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Excerpt from a letter from the Episcopate to the parish clergy of Poland in 1981


This pastoral letter was issued on March 11, 1981, and sent to every priest in Poland. It summarizes the message that the bishops wanted the parish clergy to transmit to their flocks during their Sunday sermons. While not every priest faithfully replicated the tone of this letter, very few openly defied the instructions of the Church hierarchy. The goal of this letter is clear: to hold the Solidarity movement back from any actions that might threaten social disorder or public peace. This document provides a point of entry into the controversial issue of the Church's stance in 1980 and 1981. Despite the explicit public religiosity of Lech Wałęsa and other Solidarity activists, the stance of the Church hierarchy toward the strikes of 1980 and the dynamic social movement that emerged afterward remained highly ambiguous. Certainly the bishops were concerned about the possibility of a Soviet invasion if Solidarity pushed its contest with the government too far, and they realized that the relative security they had won for the Church in Communist Poland would be lost if the Soviets got directly involved. Just as seriously, they recognized that such an outcome would almost certainly lead to massive casualties. At the same time, they understood that the Church enjoyed enormous respect in Poland in the early 1980s precisely because it constituted the one public space independent of Communist control, and that people looked to the Church for protection and refuge. Given this, to show lackluster support for the Solidarity movement would be seen by many as a betrayal.

This source is a part of the The Catholic Church in Poland, 1950-2000 teaching module.


Excerpt from a letter from the Episcopate to the parish clergy of Poland, 1981

Certainly it is not our place, amidst our pastoral and educational work,
amidst our prayers and our everyday difficulties, to get involved with
strictly economic and political matters. But it is our place to bring to
everyday Polish life the Gospel's spirit of peace, combined with calm
reflection, since this is a necessary condition for the healthy socio-economic
development that we all desire

The Gospel of peace is the primary pastoral commandment that Christ
gave to his disciples: "When you go into a home, say first 'peace be unto
this home'." (Matthew 10) Peace in the home, in the family, at work, in the
shipyard, in the factory and in the workshop, in the field and in the mine,
wherever. We know about this all too well. So, as we look around, as we
see how various tensions grow and transform, how new tensions emerge
and thrust into our daily lives—we appropriately recall that basic pastoral
duty: wherever it is possible for us to do so, we must work to calm
quarrels and strong feelings. That will be for us an appropriate task, one
that has constituted our greatest service over the course of the history of
the Church and the Fatherland, and which has brought the Church and
the clergy recognition.

But peace is not stagnation. It is, after all, an act of justice. . . . Thus
efforts aimed at expanding the boundaries of justice and social freedom
are moral and justified. Indeed, recognizing this essential condition of
peace is a duty. All the more so because justice flows from God himself,
who set out the principles and defined the mutual rights and duties of life
and cooperation. . . . The aspiration to expand the boundaries and
strengthen the foundations of social life in accord with Christian
principles of social justice is warranted, and even necessary.

There is no doubt that work on awakening the conscience and
strengthening social justice is necessary in our Fatherland. The Church
was aware of this when it began to trace out domestically the lines of a
new socio-economic system. The Church did not just begin today to work
on propagating the principles of a healthy social order, on defending
personal rights, particularly the conditions of human labor—the Church
has been doing this since the first years of this new stage in Polish
history. It is often forgotten that particularly then, when everything was
silenced under the pressure of political terror, the Church alone did not
back down, and its bishops and priests paid for their courage with
imprisonment, with the loss of their Church positions, and with heavy
criminal fines. The Church, the Episcopate of Poland, the bishops stood
up in defense of those who were oppressed and wronged by the
government during the various periods of social tension in our country....
A great movement has been born that aspires to create self-governing
associations, the existence of which is the natural right of every man and
of the entire Nation. It is an individual right, regardless of the already
existing forms of associations, that people have the right to create the
associations that best meet their personal, social, professional, or
economic needs. It is not acceptable to create some sort of monopoly for
a certain political group or to make concessions for one social strata to
the exclusion of other citizens. . . .

The Holy Father, in his speech to pilgrims to Poland (January 21 of this
year), wishing the Fatherland peace, also wished all citizens levelheadedness and
continued development. Precisely the issue of levelheadedness has momentous
social and civic meaning. . . . The powerful desire to do good for the children of the
common Fatherland is in tension here with a situation in which one must move forward patiently,
peacefully, and with a long time horizon. After all, it is not possible to
repair from one day to the next all the injustices that have occurred in the
life and consciousness of the Nation. . . . We need level-headedness and
systematic efforts from all the national, moral, social, and state forces—in
order to do this as well as possible, without creating new injustices or
national losses. Thus it would be harmful to try stop initiatives already
underway, or to make difficulties for citizens when one sees healthy and
constructive work towards overcoming evil in the positive building of
healthy socio-economic development, for the good of all the citizens of
the common Fatherland. . . .

The beloved servants of the People of God in our Fatherland will be
particularly alert to maintain this social peace and level-headedness so
that we might achieve further development in the social aspiration for
justice. . . . Since in this heated times many initiatives for renewal are
arising, and some of these will have a short lifespan, priests, who have a
more fundamental and long-term religious and pastoral task, ought not
to join their pastoral work with political interventions. After all, the
Church has never in its history become dependent upon political or
pseudo-political groups and it never gave itself over in service to such
groups. Thus priests, who are called to serve the entire People of God,
ought not to join any initiative, even the most noble aimed at political
renewal. The clergy should limit itself to bringing everyone religious,
moral, and charitable assistance, preserving its strength and time for its
proper pastoral calling among the children of the Divine Fatherland.
Priests will not sign any declarations of a political or public character, nor
make any protests of any kind. Instead, they will inform their bishops if
they observe the violation of the moral or civil rights of the faithful.

We trust that only in this way will we act in accordance with the
instructions of the Holy Father, for the peace of our Fatherland, in the
spirit of level-headedness, on the path towards further growth.

Source: "Biskupi polscy do duszpasterzy," Listy pasterskie Prymasa Polski
oraz Episkopatu 1975-1981, trans. Brian Porter, (Paris: Éditions du
Dialogue, 1988)


"Biskupi polscy do duszpasterzy," Listy pasterskie Prymasa Polski oraz Episkopatu 1975-1981, trans. Brian Porter, (Paris: Éditions du Dialogue, 1988).

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"Excerpt from a letter from the Episcopate to the parish clergy of Poland in 1981," in World History Commons, [accessed December 8, 2023]