Bishops call for peaceful dialogue amid protests of Poland abortion ruling

shutterstock 1842781099 Abortion rights supporters protest in Wroclaw, Oct. 26, 2020. / Marek Polewski/Shuttersock.

The Polish bishops on Wednesday emphasized the protection of life and the importance of social peace, as critics of a court ruling against a law permitting abortion for fetal abnormalities have been blocking roads and bridges, and disrupting churches, across the country.

"Today, as a wave of street protests sweeps through our country, pope Francis addressed important and meaningful words to Poles during the General Audience," the permanent council of the Polish bishops' conference said in an Oct. 28 statement.

They noted that the pope "recalled St. John Paul II, who 'always called for special love for the weak and defenseless and for the protection of every human life from its conception to its natural death. These words are part of the Church's constant call for protection, including legal protection, of the life of every human being, including the unborn, in accordance with the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill'."

Protests across Poland began after the constitutional court ruled Oct. 22 that a law permitting abortion for fetal abnormalities was unconstitutional. The Polish constitution says that the state "shall ensure the legal protection of the life of every human being". The court was asked to examine the law last year by a group of 119 MPs belonging to the ruling Law and Justice party, as well as two smaller parties.

About 1,000 abortions are legally procured in the country annually, the vast majority of them on the basis of fetal abnormality.

Abortion will continue to remain legal in cases of rape, incest, and risk to the mother's life.

The bishops noted that Francis "asked God 'to awaken in everyone's hearts respect for the lives of our brothers and sisters, especially the weakest and defenseless, and to give strength to those who accept and care for them, even when it requires heroic love.'"

"The commandment of love imposes on us an important duty of caring, helping, and giving mothers and families who receive and raise sick children the protection they need," the bishops reflected. "We thank all communities and institutions that have been doing this for years, and we appeal to parishes, Catholic movements, and other church organizations to undertake specific initiatives to meet those who need and will need both individual and institutional help."

"The Church will always stand for life and support initiatives that protect it," they added.

Protesters disrupted Sunday Masses across Poland this weekend. They have also left graffiti on church property, vandalized a statue of St. John Paul II, and chanted slogans at clergy. Roads and bridges have been blocked, and some workers were on strike Oct. 28.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Oct. 27 that "what is happening in the public space, those acts of aggression, attacks, barbarism, is unacceptable."

The bishops spoke of their "great pain" at "the escalation of social tension and aggression."

"The vulgar language used by some of the protesters, the destruction of social property, the devastation of churches, the profanation of sacred places, or prevention of the liturgy there are also disturbing."

"We call on everyone to engage in meaningful social dialogue, to express their views without resorting to violence, and to respect the dignity of every human being," they said.

Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski has said 76 people have been detained in connection with protests at churches, and 101 cases are being prosecuted.

The bishops commented that "we ask politicians and all participants of the social debate, at this dramatic time, to thoroughly analyze the causes of the situation and look for ways out, in the spirit of truth and for the common good, without instrumentalizing matters regarding the faith and the Church."

The Archdiocese of Kraków has reported that young Catholics stood outside churches amid the protests in an effort to prevent disruption, and cleaned up graffiti.

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The bishops thanked the pastors and laity "who are courageously defending their churches," as well as the security services. "The Church wants to remain open to all people, regardless of their social and political affiliation," they noted.

Reflecting on the impositions due to the coronavirus pandemic, they appealed for "solidarity and compliance with the sanitary safety regulations."

"We also ask all believers to fast, to give alms, and to pray for social peace, with the intention of protecting life, putting an end to the ongoing crisis, and ending the developing pandemic," they concluded.

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