Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
January 22, 2007
Polish fiasco underlines need for integrity
The sad case of Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus is but the latest encouragement for the Church to draw further away from the secular powers of the day. The Church has long (always?) been tempted to compromise with the establishment in order to attain benefits for itself or to escape persecution.
Wielgus, of course, is the bishop who this month almost became primate of the Church in Poland before it was make clear that he had served as an informant for the Communist government -in Poland, of all places, where the Church was so determined to defend its independence from a repressive government!
Now it appears that there may be many more stones to be overturned with similar revelations underneath.
In the Church's early days under the Roman Empire, Christians were offered the opportunity to escape persecution by making token offerings to the emperor. Many took the easy way out.
From the time of Constantine, the Church regularly was manipulated or overpowered by secular authorities who sought to put their power above that of the Church.
In the 20th century, Pope Pius XII was criticized (rightly or wrongly) for failing to speak strongly enough against Nazi atrocities. In other places, bishops sat with the establishments of repressive regimes, apparently offering few, if any, words of chastisement. In the U.S., leading prelates supported the Vietnam War despite the Church's teaching on what makes for a just war.
It was seemingly only a few marginal figures, such as El Salvador's Archbishop Oscar Romero, who dared to speak out against the murderous denial of human rights.
But if the 20th century marked anything for the Church, it was a drawing away from this too-tight relationship between the sacred and the secular.
More than any other century, the 20th was the century of martyrs. Cardinals Stefan Wyszinski and Karol Wojtyla and the Solidarity movement in Poland showed how the Church could be outside politics and yet be a catalyst for massive social and political change.
The liberation theology movement in the developing world spurred the Church to state a preferential option for the poor. In the Western world, as governments and intellectual elites became increasingly secularized, the Church has more and more seen the need to be a sign of contradiction.
This sign of contradiction does not mean setting oneself in total opposition to society. It means being with the people in their joys and sorrows, while being clearly outside secular power structures.
It means insisting on the dignity of the human person as including the right to religious freedom and the rights to a dignified material existence and a role in the political process.
The human person is holy and cannot be trampled on. The Church, for its part, must be a solid and consistent defender of human dignity. Its members should be proud of the Gospel rather than ashamed to be Christians.
Such a stance will regularly put us at odds with the established powers. Too often tied up with power is the desire to use that power to improve one's own material well-being, even at the expense of others. The Church must witness to the principle that the needs of the many are more important than the wants of the powerful.
So the Church must lead the fight against HIV/AIDS and abortion, against war, poverty and discrimination, and in favour of a natural environment that will last longer than one human lifetime.
The temptation to make deals with the powerful will always be there. But despite the bad aroma given off by the Wielgus affair, the Church is turning a corner.
More and more we see that our role is to shun the attraction of power and to stand up for a higher truth. We will be a sign of contradiction, not a complicit partner with unseemly establishments.
- Glen Argan
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