Barack Obama, Władysław Gomułka and the Attack on the Catholic Church

This July at a conference at Mundelein Seminary I heard Cardinal George state that the Church is in a more perilous position in this country then it has ever been. In February he said the Church is being despoiled of her institutions and that the new HHS mandate is nothing short of a demand for the Catholic Church in the United States to “give up her health care institutions, her universities and many of her social service organizations.” He predicted that if the HHS regulations are not rescinded a Catholic institution has the choice to secularize itself, pay exorbitant fines forcing it out of business, sell the institution, or close down. He pointed out that freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union, however, “the church could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship—no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and the works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. All of these were co-opted by the government. We fought a long Cold War to defeat that vision of society.”

These comparisons to the former Soviet Union are quite chilling, and although they are easily dismissed, they are quite apt. I have been reading about Poland’s history under Władysław Gomułka, the first Secretary of the Polish Workers Party from 1959-1970. Because he replaced hardline Stalinists, Gomułka was a candidate of hope and change. But as George Weigel explains, the Gomułka “thaw” simply “led to a period of ‘maturity’ for polish communism. There were no longer mass murders, or open and brutal mass coercion….  [But] the regime still remained determined to bring the church to heel while weaning the Polish people from traditional religious loyalties.” The struggle entered a “more subtle” and “dangerous phase.” (The End and the Beginning, p. 51)

These terms are strikingly similar to Cardinal George’s warning of the “more perilous” state of the Church in this country. Barack Obama, the candidate of hope and change, has led to a more “mature period” of the secularization of the country.  It is instructive to consider Cardinal Wojtyla’s responses to the attacks by the Gomułka regime. An immensely helpful work by Father Boniecki, The Making of the Pope of the Millennium: Kalendarium of the Life of Karol Wojtyla, provides a window through the iron curtain. Let us consider the year 1967 when Archbishop Wojtyla was named a cardinal by Pope Paul VI. The harassment of the Church by communist authorities was palpable, despite “Gomułka’s thaw.” There was the on going battle with the regime concerning the right to build a Church in Nowa Huta, the new town outside of Krakow supporting the Lenin Steelworks. The authorities would grant no permit to build a church; there were violent street protest over the erection of a simple cross in a public space. Wojtyla continued to press for the building of a Church in the town. (In 1977 Cardinal Wojtyla blessed a new church in Nowa Huta).

In June the authorities in Krakow closed the Rhapsodic Theater, co-founded by Wojtyla during the Nazi occupation. Wojtyla wrote in protest to the “minister of Culture”: “The activity of the Theater is very dear … it played an important role in the service of Polish culture.” He subsequently wrote to the ousted director, M. Kotlarczk, that this great wrong was “motivated by ideological rationalizations … [and] proves there is a lack of freedom in the ideological sphere.”

Cardinal Wyszynski was denied a passport to travel to Rome for the Synod of Bishops.  In protest and in solidarity with the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Wojtyla refused to travel to Rome and he spoke out concerning their “right and the obligation” to attend the Synod. Pope Paul VI expressed his “bitterness” at this attack on the Church and he also expressed his bitterness at “the harmful conditions that have been forced upon the Church … where its due freedom is denied; where the Church is the object of unjustified suspicion, moral and legal pressure, and anti-religious opposition.”

The icon of our Lady of Czestochowa could not be transported across Poland to celebrate the Visitation. In a sermon to his priests Wojtyla said that this act of suppression of a popular religious custom was a “clear insult to things we hold holy.” It was a violation of religious feeling and not in compliance with the constitution or the rule of law. The freedom to venerate the image across Poland stood as a “proof and a gauge” of religious freedom. He petitioned the Chairman of the council of Ministers for respect of “these rights of a moral and a social nature.”

In 1966 the famous philosopher Leszek Kolakowski was expelled from the University and exiled in 1968. Wojtyla visited the Jagiellonian University where he received the following toast from a professor: “after the thorough laicization of our university, after the exclusion of theology from within its walls, there remains not a trace of the official influence of the ordinaries of Krakow … one does not have to hold an official position in order to be a mentor of minds searching for truth.” He acclaimed Wojtyla “an inspirer and protector of Polish learning, ever faithful to the Church.” Cardinal Wojtyla spent much time during the year attending conferences, speaking about theology and the lay apostolate.

