Warsaw — When the outspoken Polish priest Wojciech Lemanski returned with his parishioners to his church near Warsaw after holding a prayer vigil at the Treblinka Nazi death camp in early July, a dismissal notice awaited him.
The Warsaw diocese of the Roman Catholic Church sacked Lemanski as parish priest in the small village of Jasienica for what it said was his insubordination after numerous clashes on issues such as in-vitro fertilisation, abortion and his engagement with the Jewish community.
Lemanski sealed his fate when in a radio interview he accused Archbishop Henryk Hoser, who oversees his parish, of asking whether he was a Jew and circumcised - a charge the diocese has denied.
The episode exposed a rift within the church, as it struggles to retain a central role in Polish life, between conservatives and those who want more openness in dealing with social issues and some of the darker episodes in Poland’s past.
“At a time when Pope Francis is calling for open-mindedness, the church in Poland is crawling into its shell,” said Iwona Jakubowska-Branicka, a sociologist at Warsaw University.
“As with many moral issues, the question of relations with Jews has been swept under the carpet,” she said.
Relations with the Jewish community are an especially difficult subject in Poland, where millions of Jews perished in the Holocaust during the Nazi German occupation of the country.
Most of those who survived were forced to leave in the late 1960s by the communist regime. Poland’s post-communist leaders have condemned the “anti-Zionist campaign” of that time and have often spoken out against other signs of anti-Semitism.
Poles have celebrated those compatriots who helped to save local Jews in World War Two, but they have also downplayed events such as the burning of 340 Jews by Polish peasants in the village of Jedwabne in 1943.