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Letter to the Editor and Response on “How an Unknown Text Could Throw New Light on John Paul II’s Views on Economics”

Dear Friends,

I read Houston Catholic Worker with interest and sympathy. For this reason, I should like to alert you to certain biases and inaccuracies found in Luxmoore article in the newest issue. I do not suspect him of bad intentions, rather ofa certain lack of understanding of the historical background of the composition of Katoliicka Etyka Spoleczna and present day attitudes to and interpretation of actions of Church personnel by secular media interpreting actions of church personnel. He seems to have relied too uncritically on his sources in Poland. It is of note that the two sources he quotes, Polityka and Zycie Warszawy , having been organs of Polish Communists are now both of a rather post-communist orientation, eager to exploit any perceived or alleged misdoings or weakness of the Catholic Church in Poland. Szostkiewicz’s statement that Marxism was “a great challenge to Woytyla’s generation because it spoke “language plesant to the ears of Catholics disappointed by the failures and faults of inter-war Poland” is typical of the Communist and post-communist version of history. Nothing could be farther from the truth. (The only group embracing an alliance with the Communists were paradoxically some pre-war radical fascists gathered round Pax.)

Luxmoore’s article raises two questions: Young Woytyla’s attitude to Marxism and capitalism and reasons for the text remaining unpublished. Let us look at the latter first.

I think we should accept Fr. Styczen’s explanation why Katolicka Etyka Spoleczna was not published originally because it would never pass past communist censors should be accepted. I am not certain what he means that it was “unpropitious” to draw attention to it later.

Luxmoore seems to assume that the close study of Marxism by Woytla, or Wyszynski for that matter somehow was related to their discovery of positive elements in it. Sure enough Woytyla did not deny that modern community movement was “an expression of largely ethical goals.” but he would be foolhardy to claim that Communism in power remained such an ethical movement. Why did he study Marxism? It was a necessity. As you might know, Marxism-Leninism was the official philosophy that all students had to study. For this reason also men of the Church had to do the same to be able to address questions arising out of Marxism. In every seminary Marxism was discussed.

Luxmoore’s suggestion that Polish bishops are thrall to neo-conservative agenda is untenable. What they do oppose is both state capitalism of the past and many forms of capitalist exploitation in the present.

Finally, I think Luxmoore misunderstands and misin-terprets Woytyla’s thought about revolution. even from quoted passages it is quite clear that he simply reports traditional teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas on the right of rebellion against an unjust ruler.

It certainly will be interesting to read this text, but I doubt whether it will shed much light on the teaching of Johan Paul II. And if it is used to co-opt the Pope to some theology of neo-Marxist kind, it would be just as much a disservice to him, as attempts to show him a card-carrying member of neo-con.

Wishing you most Blessed Easter and success in the work you are doing.

Rev. Janusz A. Ihnatowicz,

Professor Emeritus, University of St. Thomas, Houston


Dear Sirs,

I am grateful to Rev. Janusz Ihnatowicz for his comments on my article, “How an Unknown Text Could Throw New Light on John Paul II’s Views on Economics” in the March-April issue of the Houston Catholic Worker . I cannot, however, agree with the charge of “biases and inaccuracies”.

There is a fundamental problem about current views of Catholic Social Ethics ( Katolicka Etyka Spoleczna ), Fr Karol Wojtyla’s unpublished 1950s work – and that is that hardly anyone has actually read it. Despite this, many people are expressing strong views about it, and attempting to explain what it may or not say on the basis of vague contextual pre-suppositions.
I had a rare opportunity to study one of the small handful of surviving copies and am pleased the John Paul II Institute at Poland’s Catholic University of Lublin has now agreed – belatedly and under media pressure – to publish it. We will have to see in what form it is published. But I have no doubt that, if it is presented fully and accurately, its contents will cause surprise, necessitating a re-evaluation of the future Pope’s intellectual and philosophical development, and some serious re-thinking about aspects of his later papal teaching on social and economic issues. Sadly, it seems from Fr. Ihnatowicz’s final paragraph that the work is already being prejudged.
Wojtyla’s two-volume text was, in fact, the only “source” for my article. As regards the comments and opinions which I cited to liven up the article, I think these are perfectly valid.

Although all Polish media were state-controlled under com-munist rule, it is absurd to dismiss Polityka and Zycie Warszawy as presenting an anti-church “post-communist orien-tation”. This characterisation would, in fact, be rejected by anyone who reads them regularly. Although I cannot speak for Adam Szostkiewicz, I can say that his claim that aspects of the post-War communist programme sounded attractive to many Catholics is supported and born out by numerous testimonies, including those of the Tygodnik Powszechny, Wiez and Znak milieux, and of such luminaries Fr Jozef Tischner. As I pointed out, even the great Cardinal Wyszynski claimed in his prison diaries to have “gone through Das Kapital three times”, beginning at seminary before World War II, and makes clear he would have supported communist “socio-economic reform” if not for the Party’s “narrow atheism”.

None of this, of course, has anything to do with an “alliance with communists” or with any “theology of a neo-Marxist kind” (language which I have never used).

As to why Catholic Social Ethics was never published, Professor Tomasz Styczen may attribute this to fear of the communist censor – although, judging by what the regime was content for Wojtyla to publish, I do not think he is right. But communist rule collapsed in Poland 18 years ago. We cannot go one using this forever as a perennial excuse.

I did not say that Poland’s Catholic bishops are “in thrall to a neo-conservative agenda”. But nor can I accept Fr. Ihnatowicz’s apparent confidence that the Polish bishops have opposed “many forms of capitalist exploitation in the present”. Indeed, I think they suffer from deep ideological allergies when it comes to exercising the duty of criticism and taking a prophetic public stand for the poor and marginalised.

If John Paul II were alive today, he would be dismayed by the appalling conditions which have impelled 6% of his homeland’s population to leave in the past three years, and by his own Church’s inadequate response to them. Poland is the most Catholic of the European Union’s 27 member-countries. But it has the highest unemployment and the second highest corruption (it was pipped into worst place by Bulgaria in January). It also has the lowest birthrate, and spends just 0.9 percent of GNP on pro-family policies compared an EU average of 2.1 percent. I could cite other shaming comparative statistics – from road fatalities to crime and deliquency.
In such a situation, the Church will be judged not for what its leaders may think, but for what the Church says and does; and the odd half-hearted, desultory complaint in a homily or statement is not enough. I welcome and applaud the Polish Church’s stand against abortion. But where are the protests, the letters to ministers, the petitions to legislators when it comes to current economic and social injustices? Catholic Social Ethics , when finally published after so much reluctance, will make many in the Church uncomfortable. And so it should.

Jonathan Luxmoore

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXVI, No. 3, May-June. 2007.