Finally, Gomulka and the communist government used the Leninist technique of “splitting from above and below” to divide the Church and to confuse the faithful. Norman Davies, in God’s Playground: A History of Poland, explains that the communist party sought to destroy their rivals by creating factions and bogus organizations. They first destroyed political rivals, and then turned on the Church. They created shell organizations with names like “Veritas,”  “Pax” or “Caritas.” Their aim was to “destroy the reputation of the hierarchy and to create a bloc of Catholic opinion which was prepared to co-operate with the state on the Party’s terms.” (vol. 2, pp. 379-380) The Church responded by forbidding its members from participating in these groups. But most of all, Wojtyla offered his people real Catholic teaching as an alternative to the pseudo-Catholic and humanitarian propaganda.

In his homily on New Year’s eve, December 31, 1967 Cardinal Wojtyla summed up the situation quite incisively: “We are the witnesses of an attack on faith … the position that faith and religion are unworthy of a human being; that faith and religion are contrary to a person’s reason, and above all, to his social mundane involvement. We are witnesses at every step, of the so-called process of secularization, which in large part is calculated, and forced upon people of faith. They are still being given the right to profess their faith, but in a way that forces them to keep their religious convictions in the depths of their souls, within the four walls of their houses, or in church. But anywhere else—no. Public life will be overtaken by the process of secularization; and so: not in schools, not in hospitals, not in summer camps [youth programs].” Cardinal George’s warning of 2012 strikes a note so similar to Cardinal Wojtyla’s warning of 1967. What can we learn from this parallel?

Norman Davies dryly observes that, “Gomulka remained an orthodox, disciplined, and philistine communist.” So too Obama promised hope and change, but we now see that he is but an “orthodox, disciplined and philistine socialist.” He, his Democratic Party and the biased media consistently resort to the splitting technique to “destroy the reputation of the hierarchy and to create a bloc of Catholic opinion which is prepared to co-operate with the administration on the Party’s terms.” Obama appeals to the academy’s native anti-Catholicism to promote his agenda and relies on Catholic institutions to lend their support to his positions. His party’s endorsement of homosexual rights and homosexual marriage continue to drive out Catholics from social services and adoption services. And now his “Obamacare” and its strident imposition of abortion and contraception services will drive Catholics once and for all from health care and perhaps education as well. As Wojtyla said: “We are witnesses at every step, of the so-called process of secularization.” What is to be done?

Wojtyla provides a four point plan for our Bishops to follow: (1) appeal to the rights of law and morality to fight the unjust attacks on its actions and institutions; (2) be a teacher above all, explaining the true faith and its applications to all spheres of life (Cardinal George and Archbishop Chaput are to be commended for their role as teachers like Wojtyla); (3) use dramatic opportunities to express solidarity with those Catholics who are being attacked and those institutions being subverted; celebrate milestones and heroes of the faith in this country; perhaps some equivalent to the Catholic league should be a part of every diocese in the country to respond quickly and vigorously; (4) strongly challenge and counter the “splitting from above and below” and be ready to impose the doctrinal and practical discipline required to maintain the unity of faith. This task must be the most daunting because Catholics in this country voluntarily split the Church and claim legitimacy for their dissent. Most of the Catholic universities have voluntarily split off. Catholic politicians have split off, especially the Democrats who advocate the most blatantly anti-Catholic policies. They must be roundly and repeatedly denounced. I hope that the Bishops would re-consider denial of communion to those politicians on account of scandal (i.e., splitting). Other Catholic organizations must be led by fully faithful Catholics. And of course, the diocesan offices must be filled by those who clearly support Catholic teaching and can give a coherent public witness.

The deepest lesson of all was taught by Cardinal Wojtyla on the day of his return from Rome after receiving the red hat from Pope Paul VI (July 9, 1967). He said: “I come from the grave of St. Peter to the grave of St. Stanislaw with new duties, with new responsibilities. By placing a Cardinal’s red biretta on my head. The Holy Father wanted to tell me that I should place an even greater value on blood. Above all that I should value the blood of my redeemer; that for the price of our redeemer’s blood I should take a stand in the Church of God even if I have to spill my own blood.”

From Gomulka to Jaruzelski, the communist leaders of Poland could not contain the prayerful and vigorous witness of Cardinal Wojtyla/Pope John Paul II. May the leaders of the Church in our country now stand up to Barack Obama and his party’s attacks on the faith.

John Hittinger


John Hittinger is a professor in the Center for Thomistic Studies at the University of St Thomas, Houston and the author of Liberty, Wisdom and Grace: Thomism and Democratic Political Theory. He is the founder and director of the Pope John Paul II Forum for the Church in the Modern World and president of the International Catholic University, founded by Ralph McInerny (1929-2010), the co-founder of Crisis Magazine.

  • Bill Russell

    “It’s not like — thanks be to God — we’re in crisis. Things are going well.”

    Archbishop Timothy Dolan
    November 16, 2010

    Read more:

    • Puh-lease

      Right… because nothing has changed since 2010. Cue eye roll.

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  • JotheHousewife

    This gives us much to fear, but also hope. A clear plan of action is included. Will the bishops follow? Maybe a few. We do need a Catholic revolution…

  • Clement Williams

    Perhaps the time has come for us to pray the ‘Prayer of Azariah’ Daniel Ch.3:25-45 due to where we have descended to.

  • Alecto

    No disrespect to the pope, but I’m American: I know the Constitution and I understand my rights and duties as a free person in a way no European can or ever will. We weren’t raised to be serfs to kings, clergy or bureaucrats as Europeans were throughout their miserable histories. I don’t expect old world inhabitants to truly grasp the American perspective, which isn’t the free-for-all they think it is, but a personal commitment to highest and best principles in an environment where liberty prevails.

    I do not need the Vatican to weigh in on this. In fact, I would rather it not. It has abjured responsibility for teaching Catholicism in favor of socialist justice taught by the Marxists who have infiltrated the once great American Catholic institutions which now graduate the very people who are assaulting this country. The Vatican ought to focus all of its resources on identifying and purging those individuals from those institutions.

    I know what needs to be done. I know and trust my fellow Americans, not fellow Catholics, to stand up and be counted among those who still understand that neither the President, the Congress or the Courts have any ability to take away any of my rights which are unalienable. In the U.S., the revolutionary spirit is endemic as Obama will find out if elected to second term.

    • MMJ

      Understand but this is not the Vatican…it is history in Poland…and who courageously led the fight to energize the Catholics and all citizens of good will. Trust fellow Americans?…we elected the clowns who got us into this mess…Harry Reid was reelected and the lights are nearly out in Las Vegas?…and Jerry Brown back in the saddle in California! I don’t trust the instruments of power to spread the truth to fellow Americans about what is really going on…look how lazy and ignorant all the media were about warning the citizens about the precarious situation in which all of our financial institutions stood and stand…the incredible mess was never exposed…look at the Housing mortgage crisis…the Black Family are devastated by this socialized culture of death…but Al Sharpton gets a TV news anchor show. I used to think the media…all shades…were just very biased…now I believe they are simply arrogant, lazy and “the lights are on but there is nobody in there”..they are all “short of a full load of bricks.” They are not interested in Truth…but live and breath on political correctness. Lastly…we are on the same road as Western Europe..a culture of death….a culture of socialism…where marriage, family and the American culture are nearly gone…then we simply become a dinosaur just looking for a time to lie down and rollover…and die. The “ATM” machine is out of cash and out of (common good) ideas.

      • Alecto

        MMJ, it is a historical example offered as a parallel to current events. While I appreciate the efforts of Cardinal Wojtyla, I do not believe this example is applicable to Barak Obama’s assault on our Constitution and society. In our case, the USCCB is in league with the devil so to speak, and most Catholics don’t practice their religion because unlike the Poles, they don’t know it. Despite what you see and hear, the vast majority of Americans do not support Barak Obama or that agenda. If rights are to be protected, the American Catholic church, IMHO, is not equipped to protect them, the American people are. I would suggest ignoring MSM, and attending some TEA party, AFP, Constitution Party or other events with speakers who understand what is happening now. A very small group of dedicated people can change the course of history.

        • WSquared

          “If rights are to be protected, the American Catholic church, IMHO, is not equipped to protect them, the American people are.”

          The reason why the majority of American Catholics don’t know their faith is because they put being American before being Catholic, and thus being like every other American in terms of what he or she worships– i.e. something other than God (and, to go by what Ross Douthat writes about, if they believe in God at all, it’s usually a God made in their own image). And let’s be honest here: there has always been somewhat of a deep-seated suspicion of Roman Catholicism in American history, which you aptly demonstrate in your arrogant appeal to the usual shibboleths about America’s place in the world vis-a-vis other countries.

          “I know the Constitution and I understand my rights and duties as a free person in a way no European can or ever will.”

          …right, and it is also appeals to the Constitution that allowed for the prolonging of slavery until the Union could no longer contain all of the attendant contradictions and resultant political turmoil, for the simple reason that the Constitution, when first adopted, was calibrated through the social, cultural, and political reality of slavery, to say nothing of tacit silences about it. So unless appeals to the Constitution are grounded in the Truth about the relationship between Man and God (knowable at least to Catholics through faith and reason, and not by reason alone or faith alone, wherein one ultimately ends up with neither), I’m afraid it won’t protect your liberty or anyone else’s on its own.

          Furthermore, unless “freedom” is grounded firmly in the truth, then it
          is meaningless, and any appeals to “liberty” is just empty talk. That enough American bishops fell down on the job does not say
          anything about Catholicism being false but rather a lot more about those
          bishops and those Catholic authorities failing at their Catholicism by
          putting being American or at least something else first before being
          Catholic. That is to say, having a distorted and thus limited idea of freedom (hence profound ignorance of not just “Humanae Vitae,” but even “Rerum Novarum”). The last time I checked, it is the Church as the Body of
          Christ– which by the way is far broader and deeper than merely your
          reduction of it to “the Vatican” since it is ALL of the faithful in full
          Communion with Christ throughout ALL ages (Church Militant [those of us
          still here on earth fighting for our souls], Church Suffering [all
          souls in Purgatory], and Church Triumphant [all Saints in Heaven])– and
          not the United States or any other nation whatsoever that possesses and
          teaches the fullness of the Truth.

          And I would also urge you not to judge our Bishops as a lost cause just yet, seeing as how you don’t know how they will be tested and how they will rise or not to meet that test, or where you, me, or they, or anyone at all in this world will ultimately end up. Rather, they need our prayers that they will be the courageous shepherds they are called to be, as does the average American who, if I really wanted to get cynical about human nature, worships comfort and convenience, to say nothing of sex and Mammon. Now, I suppose I could cynically say that I refuse to trust a bunch of self-centered libertines with my freedom of religion, or freedom of anything else, for that matter. But that truly would be uncharitable and wholly unfair. That said, I don’t think I’m far off the mark in saying that my fellow Americans aren’t as trustworthy or cognizant in the freedom department as you posit them to be, especially when so many have no concept anymore of truth or sin, and depending on what they understand by “God,” often therefore have a very limited and truncated view of humanity, and thus human rights and human freedom. This is not to say that Americans are “bad” or “evil,” but rather that these things stand to be relearned by all of us. And I trust Christ, not men, which means that I trust Christ to transform and sanctify those whom He has called. That’s what the Sacraments of the Church are for. One of the reasons why many, many Catholics in the United States don’t know their faith is because they don’t practice it, and therefore let it wither: one surefire way of not knowing what the Eucharist is (if polls are to be believed, far too many don’t) is to keep receiving it without frequent Confession, and to receive it while in a state of mortal sin. And a very real factor in this is the pervasive thinking that as an American, I, the autonomous individual, know all about freedom. The Church can’t tell ME what to do! (…but somehow, peer pressure, advertising, celebrities, and commercialism *can*).

          It’s all very well for us to blame Father, Sister, your parents, or Bishop So-and-So for not catechizing us well, and there is enough blame to go around. But given that the entire Catechism is online, along with just about every Papal encyclical, and the writings of many prominent saints, and the Sacraments are readily available, lay Catholics also have no darned excuse. The next time we feel tempted to blame the sins of others, just remember that everybody else in the Body of Christ throughout all ages has to put up with us and our sins and the way they’ve damaged the Church in the exact same way.

          “I do not believe this example is applicable to Barak Obama’s assault on our Constitution and society.”

          Actually, yes it is applicable: it’s applicable in terms of what we understand by “religion” and thus freedom of religion, which has very real implications for its place in the public square and public discourse. And it is an apt and sober warning to anyone who blithely assumes that it “couldn’t happen here.”

          • Alecto

            You have distorted history to the extent that slavery in this country is concerned. The Constitutional Convention witnessed a battleground over slavery with Northern states pitted against Southern states. We came very close to not having a United States of America because the disagreement was so divisive over the issue of slavery. To dismiss the efforts of abolitionists is to diminish your own history.

            The reason Catholics don’t know their faith is because they were never taught it. Instead the socialists in the convents substituted liberation theology for authentic Catholicism. No wonder so many so-called Catholics are ignorant, confused and divided. Rarely have I heard a sermon on abortion, contraception, gay marriage or homosexuality, fornication, chastity, or other “hot” topics at church over the past few decades. I wish someone would talk about these topics and it demonstrates a want of courage that they don’t. Who is responsible if not the hierarchy for failing to sermonize on these topics? If people leave the church because they are offended, how Catholic are they? Perhaps it is time to accept the church is smaller in numbers than we care to acknowledge?

            It saddens me so many Catholics on the Left and the Right equate their religious fidelity with their level of national pride. I love this country, so do many others. I do not mistake its meaning in my life with what comes after I die. We do not mistake that this country is in any way perfect. But, I would live in a country where I am free seek the truth, not have a poor imitation of it crammed down my throat while my pockets are picked in the name of “social justice”.

