|| Anti-clerical weekly
By JONATHAN LUXMOORE
When a glossy weekly makes its debut on Polands newsstands this month, its guaranteed to raise some eyebrows. Its 33-year-old editor, Roman Kotlinski, promises Fakty i Mity (Facts and Myths) will be anti-clerical and full of scandals.
That will be quite a calling card in this predominantly Catholic country.
When Kotlinski, a former priest, set up Polands first association for married ex-clergy 16 months ago, he said he intended to be a thorn in the side of pope and church.
Today, he admits hes disappointed by the weak public response but is determined to save the church from its doctrinal errors and accumulated evils.
The church here still has roots in the Middle Ages -- and if the hierarchy had their way, theyd gladly turn the clock back 500 years, Kotlinski told NCR.
Ordained in 1993 in Polands central Lodz archdiocese, Kotlinski quit the priesthood just a few months later after obtaining no response to his complaints from the local curia.
He married a widow with a son, and the two later had a son. Meanwhile, he published his experiences in a book, I Was a Priest, which he says sold 120,000 copies. In November 1998, he announced he was forming an association -- For Renewal of the Roman Catholic Church on behalf of People Harmed by Clergy.
Kotlinski said hed been deluged with letters from clergy with families, and from women seduced and abandoned by priests. He pledged to launch legal advice centers around the country to show the church it faces major opposition.
The Polish church is ruled by money, self-obsession, the pursuit of power and property, the ex-priest told gaping journalists.
This is the first critical voice from the homeland of the pope which seeks to expose this evil and bring about deep reforms. We must find a new understanding of papal infallibility and tidy up the churchs senseless, undiscussable dogmas.
Though often criticized for conservatism and closeness to politics, the Polish church had rarely faced public dissent of this order. Its reaction was swift.
The Catholic Information Agency, KAI, said Kotlinski had betrayed confessional secrets and been forced to leave the priesthood after fathering a child.
Meanwhile, his factual claims were branded lying and resentful by the Lodz archdiocese, which said it had shown trust by allowing Kotlinski to be ordained after he was expelled from a seminary in neighboring Wloclawek.
A careful observer will easily see how he paints his own portrait, and that his only motive is a desire to drown his own complexes and make money, the statement added.
It is the drama of a person who tries through aggression and untruthfulness to stifle his own guilt at his failed priesthood. It is a drama made greater by the fact that he spits on former colleagues and harms his own kin. This is how his children will one day see him.
Kotlinski admits hes dissatisfied that his association numbers only 200, and has been too dispersed around Poland to muster more than a single conference. But hes proud that three married ex-priests have joined and is determined to battle on.
He estimates there could be 10,000 former priests of all ages in Poland (church officials strongly reject that estimate). While most of the countrys 30,000 active Catholic clergy live a life of wealth and privilege, he said, 10 percent are gays, and a quarter have extra-marital liaisons.
Among current cases, Kotlinski said hes helping a Polish priest from London, Marek Sojkowski, sue the Wloclawek diocese for a house owned by his late father, who was also a priest. Kotlinski said he is also representing a member of the Jehovahs Witnesses whose child was bullied and humiliated by a priest at school.
Meanwhile, having made his international debut at a January meeting of the European Church on the Move Network, which he says devoted a whole day to his work, hes gained pledges of committed support from the Netherlands and the United States. He also claims to have had expressions of interest from dissident figureheads such as liberal Swiss theologian Hans Küng and progressive German theologian and psychotherapist Eugen Drewermann.
Kotlinskis campaign comes at a sensitive time for the Catholic church in Poland, when efforts are continuing to adjust to the countrys radically changed post-communist conditions.
Though recruitment to womens orders has slumped, theres been no evidence of a fall in church attendance. The churchs clergy increased by 14 percent in the 1990s, and its 7,000 seminarians make up a quarter of Europes total. However, the churchs practical record has been challenged in areas ranging from womens rights to anti-Semitism.
In 1999, a national synod, convened to implement Vatican II, warned priests to stay poor and steer clear of politics. It also called for full transparency in finances, and urged parishes and dioceses to obey Canon Law by handing greater responsibilities to laypeople.
Kotlinski dismisses the resulting talk of reforms as cosmetic.
He believes obligatory celibacy contradicts nature and the gospel, while abortion and contraception arent written about in the Bible and should not be taboo subjects.
All theyre doing is powdering over the churchs ugly face to make it look friendlier and forestall a mass exodus. But the church doesnt need renewing -- it needs total rebuilding, Kotlinski said.
The Wloclawek diocese wont discuss the case of Marek Sojkowski and says his court case would have been dismissed long ago if not for Kotlinskis bad will.
Meanwhile, the Jesuit spokesman for Polands bishops conference, Fr. Adam Szulc, told NCR that Kotlinskis salacious clergy statistics were garbage, and declined to voice any opinion about his activities.
Asked about the position of ex-priests in Poland, the head of the churchs concordat commission, Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, said fellow-prelates tried to ensure that they maintained contact, but conceded most had refused help or care, creating a serious problem.
However, Kotlinskis figure of 10,000 was merely disorientating public opinion, Pieronek said.
Leaving the priesthood hasnt been a mass occurrence here, the bishop told the KAI agency. At most, one can speak of 600 to 700 cases in the last 10 to 20 years, meaning an average of no more than 20 per diocese.
Undeterred, Kotlinski insists hell press on. Hes now in a vacuum, he says, having given up practicing as a Catholic, and prefers to pray with those closest, as Jesus taught us, in the quietness of home.
I can only hope to make a crack in the wall, while waiting for a new generation with freer thoughts and more open consciences to force the church to rebuild itself, Kotlinski said.
Perhaps when the pope is no longer around, the hardliners wont be so powerful here. But while such stupid dogmas and rules exist, theres really nothing to talk about.
National Catholic Reporter, March 24, 2000