By John T. Muthing
(John T. Muthing, Rome Bureau chief of NC News Service, recently spent 10 days in Poland accompanying an American Church delegation visiting the Polish bidhops and clergy.)
VATICAN CITY(NC) — The Polish primate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, who will be 75 Aug. 3, will submit his resignation to Pope Paul VI, but the Pontiff will not accept it, according to both Polish and Vatican sources.
The primate, who like all residential bishops is required to tender his resignation at age 75, reportedly was looking forward to retirement in 1976.
But two developments — renewed Vatican-Polish talks and government attempts to amend the Polish constitution — made him change his plans, sources in Warsaw say.
At 75, Cardinal Wyszynski continues to manifest a warm personal style as well as his more famous and awesomely triumphalistic strength.
His three lifelong loyalties remain uncharged and undiminished — his devotion to the Catholic Church, to the Polish nation and to Our Lady of Czestochowa.
The primate, as he always called, lives at a centrally located Warsaw residence at 17 Miodowa (Honey) Street, rebuilt after its total destruction during World War II.
Outside is the large Mercedes in which he frequently travels the length and breadth of Poland’s 120,000 square miles. There is a large reception room with a throne on a raised dais. Windows look out upon a tranquil garden, which tame red-tailed squirrels call home.
From this residence the son of a village organist exercises a power that some observers consider unrivaled in the universal Church.
«We admit it, in Poland Wyszynski is more Pope than Paul», a high Vatican official recently confided.
In Poland the cardinal is head for life of the bishops’ conference which meets six times annuyally— more often than any other conference. The Vatican will name no-bishop in Poland without prior consent of the primate.
It is Poland’s situation which makes the primate’s power necessary and his own unswerving devotion to the papacy which makes it tolerable, even desirable.
There is no doubt that the primate’s personal strength and the «cult of personality» built up around him are major factors that have kept the faith in Poland strong while the Church in some other Eastern European nations is dying.
«Think of the absolute antithesis of Communism and that’s Wyszynski», said one Polish-American priest who knows the primate well.
The casual American visitor is likely to be put off by a kind of preconciliar awe which the figure of the primate inspires.
«I had to keep reminding myself that he’s on our side,» said one American after a visit with the cardinal.
But the Poles explain that, given the subtle but omnipresent war against religion waged in Poland, a strong unifying figure is essential for survival.
«In a Communist country,» asserted a Polish bishop, «a Church divided is a Church dead.»
Polish Church leaders admit that there are strong nationalist overtones in the image which the primate projects.
«For centuries,» related a Polish seminary professor, «the Polish primates ruled when there was no king. We often joke that Wyszynski still believes in concept of ’interrex.»
Cardinal Wyszynski still speaks of the Lithuania as an integral part of historical Poland. The two countries were united in the 14th century, and Polish missionaries converted many Lithuanians.
In the mid-1960s the primate was a staunch defender of Poland’s right to disputed territories in German hands on the Oder and Neisse Rivers.
In sermons this year, the primate, who grew up in the town of Zuzela under Tsarist Russian rule, has warned Poles against Russian influence.
Last winter he successfully led Poland’s bishops in a fight against a government-sponsored amendment to their national constitution which would have recognized a special bond between Russia and Poland.
For the tall, big-boned and handsome primate, the Polish nation and the Catholic faith are indivisible.
This mystical link is crystallized at the Jasna Gora (Beautiful Mountain) Shrine to Our Lady of Czestochowa, where 30 years ago the cardinal was consecrated bishop.
His devotion to the Black Madonna, venerated daily at the shrine with drum rolls and trumpet blasts as the Queen of Poland, is all-inclusive — indeed, to some liberal Catholics, it is close to fanatical.
Her image is on his episcopal ring and his coat of arms. Large pictures of the Madonna are venerated in his private chapels at his residences in Warsaw and Gniezno (the historic primatial See).
In 1956, when he emerged from three years of house arrest for not endorsing the government’s imprisonment of another bishop, the cardinal attributed his release to the Black Madonna.
Getting off the train in Rome on his way to receiving the red hat promised while he was under arrest, the primate told the West, «I bring you the blessing of Our Lady of Czestochowa.»
Despite vestiges of triumphalism, a fierce Marian devotion and strong nationalist feelings, the cardinal is not an immovable conservative.
On the political front, he tried early to reach a modus vivendi with the Communists. In 1950 he signed an agreement in which the Church recognized the Communist government in return for liberties (never fully granted). With Wladislaw Gomulka’s rise to power у in 1956, Cardinal Wyszynski emerged from arrest and initialed a similar agreement, with a similar lack of results.
Even critics say that his hard-line stance against the government, clearly voiced in his periodic hour-long homilies, is the fault of the authorities.
«The primate is always provoked, he never provokes,» said a liberal Polish priest.
The cardinal himself leads a simple life, eating plain foods to maintain his good health. He has a magical rapport with farmers and workers who stand in all sorts of weather to hear him preach for 60, 90 or 120 minutes.
Church leaders do all they can not to tire the primate and to keep him healthy. Yet everyone admits he can’t last forever.
His successor? Some look to Cracow’s Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, 56, an urbane, somewhat nervous scholar.
But no one — especially Cardinal Wyszynski — has great fears about the future of the Polish Church.
The cardinal himself, when named archbishop of Gniezno and Warsaw in 1948, was a nearly unknown academician who had only two years of experience as head of a diocese.
(National Catholic Register August 1, 1976, U.S.A.)