Right-Wing Catholics in Poland Attack LGBT Rights, While Bishops Silent

LGBT equality in Poland is a contentious issue. While the issue evolved in recent years, since 2016 progress has been threatened by the right-wing Law and Justice party that governs Poland and boasts of its Catholic identity.

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Participants at Warsaw’s Equality Parade

Government restrictions have not, however, stopped some Poles from celebrating the LGBT communities in their country. In June this year, some 50,000 people took part in Warsaw’s “Equality Parade” that holds up not only LGBT people but other marginalized groups like people with disabilities.  In its 17th year, the Parade is more a demonstration for human rights against the right-wing government than a celebration of Pride.

As a bit of background, modern Poland never criminalized homosexuality. Since the Cold War ended, there has been an openness in some urban areas to lesbian and gay people. Homosexuality was removed from a list of mental health issues in 1991. The country has had openly gay and openly transgender politicians, and allows gay and bisexual men to donate blood.

Despite these positive developments, the country’s citizens remain generally opposed to certain LGBT rights. Marriage equality is constitutionally banned, and most Poles agree it should remain so. Attempted “registered partnership laws” for same-gender couples have been repeatedly defeated by legislators, though 2017 polling indicates that for the first time, a majority of Poles support some form of legal recognition. Non-discrimination protections are sorely lacking, and there are no anti-hate crime laws.

Unlike most nations, the situation in Poland is deteriorating and has been since the Law and Justice party took power in 2015. In an interview with World Politics Review, Agata Chaber of the country’s leading LGBT group, Campaign Against Homophobia, explained the conservative turn:

“The Law and Justice Party is stoking a fear of everything that is foreign, and portraying the EU as an unwanted and harmful influence on Poland. . .they say it has ‘forced’ Poland to adopt the so-called gay agenda. By portraying concern for LGBT rights as a product of foreign influence, the party is contributing to the isolation of Poland’s LGBT community.

“The Law and Justice Party has only been in power for two years, which is not long enough to dramatically change social attitudes. But given the alterations of school curricula, which removed elements emphasizing nondiscrimination while embracing more nationalist messaging, and the entrenchment of other policies, we might soon live in a society where any individual who is not white, straight, cisgender and Catholic is unwanted.”

Chaber added that the number of anti-LGBT people isn’t growing, but the “intensity of hate” by those who already are anti-LGBT is expanding. These radical nationalist groups are “increasingly dominating public discourse and public spaces, and in so doing they are making it much more difficult for LGBT people and their allies to live openly.”

Intimately connected to the Law and Justice party’s rise is the Catholic identity it strongly claims, even against church leaders’ criticisms. Poland is 95% Catholic, a majority of whom attend weekly Mass. For years, Church leaders have vehemently opposed any expansion of LGBT equality, creating fertile ground in which the conservative Catholic, anti-gay views of Law and Justice could grow.

The outcomes of this union of religion and politics have been devastating. Hate crimes have risen sharply, in large part because the government itself is ambivalent or even supportive of such acts. Harsh rhetoric has become more acceptable.

Chaber believes the future for LGBT rights in Poland is uncertain. As long as Law and Justice is in power and the threats from nationalist Catholic groups grow, there will be no new protections for LGBT people. LGBT groups’ best hope, Chaber said, is to do grassroots organizing that will “create a movement that will oppose violence and discrimination.”

I would add that now is a crucial moment for Catholic leaders, who are already critical of Law and Justice on other matters, to speak out for the human rights of LGBT people. Their opposition to the recognition of same-gender relationships does not have to stop them from using their power to oppose violence and discrimination against LGBT people.

New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick visited Poland in the late fall of 2016.  For a report on her activities there with LGBT groups and the media, click here

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 8, 2017

 

 

Sr. Jeannine Spreads Message of LGBT Equality in Poland

While most people in the United States were enjoying turkey with all the trimmings last Thanksgiving Day, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, was feasting instead on pierogi (dumplings), golabki (stuffed cabbage leaves), kapusta (sauerkraut), and babka (bread). Far from flouting custom, she was honoring tradition and her ancestral roots by spending Thanksgiving Day in Poland.

