National Catholic Register


His Words Helped Shape Poland and her Pope

BY Jim Cosgrove

February 14-20, 1999 Issue | Posted 2/14/99 at 2:00 PM


WARSAW, Poland—Jerzy Turowicz, who died on Jan. 27 after 54 years as editor of the Krakow-based Tygodnik Powszechny weekly, was a major figure in Poland's Catholic Church and a key patron of the dissident intellectual culture which flourished under communist rule.

In a message at his burial in Krakow's Tyniec cemetery, the Pope described him as a man whose deep faith had given him strength to remain loyal to principles, while “propagating eternal human and Christian values, and courageously defending the person and their dignity.”

A faded photograph in one of the many books about Tygodnik Powszechny shows Turowicz in his early 30s, striding through Krakow with a bundle of papers under his arm, flanked by the Catholic essayists Pawel Jasienica and Antoni Golubiew. The picture is captioned “probably 1946-47,” a menacing time when the communist grip was tightening.

But Turowicz is smiling confidently. By the time the paper's inaugural issue rolled off the press in 1945, he'd made a name for himself as a founder-member of Odrodzenie, Poland's liberal pre-War Catholic youth association.

Besides opposing the anti-semitic nationalism which was widespread in Poland at the time, “Odrodzenie” had spearheaded a religious revival among intellectuals. Under the patronage of Adam Cardinal Sapieha, Tygodnik Powszechny (“Universal Weekly”) was intended to continue that reformist line.

For theological inspiration, Tygodnik turned to the personalism of France, where Jacques Maritain and Emmanuel Mounier were still wrestling with the dilemmas of how committed Christians could best serve society in a confrontational, ideological world.

Yet the paper's immediate outlook was shaped by something a lot closer — how to find a place for Catholic thought amid Stalinist repression.

Miraculously, Turowicz's paper survived. In 1953, when he refused to print an official obituary to Stalin, Poland's communist regime threw out Tygodnik's editors and handed it over to the state-controlled Pax Association.

But three years later, when Wladyslaw Gomulka's reformist regime needed lay Catholic support, Turowicz and his team were reinstated.

The precarious balance of political interests that Tygodnik depended on for survival required the right mix of courage and discretion. If the paper could not present the truth in full, it could avoid printing lies. That meant constant battles with the censors, a readiness for frustrating ad hoc compromises.

While enjoying kudos for allowing a nominally independent Catholic title, the Communist Party hoped to keep it shut up tightly in its Krakow ghetto — a marginal paper written and read only by otherworldly Catholics.

The communist ploy fell flat. By the mid-1960s, having enthusiastically welcomed the Second Vatican Council's talk of “dialogue with the world” while covering it from Rome, Turowicz had made Tygodnik the center of a prestigious milieu.

By the 1970s, after a savage anti-intellectual purge had crushed revisionist hopes of “change from within,” critical Marxists like Jan Strzelecki, Antoni Slonimski, and Jacek Kuron were also using the weekly as a forum of encounter, where a coalition of priorities against communist injustices could be debated and argued over.

“We've tried to serve the concrete person living in a concrete reality,” Turowicz wrote in 1970. “Our most important service has been to help the other person recognize and learn an objective hierarchy of values, to live humanly, justly and beautifully, in a conscious, mature and responsible way.”

When visiting Krakow, it was normal to call in at Tygodnik's Wislna Street office — a building occupied by Lenin during a 1914-16 stay in Krakow — to see who was around. One man who did so regularly was Father Karol Wojtyla.

Having published his first ever article here, supporting the French-Belgian “worker priests” movement in 1949, Wojtyla served as a weekly columnist. He continued to contribute as a bishop and cardinal until he became John Paul II in 1978.

“We should note the authenticity of what Turowicz says in his writing about the Church,” Auxiliary Bishop Wojtyla wrote in an introduction to Turowicz's book, The Christian in the Contemporary World.

“We can believe in various ways — in discreet, self-restrained ways, characterized by internal force of conviction and maturity of reflection, which are actually very revealing. It is good if we can find in this a certain intellectual modesty toward the truth.”

Even with a Tygodnik associate as Pope, Turowicz guarded the paper's independence, insisting on his right to remain “prudently critical” while remaining in the Church's service.

Even after martial law - and another temporary shutdown — had driven a fresh wave of disillusioned writers, many from communist backgrounds, into its pages, the paper never became a Solidarity organ either.

As communist power collapsed, Turowicz was enlisted as an elder statesman. He delivered the opposition's inaugural speech at the 1989 Round Table talks, and hosted the Krakow meeting which launched Tadeusz Mazowiecki's campaign for the Polish presidency in 1990.

Turowicz turned down a seat in the Polish senate and resisted pressure to align Tygodnik closely with Mazowiecki's Democratic Union. But his siding against Lech Walesa, the Church's preferred candidate, provoked angry reactions from conservative Catholics, who accused the paper of an overliberal stance on issues like abortion and religious teaching.

Tygodnik was bought by France's Bayard-Presse in 1993. Although rocketing costs and intense competition brought its circulation down by half to 40,000, the weekly nevertheless retains pride of place for the caliber of its articles and contributors.

Several staffers held government positions in the 1990s, including Krzysztof Kozlowski, who served as Poland's first post-communist Interior Minister, and Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, who was Polish Foreign Minister in 1995-6.

The Pope awarded Turowicz the Vatican's Order of St Gregory in 1987 and remained a regular reader too. In an otherwise warm 1995 letter for Tygodnik's 50th anniversary, he said he had felt “hurt” by the paper's failure to support the Polish Church against “lay Leftist forces and liberal groups.”

But when an embittered former columnist, Stefan Kisielewski, attacked Turowicz in a diary, accusing him of “Orwellian methods” and “babbling about Vatican II,” John Paul II defended him. As if to underline this, he gave a private audience to Turowicz and his wife Anna during his June 1997 Polish pilgrimage, after telephoning him in his Krakow hospital bed from Rome.

In a book-length interview, Turowicz listed the events which had most shaped his life: the War, Vatican II and Wojtyla's election.

It was characteristic that he failed to include the collapse of communism, an event which was not always seen as such a dramatic turning point by those who lived through it.

But he recognized the need to find a “new language” and “stop giving old answers to new questions.”Though he longed to retire and concentrate on books, he kept working till the end.

Educated in Krakow and Lvov, Turowicz held honorary degrees from Boston College and the universities of Krakow and Yale, as well as Poland's highest state medal, the White Eagle, and Germany's Grand Service Cross.

Besides running Tygodnik, he was a co-founder of Krakow's Catholic Intelligentsia Club, as well as sitting on Poland's Council of Christians and Jews, and the Catholic Church's Lay Apostolate and serving as honorary president of the Polish Journalists Association and a council member of the PEN Club.

“In hard times, when the Church in Poland was restricted by the totalitarian system and the Tygodnik was the only voice of lay Catholics, it was thanks to the stand of its editor that it maintained a clear line, combining care for the Church with the propagation of Christian culture, and the formation of spiritual sensibility in people,” the Pope wrote in his funeral message.

“Remembering the personal debt of thanks I owe to the late Jerzy, I pray the good Lord will look on his faith and life's labor, and grant him eternal reward in his glory.”

(Jonathan Luxmoore)