WARSAW -- Poland's Roman Catholic Church is aggressively pursuing new political agreements with the government of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski in a move that is subtly altering its role as defender of the country's political opposition and feeding sharp tensions within the church, clerics and lay activists here say.
Talks between special state and church negotiating teams, set up following Pope John Paul II's visit to the country last year, have intensified in recent weeks, spurred by the more liberal political line initiated by Jaruzelski as well as by an apparent effort by the church's primate, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, to appear more supportive of the government.
At issue in the discussions, church officials say, is the establishment of full diplomatic relations between Warsaw and the Vatican -- the first such link between Catholicism and an Eastern Bloc state -- and the granting of permanent legal rights to the Polish church for the first time under communist rule.
In negotiating the church's legal status, informed sources said, Glemp is seeking official agreement to allow new church-backed associations for workers and farmers that would be independent of communist party control. If accepted by authorities, such groups could mean an important extension of political pluralism in Poland.
At the same time, Glemp and the church hierarchy have distanced themselves from the leadership and agenda of the banned Solidarity trade union movement, church and opposition activists said. The move has come despite the ringing endorsement given Solidarity by the Polish-born pope here only seven months ago.
Church sources said that while the negotiations remained complex, officials now hope to conclude what would be a landmark package of agreements on diplomatic relations and church legal rights by the time of the 10th anniversary of John Paul's papacy in October.
In the meantime, the continuing talks already seem to have altered significantly the nature of church-state relations here. After years of bitter antagonism following the suppression of Solidarity in 1981, Jaruzelski's state and the church hierarchy under Glemp are nearing a state of comfortable and even collaborative coexistence, church officials and diplomats said.
"The negotiations are very intensive now and they are going well," said an informed church source. "The church has decided it is time to work out some problems with the government, and the government for its own reasons is willing to go along."
Signs of the cooperative mood are strong. The once-routine flow of official attacks on the church has nearly disappeared recently from the state-run press and the official government newspaper Rzeczpospolita even published the last communique of the Polish bishops' meeting.
A political program adopted by a meeting of the communist party's Central Committee last month promised "stable coexistence between church and socialist state" and added, "Favorable processes have been taking place -- especially recently -- in relations with the Roman Catholic Church."
Glemp, for his part, has delighted communist leaders with several public statements suggesting that Poles should support Jaruzelski's new economic and political reform programs. "The church in Poland instructs Catholics that . . . they cannot remain passive and that a difficult reform is better than chaos," the primate declared late last year, adding that he saw no opposition alternative to Jaruzelski's plans.
While the gestures by both sides have helped speed progress on the prospective agreements, church sources say they have exacerbated tensions in the church between Glemp's increasingly conservative leadership and the bishops and priests who continue to strongly support the structures and platforms of Solidarity.
The 58-year-old cardinal, who became primate at the height of Solidarity's legal existence in 1981, has angered liberal priests and prominent law activists by failing to follow up on the pope's repeated calls for the legalization of Solidarity last June. Glemp's public statements also have seemed to differ from a November communique by the bishops' conference that avoided open support for Jaruzelski's reform program. The communique said that economic restructuring could not work without "simultaneous sociopolitical changes," including tolerance for independent public association.
"The church leadership is not fighting for Solidarity," said a senior Catholic lay activist who asked not to be named. "But you have the same priests out there who are still giving help and aid to Solidarity. And the church cannot forget that Polish society has not given up its aspirations."
Another church activist pointed out that the difference of views in the church could be seen in the results of November's national referendum on Jaruzelski's economic and political platform. While Glemp publicly appeared to endorse both the official programs and participation in the referendum, unpublished government figures supplied to the church showed that only 17 percent of Poland's priests actually voted. Solidarity had called on Poles not to vote.
Solidarity activists and other opposition leaders, in private and increasingly in public, are bitterly critical of Glemp. "If he believes that Solidarity is dead, he is wrong," said Jan Jozef Lipski, a veteran opposition intellectual and former adviser to the union. "And even if he thinks so, he shouldn't talk about it in public, because it's very damaging to him politically."
Church officials point out that Glemp has not cut his ties to the opposition and senior aides still meet occasionally with Solidarity leader Lech Walesa. Those close to the primate also argue that the opposition movement has presented no alternative platform that the church could endorse.
"As a group of ideals, Solidarity exists and is accepted by everyone, by the bishops, by the pope and by the priests," said one senior aide to Glemp. "But no one is saying what Solidarity should be as an entity. We don't know anymore what Solidarity wants to be -- a political party, an opposition group, a trade movement -- so what can we say about it?"
In the longer term, church officials maintain, the Catholic hierarchy may accomplish more by lowering its voice and seeking to nail down the agreement on legal rights that has evaded it for years. The government's incentive to grant major concessions to the church is the linked plan of diplomatic relations between Warsaw and the Vatican. That move is ardently sought by a Jaruzelski leadership that sees itself as a potential communication link and even mediator between world Catholicism and Eastern Bloc communism.