Father Henryk Jankowski, the Solidarity priest associated with Lech Walesa, is known to preach sermons full of venom to his Gdansk parish. While public figures try to ignore his words, his followers applaud.
"Apologizing to Jews is an insult to the Polish nation," said Jankowski in a sermon on July 28. He was referring to a recent apology by Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz to Jews for the 1946 Kielce pogrom.
Jankowski said Jews murdered Poles in the country's eastern outskirts after the Red Army invaded them in 1944, and that the killings continued until 1956. Jankowski also warned that the Jews wanted to "take over" the former German concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. He believes this is evidenced by Jewish demands to remove Christian religious symbols from the camp.
This isn't Jankowski's first controversial speech act. In 1995, he decorated an Easter grave scene in his church of St. Brigid's with symbols of what he considered to be the biggest plagues affecting Poland over the past 50 years. He placed the swastika, the hammer and sickle, and the initials of Nazi party, the Soviet KGB and two present-day Polish political parties next to each other. The first was the ex-communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). The second is the liberal opposition Freedom Union (UW), which following the collapse of communism in 1989 and the rise of those connected with Solidarity, has consistently opposed the repression of communist party activists.
After strongly worded press releases and a personal intervention by Polish Episcopate Secretary Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, Jankowski removed the initials SLD and UW. Commenting on the scandal he had caused, he added more fuel to the fire by saying he had not placed a Star of David on the grave because it was "already embedded in the symbols of the swastika and the hammer and sickle." Former President Lech Walesa had listened to the sermon and did done nothing to respond to the anti-Semitic attacks. Later, Walesa explained to journalists that he had not heard Jankowski's remarks because the church's acoustics were bad.
Jankowski's homily caused an outcry: Jewish groups all over the world and influential Poles protested. A diplomatic furor was almost provoked when U.S. President Bill Clinton-outraged by Walesa's failure to react-declined to meet with Walesa.
Pieronek and the Catholic Church's committee on dialogue with Judaism apologized for Jankowski's words. Gdaäsk Bishop Tadeusz Goclowski threatened to divest him of his job as parish priest and to stop him from preaching.
Jankowski apologized, withdrew his anti-Semitic remarks and promised he would concentrate exclusively on religious activities. This did not happen; instead his Sunday masses became a Mecca for journalists eager for sensational news.
The July 28 sermon was, however, his first strongly-worded homily since being warned by Goclowski. In it, Jankowski also attacked Adam Michnik, a former opposition activist and Walesa adviser who is currently editor of Poland's largest-circulation daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza. He called him "an invisible tumor which attacks cells from within." He also accused the newspaper of destroying Christian values and brainwashing people.
Michnik himself did not want to comment on the attacks made by his former ally in the fight against communism. "I haven't finished reading the complete works of Dostoyevsky yet," he said. "That's a more interesting occupation than reading the prelate's sermons." He added that he had disapproved of giving coverage to Jankowski's sermon in Gazeta Wyborcza (though the article was printed anyway), because "commentaries only incite Father Jankowski to make further speeches."
No Polish bishop was willing to talk about the priest. "According to church law, Father Jankowski is responsible to the bishop of Gdansk, and only he can comment on this," said one bishop, who wished to remain anonymous. However, Bishop Goclowski refused to comment on Jankowski's sermon. He told the Voice that the Catholic Church had ceased to carry out the state's job, and that it was journalists who should be engaged in politics. The bishop said he would not talk to Jankowski about every sermon he preached, because he would be busy each week.
"What the priest says is the real truth; this church is our Poland," said a woman after mass. In her opinion, only Jankowski is fighting for a free Poland and declaring war on the communists. "We are ruled by Jews, so we have to fight them. And here is our weapon," she said, pointing to her rosary.
A retired worker from the Gdansk Shipyard, where Solidarity rose to prominence, attends St. Bridget's every Sunday. He says that without Jankowski, everybody would quickly forget "what communism does to people. Some people only get to know history as it really happened when they come here," he added. "Only the priest reminds us of those who died for freedom-ordinary workers."
Many Gdansk dignitaries and businesspeople attend Jankowski's masses. Former President Lech Walesa often occupies a pew, as does Gdansk Shipyard Solidarity chairman Jerzy Borowczak. "He always has been and always will be with the shipyard workers," said Borowczak.
