Polish Catholic bishops are strongly criticizing a new reconciliation campaign designed to build bridges between the Church and the LGBT community.
Earlier this month, the “Let’s Exchange a Sign of Peace” campaign was launched by several Polish LGBT groups, including the “Campaign Against Homophobia” and “Faith and Rainbow.” The campaign, which has the support of Catholic media, features billboards “depicting clasped hands — one with a rainbow bracelet and the other with a Catholic rosary,” reported the National Catholic Reporter.
There are plans, too, for meetings across Poland between Catholics and LGBT advocates, to remind the country’s faithful that foremost in church teaching is “the necessity of respect, openness and willing dialogue with all people, including homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals [sic].” These efforts have been joined by a group of Catholic parents with LGBT children who appealed earlier this year for Pope Francis to speak out against the hatred their children experience.
Poland’s bishops are pushing back against these mounting efforts. The Polish Episcopal Conference released a statement “attacking Wiez, Znak and Tygodnik Powszechny [Catholic media outlets] by name, and rejecting claims that the Polish church was homophobic.” It said specifically of the ad campaign featuring hands held in a sign of peace:
“But if extending hands to others means accepting the person, it never means approving their sin. . .Members of a community gathered in the liturgy have a permanent duty to be converted, and meet Gospel demands by turning away from their sinful fancies. We fear this action, extracting the extended hand gesture from its liturgical context, assumes a meaning incompatible with the teaching of Christ and the church.”
This statement was backed by individual statements from Cardinals Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw and Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, the latter of whom said Catholic LGBT advocates were “falsifying the church’s unchangeable teaching.”
But, importantly, several Catholic media outlets in Poland remain committed to being spaces where questions of gender and sexuality can be openly discussed, and progress is happening. Dominika Kozlowska, editor of Znak, said “the bishops’ reaction is only a first step — what matters is that they’ve now felt it necessary to take up a position on LGBT issues,” including acknowledging, even in a rudimentary but novel way, that LGBT people deserve to be respected.
Catholics will keep the conversation going, Kozlowska said, urged on by the example of Pope Francis who visited the country in July for World Youth Day celebrations. Continuing the conversation necessarily includes church leaders, as NCR reported:
“Having refused to recognize homosexuality as a genuine orientation, and seen it only as something sinful, Poland’s Catholic bishops now have to consider the subject more carefully.
” ‘The institutional church must start offering adequate pastoral support for this part of our society, rather than just treating these issues ideologically,’ the Znak editor told NCR. ‘I think Francis is offering a way out of the deadlock, by proposing new ways of thinking, acting and speaking, and giving a new quality to church reflections. This is something quite new for Poland, and conservatives and progressives here should all learn from it.’ “
Editors from the three Catholic publications criticized by the bishops said they were not pushing a political agenda, but questioning whether LGBT people’s pastoral needs were being met. They wrote in a joint statement:
” ‘Our involvement as media patrons of this campaign was aimed solely at stressing those elements of church teaching which are little known and disseminated in Poland. . .Polish Catholics have now received a clear call from their pastors to treat homosexual brothers and sisters with dignity and respect. If our involvement in this campaign was improperly understood, perhaps this was a felix culpa, or fortunate mistake.’ “
Studies reveal that Poles are asking more questions and breaking away from issues once considered settled in the highly Catholic country. Faith and Rainbow, a group for LGBT Christians, prompted conversations at World Youth Day by hosting an LGBT Welcome Center. These latest efforts at conversation and at reconciliation should be welcomed by the bishops, instead of allowing LGBT people and their families to be marginalized in the church and in Polish society.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry