When a Polish bishop recently denied being in dispute with Pope Francis, it was only the latest sign of controversy over the Pontiff’s reformist line. In November, Bishop Józef Wróbel, an auxiliary in Lublin, said there had been concerns about claims in an Italian newspaper that he was in league with four cardinals who had called for a clarification of the Pope’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. He wished to make clear that he “respected St Peter’s successor” and had no wish to contest his judgments.
Some leaders of Poland’s predominant Church have had problems with Pope Francis’s conciliatory style, however; and these appear to have intensified since his visit for World Youth Day last summer.
“The tensions are deepening, since they can’t be articulated publicly,” explains Małgorzata Glabisz-Pniewska, a senior Catholic radio presenter. “The Pope has his supporters here – and officially everything is in order. But his direct, open way of speaking and acting faces opposition.”
Signs of unease have been visible since Francis’s election, in a Church wedded to the firm line of his revered Polish predecessor, whose teachings are still evoked more readily today, almost a dozen years after his death.
Poland’s clergy have traditionally seen their task as holding the line against secularisation – a function made easier by the election in 2015 of a president and government committed to defending the Catholic faith. Not surprisingly, the country’s media have reported reservations about the Pope’s attitudes. When, in 2013, Francis’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium invited Catholics to be “bold and creative” in rethinking evangelisation, the document’s reception in Poland was lukewarm and few bishops quoted from it. And when Amoris Laetitia conceded the need for “continued open discussion” of “doctrinal, moral, spiritual and pastoral questions” last March, the reaction was similarly frosty.
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