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In Poland, Sr. Jeannine holds a sign which reads ” I support LGBT people because we are all children of God.”

She was invited for a week-long speaking tour about Catholic LGBT issues, sponsored by the country’s leading LGBT equality organization, “Campaign Against Homophobia,” and its main Christian groups, “Faith and Rainbow” and “Tolerado.” She gave three public presentations, 14 interviews with radio, TV, or print journalists, a retreat for LGBT Christians, and spoke personally with countless individual Poles, including the Secretary General of Poland’s organization for nuns’ communities.

Traveling to Poland’s three leading cities–Warsaw, Krakow, and Gdansk–Sister Jeannine spread the message that she has been spreading for over 45 years: God has unconditional love for LGBT people and it is the church’s job to make that love real by working for justice and equality.

In the homeland of Pope John Paul II, journalists naturally questioned Gramick about her opinions on both the former pope and his current successor. Initially, she said, she had great enthusiasm for John Paul when he was elected. She felt great pride because of her own Polish heritage, but that quickly dissipated. While he called for justice in the secular arena, he was adamantly opposed to any discussion of injustice within the church’s walls. Moreover, she disagreed with John Paul’s views about sexuality, expressed in his talks on the “Theology of the Body,” stating that his notions about gender complementarity made no sense at all to women.

Concerning Pope Francis, she is more optimistic.  In an interview with Queer.pl, she said,

“I think his emphasis is in the right place. He is emphasizing the heart, not the head. He speaks often about dialogue and getting to know LGBT people, even though he maintains that he will not change church teaching (on sexual ethics). I believe that it is most important to first talk with people and thus open people’s hearts. Change (in sexual ethics) will come after there is a change of heart.”

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After one of her speaking appearances in Poland, Sr. Jeannine greets members of the audience.

In an interview with Kobieta.wp.pl, Sister Jeannine described what motivated her to become involved in this ministry. She began her work in 1971 when she met a young gay man who had left the Catholic Church. After many discussions with him and his friends, she realized that Catholics needed to be educated about LGBT lives. She explained:

“I wanted to give a voice to those in the Church who could not speak for themselves. I believe LGBT people, just as any of the faithful, should have their rightful place in this institution…

“I’ve always been interested in those who are overlooked by society. If you read the Bible, you know that Jesus came to defend the outcasts. Another issue for me is conscience. Sometimes your conscience guides you to differ with the church hierarchy…the only thing that should concern us is love and helping others.”

When asked by Queer.pl about her impressions of LGBT issues in Poland, Sister Jeannine responded:

“I’m very surprised, in a positive sense, about what I’ve seen and experienced in Poland. There is more talk about LGBT people than I had anticipated. I’ve seen great acceptance among Catholics, even among priests. They are beginning to understand that this is an important issue of human rights.”

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During one of her talks, Sr. Jeannine holds up New Ways Ministry’s list of LGBT-friendly parishes in the newsletter “Bondings.”

She noted that Catholic lay people in the U.S. and many other nations are much more supportive of LGBT people than the Catholic hierarchy. She felt that the “hierarchy of the Church is responsible for the administration of the community, but they should also feel a responsibility to listen to the people.”

The Campaign Against Homophobia and Faith and Rainbow, two organizations that sponsored Sr. Jeannine’s speaking tour in Poland, launched a nationwide reconciliation campaign last September.  “Let’s Exchange a Sign of Peace” posted billboards all over Poland depicting a handshake in which one hand wore a rosary around the wrist and the other wore a rainbow bracelet. While Polish bishops decried the efforts, the Polish citizenry responded quite positively. Many prominent Catholics and several Catholic publications supported the effort.

Sister Jeannine’s lecture series built on so much of the enormous work already done by these organizations and their supporters—efforts that Sister Jeannine feels will bring about many blessings. When asked about the situation in the U.S. in the future, she responded that the mission may become more difficult to accomplish in the new presidential administration, but like her friends in Poland, she is ready to keep on working. To Weekend.gazeta.pl, she said:

“Good work will go forward because the hearts and minds of people who support the LGBT community have been changed. These hearts and minds were opened and are no longer shut. We will not step back. It will be much harder. But we can handle it. We have to.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 17, 2017