Opinion

The case of Archbishop Lenga: A muzzle for a careless confessor?

'Archbishop Lenga offered an open flank, because he questioned the communion with Peter.'
Fri Mar 6, 2020 - 3:16 pm EST
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Archbishop Jan Paweł Lenga on a show with wRealu24 June 18, 2019. wRealu24 / Youtube

March 6, 2020 (Katholisches) – The Polish Bishops’ Conference reacted to the criticism of the Pope by Msgr. Jan Paweł Lenga, who until 2011 was archbishop of Karaganda in Kazakhstan, with a muzzle.

Archbishop Lenga is a Pole, he belongs to the Order of the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, which was founded in Poland and Lithuania. After his retirement, he returned to his homeland, where the bishops have little joy with their confrère, because he publicly expressed his criticism of Pope Francis’ statements, actions and omissions, and finally intensified it in a long interview. This gave them the opportunity to take action against him, which was prompt. Last month he was banned from preaching and celebrating Mass throughout Poland. An extraordinarily harsh measure.

The muzzle was given to him by the bishop of Włocławek, Msgr. Wiesław Mering. In his diocese is the Marian shrine of Our Lady of Licheń, which is looked after by the Marians, the order to which Archbishop Lenga belongs. In 1994 the construction of today’s basilica in honor of the Blessed Mother began, which was completed in 2004.  

Underground in Soviet times

Lenga, who was born in 1950 to a Polish family in the west of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, went to the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic during Soviet times in 1974 when he felt the call to the priesthood. There he worked as a railroad worker while secretly meeting a Marian priest who taught him. This was his novitiate. He then moved to the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, where one of the two secret seminaries of the Soviet Union was in Kaunas. During this time he worked in a museum and secretly attended the seminary. On May 28, 1980, Archbishop Vincentas Sladkevičius secretly ordained him a priest in the middle of the night. Msgr. Sladkevičius was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Kaunas by Pope Pius XII in 1957. When Archbishop Teofilus Matulionis died in 1963, he succeeded him, but for a long time, he could hardly exercise his office because the communist rulers placed him under house arrest until 1982. Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal approvingly in 1988 and officially elevated him to the position of archbishop of Kaunas in 1989.

A few months after his ordination Father Lenga was sent by his superiors to the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic. Since the great deportations under Stalin, numerous Catholics, Poles, Germans, Lithuanians and Ukrainians have lived in Central Asia. However, the Soviet secret service KGB became aware of the young priest. They could not prove anything, but they suspected him, and that was enough to issue a residence ban against him. Thus Father Lenga went to the neighboring Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic in 1981, where he worked for ten years in pastoral care.

As bishop in Kazakhstan

After the end of the Soviet Union, John Paul II appointed him apostolic administrator of Kazakhstan and all of central Asia, and titular bishop of Arba on 13 April 1991. One month later Fr. Lenga was ordained bishop by the apostolic delegate in the Russian Federation, the first official diplomatic representative of the Holy See in Moscow. During the communist dictatorship, there had been no official diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and the Vatican.

With the transformation of the apostolic administrations into dioceses, Lenga was appointed diocesan bishop of Karaganda. He founded a seminary there in 1997 and in 1998 the first Carmel of the Order of the Carmelite Sisters.

In 2003, John Paul II expressed his special personal esteem by granting Bishop Lenga the rank of archbishop ad personam. In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Athanasius Schneider ORC, one of the most distinguished pastors of the Catholic Church, as Lenga’s auxiliary bishop.

Lenga was co-consecrator at the episcopal consecrations of Msgr. Schneider as well as of Msgr. Henry Theophilus Howaniec OFM, apostolic administrator of Almaty, and the recently deceased Msgr. Nikolaus Messmer SJ, apostolic administrator of Kyrgyzstan.

On February 5, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI promoted Msgr. Schneider to auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese of Astana, the metropolitan seat for all of Kazakhstan. On the same day, he retired Archbishop Lenga, who was only 60 years old at the time. No reasons were given for the unusual step. Officially, the Pope accepted Lenga’s resignation, according to which the emeritus status had been granted at his request. This is, however, a prescribed practice that hardly allows any conclusions to be drawn.

‘Conscience won’t let me be silent’

After his retirement, Lenga returned to Poland and settled in the Marian monastery at the basilica of Licheń (Greater Poland).

Repeatedly the Archbishop, now 69 years old, spoke out from Licheń, whenever he felt urged to raise his voice against the statements and decisions of Pope Francis. As bishop emeritus, he saw more opportunities for this than his acting confreres have.