            On the topic of truth, would the “truths” of which you write be the self-evident ones mentioned in the Declaration of Independence? Don’t you wonder at the coincidence of mass Catholic immigration in the early the 20th century followed by creation of the entitlement state? Is that coincidental or causal do you think? That burden has grown so enormous with estimates of $70 trillion or more in unfunded obligations, it will collapse the economy and the country if nothing is done to curtail it. However, a vocal group of Catholics continue to bang the gong for ever more! OMG! Do I blame Catholics? Yes, I do! They seem to be incapable of freedom in any meaningful, responsible way. Even the church’s support for unions irks me. Where the heck was the Catholic church fighting for small business people like my father and his father, who never demanded anything they weren’t willing to earn themselves? Who worked a damn sight harder than union member I’ve ever met! Many modern Catholics are like little, tiny children who need a dictator, king or a parent to take care of them. This is where I must separate company with my fellow Catholics. I don’t believe that Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead to bring us an earthly paradise achievable by enacting entitlements or that some arbitrary collection of government-funded giveaways constitutes social justice, or even that that is a meaningful measure of faith, hope or charity in a country. I refuse to accept that the message of Jesus Christ is for more social safety nets to the point that once free people become indolent parasites, everyone simply feeding off the labor of others. What’s moral about that? What’s honorable about that? What’s honest about that? Finally, what’s redemptive in the Catholic sense about that?

            Finally, I do not like the term “religious freedom” because that does not accurately describe the rights enshrined in the First through Tenth Amendments. “…Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” If we as Catholics believe that the practice of our religion encompasses a spectrum of activities, and I believe it does, then all of those activities from providing education, to the establishment and operation of adoption agencies, food pantries, medical clinics and hospitals are also protected under the First Amendment, the right of assembly, speech, petition for redress, not “religious freedom”. In my humble opinion, the issue has been framed far too narrowly by the USCCB.

  • JP

    It goes without saying that, as usual, there exists a split in our Catholic Leadership. On the one hand there are Bishops like Cdl George and Bishop Jenky; on the other hand exists those who follow the “careful” path of Cdl Dolan. I’m not sure exactly how all of this will pan out; but, it is difficult to create a united voice when half of our Catholic Leadership only understands accomodation?
    To put it another way, can anyone imagine the President of Notre Dame or Georgetown shutting thier universities down instead of complying? Can anyone imagine them using every sort of non-violent protest (even refusing to obey the law and go to jail) to make their points clear and unambigious. Heck, we have Catholic politicans who strut their disobiedience on a regular basis, and all we hear from our “Leadership” is the same dull nostrums of “pastoral care”, and dialogue.
    The Catholic Church in the US is about to become nothing more than another GSE.

  • hombre111

    Obama did not destroy the authority of the bishops. They did that themselves.1) They humiliated themselves and the Church in the sex-abuse scandal. 2) No bishop resigned or was disciplined.
    So along comes this “emergency” at a time when the bishops’ clout is at a record low. One thing leads to another.

    • pat78

      Let’s not forget that the Evil One has infiltrated every aspect of human life, especially the priesthood because when the “shepherd” is taken out, the “sheep” become lost. It’s a fight that will continue until Jesus comes again.

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  • polishcanadian

    Great article! I appreciate the correct Polish lettering and accents!

  • All the above malarkey because women would like the simple power to decide how large their families should or should not be.
    I think it’s long past time for the CHURCH to stop their WAR ON WOMEN, that’s what I think. Because for them, giving women any kind of power at all is akin to trafficking with the devil. Women are for procreating, obeying the husband, and shutting up, and that’s about it. And they believe this all while they look the other way as pedophiles among them rape children.
    Time for them to join the 21st century.

    • WSquared

      Oh, blah blah blah.

      LindaP, the Catholic Church teaches no such thing. Please go and read “Humanae Vitae” and stop equating Catholic teaching to what you think you “know” or what somebody else told you that they “know.”

      If you need a quick primer, read “Catholicism for Dummies” (I’m serious: it’s a great crash course), and read the Catechism. Also, there’s a book called “Women, Sex, and the Church” by Erika Bachiochi that I would recommend to everyone.

  • Amy M

    Thank you for this article. When families are attacked, they stop their petty feuds and work together. Our Pope has repeatedly shown us that the way forward is a renewal of faith. We all have to share the work of apologetics and evangelization, as well as accept the trials of our post-modern society.
    Sorry , it isn’t a war on women. It’s a war against the Church.

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