KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 15 March 2001

POLES RETHINK ANTI-SECT MOVES AFTER MINORITY CHURCH
COMPLAINTS. The Polish government is reorganising its campaign against
new religious movements after complaints of harassment from minority
churches. Krzysztof Wiktor, of Poland's Inter-Ministerial Team for New
Religious Movements told Keston News Service on 26 February that �State
policy is undergoing important qualitative changes, which will enable us to
avoid charges of violating religious freedom�. A leader of the country's small
Adventist church has dismissed the reform, however, as a �pretence�.

POLES RETHINK ANTI-SECT MOVES AFTER MINORITY CHURCH
COMPLAINTS

by Jonathan Luxmoore, Keston News Service

The Polish government is reorganising its campaign against new religious
movements after complaints of harassment from minority churches.
Krzysztof Wiktor, the head of Poland's Inter-Ministerial Team for New
Religious Movements, after announcing plans to liquidate the existing Team
in favour of a new �Inter-Ministerial Team for Psycho-Manipulative
Groups�, told Keston News Service on 26 February that �State policy is
undergoing important qualitative changes, which will enable us to avoid
charges of violating religious freedom�. The reform was dismissed, however,
as a �pretence� by a leader of the country's small Adventist church, who
accused officials of helping �suppress competition� to the predominant
Roman Catholic church.

Wiktor told Keston that new religious movements had been viewed as the
�key problem� when his Team was formed in 1997, but added that Team
members were no longer concerned with groups �merely offering an
alternative religiousness�. �An inter-ministerial team will still be needed,
since the sect phenomenon is too broad and multifaceted to be treated like
other social pathologies�, he said. �But we are not interested in the cult
activities of this or that church. We believe there's a growing problem here
with activities by therapeutic, health-enhancing and crypto-political groups
which have nothing in common with any religion. Their spread will be
curbed as we gain greater knowledge and are able to catch them�.

Poland's Inter-Ministerial Team denied in a June 2000 report that religious
sects posed a �big threat to society�, but called on state institutions to begin
training personnel in how to deal with them. A Polish police spokesman,
Pawel Biedziak, denied last November that law enforcers were acting under
pressure from Roman Catholic leaders, but confirmed that material from
Roman Catholic anti-sect groups had been used for instructing groups of
officers from each Polish county.

Meanwhile, the secretary-general of Poland's 9000-member Adventist
church, Andrzej Sicinski, testified that Catholic information centres had also
given �sect training sessions� to school directors and teachers. In a Keston
interview on 8 March, Sicinski said dissolution of the existing Inter-
Ministerial Team had been expected, adding that he doubted the new Team
would survive the expected collapse of Poland's centre-right government
after autumn 2001 elections.

�The new name and formula are clearly intended to enable Mr Wiktor and
his Team to remain in power a bit longer�, continued Sicinski, whose church
is one of 15 recognised in Poland under their own special legislation. �But I
think this is a pretence. The new Team will work, like its predecessor, to
suppress competition to the Catholic church, using criteria which enable the
sect label to be thrown at all non-Roman Catholics�. Registered Christian
minorities in Poland have frequently cited pressure from the Roman Catholic
church, which nominally comprises at least 95% of the country's 39 million
citizens.

In his interview, Wiktor said �critical voices� from Adventists and other
churches had been considered in preparing the new �change of accent�,
adding that he believed there had been cases in which officials �took an
interest in churches which they should have left alone�. Sicinski, however,
rejecting the reform, said the new Team would have to �justify its existence�
by showing dangerous sects were active and needed monitoring. �The Polish
constitution permits religious freedom to be restricted only under strictly
defined conditions � no mention is made anywhere of the enigmatic category
of psycho-manipulation�, Sicinski told Keston. �Government funding is
being used in an organised long-term campaign against non-Catholic
churches, in which information is supplied to police and educators at public
expense by Catholic organisations�.

A Roman Catholic church expert, Bishop Zygmunt Pawlowicz, told
Keston earlier in February that he believed sect membership totalled no more
than 20,000 in Poland, but he said his church would continue �co-operating
with the state� to �warn society�. �National constitutions enshrine legal
equality, and this applies to sects as much as to the Catholic, Orthodox and
Protestant churches�, the bishop continued. �But individual laws also set
limits to religious freedom, to ensure public order and the good of families
and marriages. Those who violate these limits must face the legal
consequences�.

Members of the Polish parliament's Family Commission urged the
government at a 15 February meeting to step up training programmes on
�psycho-manipulation� for teachers, police, judges and prosecutors. In his
interview, Krzysztof Wiktor said guidelines on �manipulative groups� would
now be circulated to government departments. He added that Poland faced
new threats from �political extremism with a crypto-religious base� but
declined to cite examples or estimate the extent of the problem. (END)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.