In May 2015 he published an open letter on the current church crisis. In it, he describes his personal experiences and the meeting with other priests in the Soviet Union:

I had life experiences with priests who were in Stalinist prisons and camps and yet remained faithful to the Church. During the time of persecution they fulfilled their priestly ministry with love. By preaching the Catholic doctrine and thereby living a dignified life in the following of Christ, their heavenly Master. I completed my priestly studies in an underground seminary in the Soviet Union. I was secretly ordained a priest at night by a pious bishop who himself suffered because of his faith. In the first year of my priesthood, I had the experience of being expelled from Tajikistan by the KGB.

He continued:

These are my convictions, and they are determined by my love for the Church and by the desire for her true renewal in Christ. I am forced to resort to this public means of expression (the internet), because I fear that another way would come up against a wall of silence and disregard. I am aware of the possible reactions to my open letter. But the voice of my conscience does not allow me to remain silent while the work of God is slandered. Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church and showed us in word and deed how to fulfill the will of God. The apostles, to whom he gave authority in the Church, fulfilled with zeal the task entrusted to them and suffered for love of the truth that had to be preached, since they ‘obeyed God more than men.’

In his further “reflections” he lamented that the Vatican Secretariat of State “has increasingly clearly adopted the course of political correctness.” The nuncios become “spreaders of liberalism and modernism” and influence “sub secreto Pontificio” the attitude of the bishops in the individual countries and “silence” unwelcome voices. For what the nuncio says appears to the bishops and the public as if it were the Pope himself speaking.

This divides the bishops of the various countries, since some follow the line of the nuncio in order to gain prestige with him and in Rome, “instead of spreading the faith with zeal, courageously preaching the teachings of Christ, being steadfast in defending truth and morals.” Instead, the bishops at the meetings of the bishops’ conferences “often deal with questions that have nothing to do with the nature of the tasks of the successors of the apostles.”

The bishops “keep silent” about the real problems and “abandon the sheep.”

“The world is tempted by the devil and rejects the teaching of Christ. Nevertheless, shepherds are obliged to teach the whole truth about God and man, ‘whether opportune or inopportune.’”

But in the Church “the greatest disorder can be observed as regards the purity of teaching and the holiness of the liturgy.”

“In many bishops’ conferences the best bishops are ‘persona non grata.’ Where are the apologists of our days who would proclaim to people in a clear and understandable way the threat of the risk of losing faith and salvation?”

This does not remain without consequences:

In our days, the voice of the majority of bishops is more like the silence of the lambs in the face of angry wolves – the faithful are left behind like defenseless sheep.

Then he put his finger even deeper into the wound and came to talk about the procedures for the appointment of bishops, by which he meant the nunciatures, the Congregation for Bishops and, of course, Pope Francis:

In my opinion, the weak voice of many bishops is a consequence of the fact that in the process of appointing new bishops, candidates are not sufficiently examined with regard to their unquestionable steadfastness and fearlessness in the defense of the faith, their fidelity to the centuries-old traditions of the Church and their personal piety. On the question of the appointment of new bishops and even cardinals, it is increasingly evident that sometimes preference is given to those who share a certain ideology, or to some groups which are far from the Church and which have commissioned the appointment of a particular candidate.

Archbishop Lenga quoted the statement of a nuncio:

A nuncio once said to me: It is a pity that the Pope [John Paul II] is not personally involved in the appointment of the bishops. The Pope is trying to change something in the Roman Curia, but he has not succeeded. He is getting older and things go back to their usual routine.

Msgr. Lenga wrote to Benedict XVI:

At the beginning of the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, I wrote him a letter asking him to appoint holy bishops. I told him the story of a German layman who, in the face of the disintegration of the Church in his country after the Second Vatican Council, remained faithful to Christ and gathered young people together for adoration and prayer. This man was near death in 2005, and when he heard about the election of the new pope, he said: ‘If Pope Benedict uses his pontificate to appoint worthy, good and faithful bishops, he will have fulfilled his task.’ Unfortunately, it is obvious that Pope Benedict XVI has often been unsuccessful in this regard. It is hard to believe that Pope Benedict XVI voluntarily gave up his office as the successor of Peter. Pope Benedict XVI was the head of the Church, but his followers hardly put his teachings into practice, often silently circumventing them or hindering his initiatives for a true reform of the Church, of the liturgy, of the way of giving Holy Communion.

And:

The intention of the Freemasons is being implemented more and more openly, not only thanks to the declared enemies of the Church, but also by the tacit acquiescence of false witnesses who hold some high office in the hierarchy of the Church.