St. Bridget's is modest inside, as there are no side chapels or paintings dripping with gold. During mass, "church guards" with St. Brigid's emblems on their sailor's uniforms walk among the worshipers. One guard approached reporters talking to worshipers after mass. "We've got nothing against the press, but it's good to know if you're a secret agent or not," he said.
Jankowski is regarded as a wealthy man in Gdansk. His rectory is full
of antique furniture and paintings, and he drives a luxury Mercedes. He
is also well known for his love of medals and uniforms. Rumor has it that
he walks around the rectory in a navy officer's uniform. He has been awarded
many medals, including the Virtuti Militari cross, the most prestigious
honor given by the Polish military.
From the Altar to the Witness Stand
A Catholic priest has been criminally charged for including anti-Semitic references in his sermon. The outcome of his trial, say some, may end what they see as a general acceptance of anti-Semitism in Poland.
The Gdañsk Regional Prosecutor's Office has charged Father Henryk Jankowski, a Catholic priest and prelate of the St. Bridget's parish, with propagating racial hatred. During a homily more than one year ago, Jankowski said that "the star of David is embedded in the swastika and hammer-and-sickle."
An investigation into the controversial sermon was begun by the prosecutor's office in July 1995, after Jewish organizations filed complaints against Jankowski. The text of the homily was reviewed by language and religion experts. The prosecutor ended the investigation in June 1996, saying the sermon did not violate the law. Three months later, Prosecutor General and Minister of Justice Leszek Kubicki ordered the investigation reopened.
Jankowski was accused of violating article 193 paragraph 1i, and article 274 paragraph 1, of the Criminal Code-"belittling minorities on the basis of ethnicity, nationality or religion." If convicted, he faces a penalty of up to three years in prison. Jankowski's attorney demanded a written explanation of the prosecutor's decision.
"In my own country I feel persecuted by the Jewish minority," Jankowski said, leaving the prosecutor's office. He claims that investigating a priest for the text of a sermon is a return to communist persecution of the clergy. "I have to work even more, and act without paying attention to the slanderous comments by the enemies of that which is Catholic and Polish," he said in a written statement for the press.
According to Bogna Pawlisz, editor in chief of Jidele, a Jewish periodical, the prosecutor's decision is very important to Polish Jews. "This is a sign that the state will not accept statements similar to Father Jankowski's homily," Pawlisz told the Voice. She said that punishing Jankowski for his comments may constitute an end to "society's silent acceptance" of anti-Semitism. "This is important for our sense of security that we're normal citizens in this country," she said.
Krzysztof ¦liwiñski, the foreign affairs minister's representative for contacts with the Jewish Diaspora, agrees. "I'm bothered less by the legal problems than by public and private acceptance of behavior that would have no place in mature democracies," he said. However, he says Jankowski's case no longer affects Polish diplomatic activities. "This is history now. Few people remember what it was all about. In the beginning, however, it damaged our operations, the Polish raison d'etat and Poland's reputation in the world," he said. After Jankowski's sermon, U.S. President Bill Clinton threatened to cancel a scheduled meeting with then-president Lech Walêsa, who attended the mass at which the homily was delivered but made no comment on it.
Muffled for the Good of the Fatherland
Father Henryk Jankowski, a prelate at Gdañsk's St. Bridget's Church, has been suspended from his pastoral duties. He has been connected with Solidarity circles for years and was Lech Walêsa's long-standing confessor. For the second time in 28 months, he made anti-Semitic remarks in a sermon at his church.
On Oct. 26, Jankowski said in his sermon that "people must not tolerate the Jewish minority in our government." He named Freedom Union (UW) politicians Leszek Balcerowicz (now minister of finance) and Bronislaw Geremek (minister of foreign affairs) as "characterized by arrogance" and "needing to have an eye kept on them."
Archbishop Tadeusz Goclowski, metropolitan of Gdañsk and the priest's official superior, made the decision to send a replacement to St. Bridget's, Father Tomasz Czapiewski, a lecturer at Gdañsk's seminary.
In June 1995, in another sermon, Jankowski said, "The star of David is embedded in the symbol of the swastika and the hammer and sickle." Despite a barrage of criticism and outrage, church authorities declined to make an official condemnation of the comment.
"Whether Jankowski remains parish priest in this church depends on his future attitude," Goclowski said on Nov. 3. Jankowski's only comment was that he intended to "continue working for the good of the fatherland."
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