Polish bishops decry disruption of Masses over court’s abortion ruling; pope urges Poland to protect life

Demonstrators protest Oct. 25, 2020, in front of the Cathedral of Christ the King in Katowice, Poland, against the ruling by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal that imposes a near-total ban on abortion. CNS photo/Anna Lewanska, Agencja Gazeta via Reuters

VATICAN CITY (CNS) As protests against a near-total ban on abortions gripped Poland, Pope Francis urged the people of the country to defend life.

Addressing Polish pilgrims during his weekly general audience Oct. 28, the pope invoked the memory of St. John Paul II, who “always urged a privileged love for the least and the defenseless and for the protection of every human being, from conception to natural death.”

The pope prayed, through the intercession of Mary and of St. John Paul, that God would “arouse in everyone’s hearts respect for the life of our brothers and sisters, especially of the most fragile and defenseless, and would give strength to those who welcome and take care of them, even when it requires a heroic love.”

Poland’s Constitutional Court ruled Oct. 22 that a clause in Poland’s 1993 abortion law allowing pregnancy terminations in cases of “severe and irreparable fetal damage” was unconstitutional. The decision provoked outrage from some women’s rights groups in the country against the governing Law and Justice party, as well as against the Catholic Church.

In Poland, the bishops’ conference decried attacks on churches by demonstrators protesting the ruling and urged restraint from violence and dialogue.

Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan, conference president, acknowledged that the court’s Oct. 22 decision “has caused unusually emotional reactions,” but said that “the vulgarities, abusive daubings, service disruptions and profanations seen in recent days are not a proper form of action in a democratic state, however much they may help certain people relieve their emotions.”

Demonstrators entered churches during Masses Oct. 25 in Warsaw, Krakow, Poznan and other cities to protest the Constitutional Court’s ruling.

The Constitutional Court was established in 1982 to resolve disputes on the constitutionality of actions by state institutions. It is a separate body from the country’s Supreme Court.

All but 26 of the 1,100 abortions in Poland in 2019 involved unborn children diagnosed with severe disabilities, according to Health Ministry data.

Archbishop Gadecki said the church’s “unchanging and publicly known” position on the right to life had been set out in St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” (“The Gospel of Life”) and reaffirmed in Pope Francis’ recent encyclical “Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship.”

He appealed for dialogue “on how to protect the right to life and women’s rights.”

“The church cannot stop defending life or give up proclaiming the need to protect every human being from conception to natural death. On this question, we can accept no compromise,” he said.

The archbishop also urged the public to “express their views in a socially acceptable way, respecting every person’s dignity,” and called on “politicians and journalists not to escalate the tensions and show responsibility for social peace.”

Protesters waved signs outside churches and offices of the governing Law and Justice party and spray-painted walls during the demonstrations.

A Law and Justice spokeswoman, Anita Czerwinska, accused opposition parties Oct. 23 of “playing with women’s emotions.” Michal Wos, Poland’s deputy justice minister, told the Catholic Information Agency, KAI, Oct. 25 the anti-church protests represented “criminality and barbarism,” and could be punished with fines and jail terms.

Meanwhile, Bishop Wieslaw Smigiel of Torun, who heads the Polish church’s Family Council, told the KAI agency Oct. 26 that the court’s judgment “presented church and state with an even greater task” of providing “concrete help for families with handicapped children.”