‘The best sons and servants are sacrificed’

As an antidote to “the devil’s attempts to undermine the church,” the Archbishop said:

To avoid this, it is necessary to return to the precise and clear proclamation of the Gospel at all levels of ecclesial ministry, because the Church possesses all the power and grace that Christ gave her: ‘All authority is given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the world’ (Matthew 28:18-20), ‘the truth will set you free’ (Jn 8:32), and ‘Let your yes be a yes, your no a no. Whatever goes beyond it, is of the evil one’ (Matt 5:37).

The Church cannot and should not adapt to the world, but must transform the world towards the Spirit of Christ. Lenga regretted in this context that there was an “obvious tendency” in the Vatican to “submit to the noise of the mass media.”

It is not uncommon for the best sons and servants to be sacrificed in the name of an unfathomable peace and tranquility to appease the mass media. The enemies of the Church, however, do not hand over their faithful servants, even though their actions are obviously bad.

In times of Church crises, God has often used for the true renewal of the Church the sacrifices, tears and prayers of those children and servants of the Church who were considered insignificant in the eyes of the world and the church bureaucracy, or who were persecuted and marginalized because of their faithfulness to Christ. I believe that even in our difficult times the law of Christ will be realized and the Church will be renewed thanks to the interior renewal of each one of us, sustained by faith.

Since the publication of the controversial post-synodal letter Amoris Laetitia in April 2016, Archbishop Lenga has defended the indissolubility of sacramental marriage. He rebuked the phrase “remarried divorced people” as a deliberate deception, because the church does not have to speak like the world, but has to call a spade a spade. In this specific case, adultery is involved, which places the persons involved in a situation of grave sin, excluding them from access to the sacraments.

Now Archbishop Lenga himself is hit by strict disciplinary measures, coming from his confrères, who imposed them with a view to Rome. This concerns first of all the unrest in the order to which Lenga belongs. On June 5, 2016, Pope Francis canonized the founder of the Order, Stanisław Papczyński. With that in mind, a religious who is the highest in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, but who at the same time criticizes the same Pope, is not considered particularly beneficial.

Archbishop Lenga, together with other bishops, has repeatedly appeared in public as a “confessor” in the past three years, for example in January 2017 with the call to prayer “from the periphery” so that “Pope Francis would reaffirm the Church’s unchanging practice of the truth of the indissolubility of marriage.” Thus these bishops indirectly supported the dubia of four cardinals regarding Amoris Laetitia.

When, after a year, Pope Francis still had not responded, on December 31, 2017, these same bishops, including Archbishop Lenga, made a “profession of faith in the truths of the sacrament of marriage,” reaffirming the Church’s traditional teaching.

Archbishop Lenga is also one of the signatories of the “Declaration of Truths” of Cardinal Raymond Burke and auxiliary bishop Athanasius Schneider, which was published by them and other bishops in June 2019. With this “Manifesto of Truth,” which, considered as criticism of the Pope, met with little approval by those surrounding the Pope, the signatories defended the traditional teaching of the Church against the spirit of the times.

Dissociation and sanctions

On January 22, the spokesman of the Polish Bishops’ Conference distanced himself from the Archbishop with a severe statement, although Lenga does not even belong to the bishops’ conference. He stated that the Archbishop “did not represent the Catholic Church in Poland.” Lenga is accused of “misleading the faithful.” Further details were not given.

Bishop Mering of Włocławek accuses Archbishop Lenga of having called Pope Francis “a heretic and usurper of the throne” in an interview also published on YouTube, which has 135,000 views so far. Since Francis is a “usurper,” he, Lenga, still sees in Benedict XVI the legitimate Pope. For this reason, he would not pray for Francis but for the legitimate Pope in the high prayer of the Mass.

“Bergoglio did not affirm the faith and does not pass it on to others. He leads the world astray. … He proclaims untruths and sins, not the tradition that has existed for 2000 years. … He proclaims the truth of this world, which is exactly the truth of the devil.”

Thus Archbishop Lenga was quoted from the Polish interview by the progressive British weekly newspaper The Tablet on Monday, February 24.

With such words, Archbishop Lenga offered an open flank, because he questioned the communion with Peter. The flank was immediately attacked, although the Polish bishops themselves, through their resistance to Amoris Laetitia, do not have an unclouded relationship with the current incumbent in Rome. They are careful, however, not to voice direct criticism of Pope Francis. Archbishop Lenga, also a Pole, who also lives in Poland, therefore became a “persona non grata” himself, as he criticized it in his 2015 statement.

Translated by LifeSiteNews’ Martin Bürger. This article first appeared at Katholisches here. It is republished here by permission of the author. 


  catholic, jan pawel lenga, polish bishops, pope francis

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