Poles, Vatican Resume Full Ties After 44 Years
The Vatican and Poland restored full diplomatic relations Monday, paving the way for the first exchange of ambassadors between the Holy See and a Warsaw Pact country.
The resumption of formal diplomatic ties after 44 years was announced simultaneously by the Vatican and the Polish news agency, marking the climax of lengthy negotiations between a skeptical Polish Pope and a Communist government locked in a struggle with political reform and anxious to enhance its credibility at home and abroad.
In Poland, where 95% of the 38 million people are Roman Catholics, the news was welcomed by church officials. They had been skeptical when the negotiations were first undertaken, fearing that the Communist authorities would attempt to undermine the local church hierarchy by dealing directly with the Vatican envoy.
The skepticism seemed prudent in a country where Communist leaders, in the Stalinist period, had done their best to suppress the church.
After severing diplomatic ties with the Vatican in 1945, the Communists placed the Polish primate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, under house arrest. Church property was confiscated and ordinary priests were arrested and harassed by the police.
‘Benefits for the Whole Society’
In a statement Monday, the Polish bishops said they greeted the renewal of relations with the Vatican with “the deep conviction that a proper development of relations will influence the realization of citizens’ rights in Poland and open a new field of church activities with benefits for the whole society.”
A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Stefan Staniszewski, called it “a very important fact that crowns a long process of normalization of relations between the state and the church.”
Some Polish government officials had expected that diplomatic relations would be restored two years ago, when Pope John Paul II made his third papal trip to Poland.
But the Pope could not be rushed, despite a strenuous campaign by the Polish authorities and the opening of a cautious dialogue with Communist officials in order to win concessions for the church.
The Pope, who received Lech Walesa, leader of the Solidarity independent trade union, in Rome on April 20, follows Polish political events closely. In June, the first relatively free elections in the postwar era resulted in a new National Assembly in which Solidarity-backed candidates won 46% of the seats. Two months ago, the Parliament granted legal recognition to the church.
15-Year Working Relationship
A working relationship between the Polish government and the Vatican goes back 15 years, to a time when authorities hoped to win public support by easing its tough stand on the church.
The contacts intensified about four years ago for the same reasons as the Communist leader, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, pressed his campaign for “national unity” after the martial-law crackdown that suppressed Solidarity.
The role of the church, always close to Solidarity, was central in laying the groundwork for the “round table” talks between the government and Solidarity that resulted in the union’s legal reinstatement and the June elections.
Prominent church laymen were also key intermediaries between the government and Solidarity in two rounds of strikes in 1988, a role that helped establish the church as a referee between the two sides.
The Vatican’s relations with Hungary and the Soviet Union also have improved in the liberalized mood inspired by Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
There was no immediate announcement on a papal nuncio, or ambassador, to Poland, but there has been speculation that it could be Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, a Colombian who is the papal nuncio to Yugoslavia.
Nonaligned Yugoslavia is the only Communist country in Eastern Europe with diplomatic ties to the Vatican. The Vatican also has full relations with Communist Cuba.
The last papal ambassador to Poland left Warsaw on Sept. 5, 1939, at the start of World War II.