Poland's religious affairs minister, Jerzy Kuberski, said today that discussions were under way with the Roman Catholic Church on whether to postpone a planned visit here by Pope John Paul II this summer.
The official's remarks, which were made at a press conference, came amid increasing signs that a papal visit to Poland is highly unlikely as long as martial law remains in force. The issue now seems to be not whether the pope will come but which side will take responsibility for calling the visit off.
The pope formally accepted an invitation to make a pilgrimage to his homeland last November during a ceremony in the Vatican attended by Polish bishops and priests. The visit was to have taken place in August 1982 to coincide with the 600th anniversary of the arrival in Poland of the nation's most revered religious symbol, the Black Madonna of Czestechowa.
Given the unique role of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland, it was clear even then that the visit would have political as well as religious significance. Many Poles now look back to the pope's first visit here--in June 1979--as an important factor in the rise of an independent workers' movement and the formation of the Solidarity trade union 14 months later.
Following the military crackdown last December, the question of a second visit to Poland by the pope became even more politically charged. Based on past experience, the new military authorities had reason to fear that it might jeopardize the political control they had established, while the bishops were worried that the pope's presence on Polish soil might be regarded by some as a de facto endorsement of martial law.
Neither side, however, was willing to take the initiative in calling the visit off. In January Deputy Prime Minister Mieczyslaw Rakowski said that, as far as the government was concerned, the pope would still be welcome whenever he chose to come.
The official line appeared to have changed somewhat today when Kuberski was asked by foreign reporters to say whether the visit would go ahead as scheduled. He said: "This matter is now under discussion with the church."
Speaking in private, a senior bishop said the chance of a papal visit this year was now remote. He added that it could be shifted to 1983 if martial law is lifted.
The Polish primate, Archbishop Jozef Glemp, last month hinted that the pope's visit might be postponed when he said that the 600th anniversary of the Czestechowa shrine could be extended by 15 months.
The church resorted to a similar device in May 1979 when the government refused to allow the pope to attend ceremonies marking the 900th anniversary of the martyrdom of Saint Stanislaw, Poland's patron saint. The date of the ceremony was simply switched from May to June.
According to press reports from Moscow, the Kremlin has been putting pressure on Poland to delay or cancel a new papal visit in view of the political repercussions. Senior church officials here said they were aware of these reports but insisted that the main reasons for the postponement of the visit were domestic.
Poland's bishops seem to recognize that the pope's presence here would only complicate an already exceptionally complex political situation and that it is best to wait until the martial-law government's intentions become clearer.
At his press conference, Kuberski strongly denied speculation that the martial-law authorities intend to move against the Roman Catholic Church, which commands the allegiance of at least 80 percent of the population. He brushed aside calls by hard-liners in the Communist Party for a tougher approach to religion on the grounds that the church's strength has prevented communism from ever taking deep root in Poland.
"I don't think it's possible to use administrative measures or a position of strength in order to influence the church. The only policy that can work is one of common sense and respect for people's beliefs," he said.
Kuberski said that the Krakow religious weekly Tygodnik Powszechny, sometimes described as the only genuinely independent newspaper in the Soviet Bloc, would be allowed to resume publication after Easter. A mixed church-state commission has again been meeting and earlier this week the government announced that the 11 p.m. curfew would be relaxed for Easter.
The minister said that three priests had been detained since martial law, but for what he described as "criminal" rather than religious reasons. He named the priests as:
The Rev. Arkadiusz Jewulski, who is under investigation for "antistate activities." He called for resistance to martial law in a sermon.
The Rev. Sylwester Zych, who allegedly hid the weapons used in the murder of a police sergeant.
The Rev. Wladyslaw Drewniak, who is accused of storing and distributing "anti-state propaganda".