Threats to religious liberty in recent months in the United Statesforcing employers to buy abortifacients, compelling professionals and tradesmen like photographers and bakers to apply their talents to support “same-sex marriage”have perhaps diverted Americans’ focus from similar assaults on religious liberty abroad. Two recent episodes in Poland, however, merit attention.
The first is the case of Dr. Bogdan Chazan. Dr. Chazan is a 70-year-old professor of obstetrics and gynecology who, until July 21, 2014 was director of the Holy Family Hospital in Warsaw. Because he refused to perform an abortion on a woman whose child was handicapped, he was fired from his directorship by the Warsaw City Administration. The woman, who gave birth to a handicapped child who died shortly after birth, claimed that Chazan did not fulfill his duties because, while Poland has a conscience clause for doctors, it requires them to refer a patient for whom the physician will not perform a “health benefit” to another who will. She also claimed that Chazan prolonged his initial examinations of the woman until the time expired by which she could obtain an abortion under Polish law.
Chazanlike Bernard Nathansonused to be an abortionist. He performed abortions probably into the early 1990s. But, in conscience, he now refuses to do so. And for that he lost his job.
The second is the case of Marek Cichucki. Cichucki is a 53-year-old actor who has been on the Polish theater scene since 1983, when he made his debut while still an acting student in ?ód?. That’s also the city where he got fired for refusing to perform in a drama many regard as blasphemous: Argentine Rodrigo Garcia’s 2011 play, “Golgota Picnic.”
“Golgota Picnic” styles itself as a critique of consumerism. It is said to “deconstruct the person and message of Jesus of Nazareth.” Quoted by the BBC, French bishop Dominic Rey of Fréjus-Toulon characterized the play’s image of Christ as that of a “madman, dog, pyromaniac, messiah of AIDS, devil-whore, no better than a terrorist.” In case you like classical music, the work includes Haydn’s “Seven Last Words of Christ” (performed by a naked pianist).
Cichucki got the axe because, on the play’s opening night, June 28 at the Pinokio Theater in ?ód?, instead of reading his lines, he pronounced the work a “be?kot” (a bunch of babble) and said he would not participate. Theater director Zdzis?aw Jasku?a accused him of violating professional ethics. Jasku?a has been alleged to have said, “I won’t have another Chazan.”
The actor responds that he deemed his action justified because he did not think the Theater was staging the play out of artistic motives, but “it was supposed to be a demonstration, a ‘checking the box’ act, so I behaved in a way appropriate to the genre: I demonstrated.”
The usual arguments are, of course, being marshalled against Chazan and Cichucki. Chazan could have avoided everything just by passing the patient along. Never mind that he would also be passing along the child, not as a patient, but as a target. The “law is the law” in our “rule of law country,” insist Chazan’s opponents, and if we start allowing people to follow their consciences to the end, we’ll end up with a “confessional state” (the favorite bogeyman of Poland’s naked public square advocates since 1990). Just wash your hands like Pilate and sign the form.
Cichucki might have been dramatic, “demonstrating” at “Golgota’s” premiere in the middle of an international festival. That’s just très gauche. We can’t have people thinking good old Litzmannstadt is so provincial; Poland’s New York Times, Gazeta Wyborcza, regularly pronounced protests against the play (in Warsaw, Pozna?, Kraków, and elsewhere) works of the “extreme Catholic right” and “nationalists.”
Like its American counterpart, “Vagina Monologues,” what matters is not so much the work’s artistic merit as its value as demonstration. What gets notice is when Notre Dame puts on the play and somebody (preferably in a Roman collar) emerges to wring his hands and say “we don’t agree but freedom of expression means we have to open our venues, . . .” etc., etc. That function was provided in Kraków by a professor, who opined, “If the Pope (John Paul II), a lover of the theater, watched this comedy he would say: ‘Be not afraid! Of anyonebut yourselves!’” Poland’s “conscience clause” also has an American counterpart in the narrow exceptions to paying for abortions under Obamacare. The Administration thinks that, as long as one does not directly bloody one’s own hands, there should be no conscience problem with passing that job along to another. Both incidents serve as reminders that religious freedom is an international problem, and the Church must confront it with an international response.
Dr. John M. Grondelski was associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey.