In a ruling that Church leaders are calling a serious infringement of freedom of speech, a Polish judge has accused the Archdiocese of Katowice and the priest-editor of their Catholic weekly newspaper of comparing a woman who sought an abortion to the Nazis, and has ordered them to publish a court-dictated apology.
Judge Ewa Solecka, further, fined the Gosc Niedzielny (Sunday Visitor) paper $11,000, objecting to comments from editor-in-chief Fr. Marek Gancarczyk that she deemed offensive, such as his statement that in seeking to get an abortion, the woman sought to ‘kill’ her child.
Fr. Gancarczyk was writing in an October 2007 editorial about the European Court for Human Rights’ earlier ‘wrongful birth’ ruling in favor of Alicja Tysiac.
Ms. Tysiac, who suffers from an eye condition, has become something of a symbol for the Polish abortion rights movement, following her failed attempt to abort her third child after she became pregnant in 2000. Claiming that her condition would be exacerbated by the continuation of her pregnancy, she sought permission for an abortion.
Poland, which is largely Catholic and pro-life, permits abortion only in cases of rape, serious handicap in the baby, or serious health risk to the mother.
In Tysiac’s case, her doctors concluded that, while she was "significantly disabled," her condition was not serious enough to warrant the death of her unborn child. Thus she was not given permission for abortion, and the baby was born.
In 2005, Tysiac took the Polish government to the European Court. The court ruled in March 2007 that Poland’s laws resulted in a ‘wrongful birth’, ordering the government to pay her 25,000 Euros in damages. The government appealed but the decision was upheld in September 2007.
Subsequently, Fr. Gancarczyk published an editorial condemning the court’s decision. While he did draw the connection between the horrors committed by the Nazis and the horror of abortion, he nowhere compares Ms. Tysiac to the Nazis, but rather compares the judges who ruled against the Polish government to the Nazis, contrary to Judge Solecka’s Wednesday determination.
"[The Nazis] got used to murders committed behind the camp fence," wrote Fr. Gancarczyk. "And what is it like today? Different, but equally scary."
"The European Tribunal of Justice in Strasbourg just rejected the appeal from the Polish government on the well-known by now case of Alicja Tysiac," he continued. "In consequence, Ms. Tysiac will receive 25,000 euro damages, plus the costs of proceedings, for not being able to kill her child."
"In other words, we are living in a world where a mother is granted an award for the fact that she very much wanted to kill her child, but was forbidden to do so," he said.
In the final paragraph, he applies actions to the judges that he had previously attributed to the Nazis. "And what about the judges, who issued this improbable verdict?" he asked. "They surely spend weekends in different picturesque destinations. They are laughing and relaxed. They got used to it."
Based on her reading of the editorial, the judge has ordered the Archdiocese and Fr. Gancarczyk to publish the following apology:
"The Katowice Archdiocese as the publisher, and Marek Gancarczyk as editor in chief of Gosc Niedzielny weekly apologize to Ms. Alicja Tysiac for unlawful comparison of Ms. Alicja Tysiac to Nazi criminals responsible for the Holocaust of Jews in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, as well as for the martyrdom of Jews in the ghettos.
"The Katowice Archdiocese as the publisher, as well as Marek Gancarczyk, as editor in chief of the Gosc Niedzielny weekly express their regret, that through the unlawful violation of personal interests of Ms. Alicja Tysiac and using hate speech, they caused pain and harm to Alicja Tysiac."
Calling Fr. Gancarczyk’s comments "particularly contemptuous," she insisted that references to abortion as ‘killing’ must be made in a general way without applying it to individual persons.
She also determined it was untrue when Fr. Gancarczyk stated that Tysiac had been awarded damages because she had wanted an abortion and was forbidden to obtain it. "This claim is false," she said. "Presenting it in Gosc Niedzielny misled the readers and caused a false impression, which could lead to developing conclusions unfavorable to the plaintiff."
However, rather than making the court-mandated apology, which would require the priest to state a falsehood, the newspaper has asserted its intention to continue publishing the truth about abortion, and has indicated that they will appeal the ruling. In a statement following the verdict, Fr. Gancarczyk said, "We treat [this verdict] as an attempt to censure the public debate, which can be used by leftist circles as an encouragement to use the judiciary for the purpose of imposing their worldview on the rest of society."
"We do not intend to agree with a verdict which breaks constitutional rights and constitutes an attempt at censuring the public debate," he says further on. "The verdict will not cause us to denounce our right to judge abortion from the moral point of view and in accordance with the unchangeable teaching of the Church. We are not going to stop striving for freedom of speech and we will continue to voice views, which we hold, as our conscience obliges us to."
Polish Civil Rights Commissioner (Ombudsman) Janusz Kochanowski has said the verdict is "controversial and raises many doubts," and he has indicated that he will ask the Katowice court to send him a written explanation of the ruling. "Depending on the contents of this explanation, we may take steps," he said. "If doubts are confirmed, some action on the part of the Civil Rights Commissioner may be expected."
Numerous Church leaders and public personalities have spoken out strongly against what they call an infringement of Catholics’ freedom of speech. The Polish Conference of Bishops, expressing "solidarity" with the newspaper, called the verdict "an unacceptable limitation of the Church’s mission," and "an attempt against freedom of speech and the right of the Church to moral judgement of human behavior."
Justice Stanislaw Dabrowski, Head of the National Council of the Judiciary
ul. Rakowiecka 30
02-528 Warszawa, Poland
Tel: (22) 3-792-792
Fax: (22) 3-792-794
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