all Poles, and this cannot be done”, he told TVN24.
Prusak adds that, although the episcopate says it has been working on the document for a year, its publication now is not accidental. It is “not only intended to be heard by the faithful in the Church, but also by politicians”. The bishops are “taking an official position on what is happening in Polish society”.
Some parts of Poland’s Catholic church have been supportive of a government-led anti-LGBT campaign that began early last year and has been revived in recent months. Marek Jędraszewski, the Archbishop of Kraków, called “LGBT ideology” a “plague” and likened it to Bolshevism and Nazism.
At this week’s plenary meeting, Jędraszewski was appointed as co-chairman of the Joint Commission of the Government and the Episcopate, meaning he will lead the church’s relations with the government.
“Sad cases of paedophilia and homosexuality”
During the meeting, the bishops also discussed the church’s response to cases of sexual abuse. A number of crimes against children committed by members of the clergy – and alleged efforts within the church to cover them up – have recently come to light.
In June, Pope Francis ordered the Bishop of Kalisz, Edward Janiak, to be relieved of his duties while the Vatican investigates claims that he covered up abuse, which featured in a new documentary. A recent opinion poll showed that public trust in the church has declined more than for any other major institution in Poland.
Speaking amid this week’s plenary meeting, the head of the Polish episcopate, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, told Catholic press agency KIA that the issue of clerical sex abuse was part of a broader “crisis of faith” in Poland, which has in turn caused a “crisis of the clergy itself”.
This has resulted in “very sad cases of paedophilia and homosexuality, which sometimes seem to overshadow all the good resulting from the priestly mission”, said Gądecki.
Archbishop Wojciech Polak, the Primate of Poland, warned his clerical colleagues that “cleansing the church, restoring our credibility and regaining trust is possible only through an honest account of crimes and the negligence of superiors”, reports KAI.
Polak, who is the episcopal delegate for the protection of children and youth, provided the meeting with an update on the efforts the church has made to implement measures to prevent, respond to and report abuse, as well as to support victims.
“A systematic decline of religion”
The bishops also heard warnings of another growing problem for the church in Poland, which is the diminishing religiosity of young Poles, a growing number of whom are not attending catechism classes in schools.
“This is a systematic decline,” warned Father Marian Zając, from the department of integral catechetics at the Catholic University of Lublin, quoted by KAI.
“The percentage of deeply religious people is falling. We are number one in the world when it comes to the gap between the faith of parents and that of children.”
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) October 18, 2019
Zając noted that, in primary school, around 94% of children still attend catechism classes. These take place in public schools and are funded by the state, but with curricula and teachers chosen by the church. The lessons are optional, with parents deciding on behalf of children.
However, by the time children are older, the proportion attending drops to around 75%, said Zając; and among school students old enough to decide for themselves, 50% do not wish to attend.
Those describing themselves as non-believers have risen from 5% in 1996 to 17% last year
– The proportion who attend religion (essentially Catholic catechism) classes at school has fallen to 70% from a peak of 93% pic.twitter.com/94iprOJyl5
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) July 22, 2019
Parishes must, therefore, revive the evangelisation of whole families, advised Zając, in order to awaken the need to reflect on the relationship with God as the basis for overcoming problems that cannot be solved in any other way, reports KAI.
A recent study by Pew Research Centre found that 69% of Poles say God plays an important role in their lives, which was the second highest figure among EU countries surveyed.
The data also showed, however, that the strength of religious belief in Poland has declined significantly. When the same survey was conducted in 1991, 83% said that God played an important role in their lives.
Main image credit: EpiskopatNews/Twitter
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland and assistant professor of history at the Pedagogical University of Krakow. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, The Independent and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.