A new political party that seeks to lessen the power of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Poland has made significant gains in the most recent elections.
The Palikot Movement finished third in an October election with 10 percent of the vote, meaning it will have 40 seats in Poland’s 460-member lower house.
Movement candidates campaigned on a progressive platform and among their positions is a desire to increase church-state separation. Party leader Janusz Palikot has accused the Catholic bishops of “taking sides in politics” and using religious symbols “disgracefully for political struggles,” according to an Oct. 18 article by the Catholic News Service.
Wanda Nowicka, a member of the Palikot Movement and the new deputy speaker of Poland’s parliament, said the church has “too much power over laws” and that it is preventing a “pluralist society.”
Nowicka is a long-time activist on behalf of church-state separation. In May 1991, she visited the offices of Americans United to learn about the organization’s work and seek advice on developing a similar movement in Poland.
At the time, she headed a fledgling group called NEUTRUM, which stood for the Association for a Non-Ideological State.
Nowicka told Church & State, “The problem is that when religion is a matter of your convictions, it’s okay. But when it becomes a way of running your country or changing the constitution, many people object.”
She added that “many people don’t like the idea of the church running Poland,” but they don’t believe they can change things. With the recent vote totals 20 years later, that may no longer be true.
The Catholic Church is not a fan of Palikot’s Movement, as one might expect.
“Whoever wishes to remove the cross from the public sphere in Poland also wishes to usher in their own ideology of hatred,” Archbishop Josef Michalik, president of Poland’s bishop’s conference, said, according to the Catholic News Service.