Tech & Rights

Poland's Top Priest Embroiled in Corruption Allegations

The most powerful priest in Poland has long had a close relationship with the country's current rulers, receiving tens of millions of euros for his foundation's projects.

by Jonathan Day

Poland's most well-connected priest, Tadeusz Rydzyk, has been given another bundle of money by the Polish government to fund one of his foundation's projects — a geothermal plant. And many opposition politicians and members of the public are once again wondering if Poland's most powerful priest is also the country's most corrupt.

The geothermal plant will be built in the Polish city of Torun, where Rydzyk has his church, media university and other facilities related to his foundation. The plant is being built with some €6.5 million in subsidies from the government. It is only the latest project to be receive funding from the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), whose head, Jarosław Kaczyńsk, has long had a close relationship with Rydzyk.

The joining of church and state

Local media estimates that Rydzyk's foundation, Lux Veritatis, has received some €48 million in public funds from the PiS government since 2015. That’s is an extraordinary figure. The money has been used to fund, among other things, a shrine, a memorial park, and a new energy source for an existing museum the foundation runs.

The government’s return on its investment is immense. In exchange for funding for his schemes, Rydzyk turns his enormous media empire into a PiS mouthpiece. His Radio Maryja network, TV Trwam television station and the Nasz Dziennik, a broadsheet newspaper, reach millions across the country.

Right-wing politicians and political pundits appear regularly on Rydzyk’s media channels to stoke fear and resentment of migrants and the LGBTQI community – two groups that the government has turned into scapegoats for electoral gain – and women.

“Broadcasts [on these channels] on matters related to marriage and relationships routinely objectify women and deprive them of agency,” Chyżewska-Pawlikowska, the Polish Women’s Strike activist, told OpenDemocracy earlier this year.

These channels also provide the space to more closely tie the government and Rydzyk. Upon becoming prime minister, in 2017, Mateusz Morawiecki did an interview with Rydzyk on his Radio Maryia station in order to pledge his support the “re-Christianisation of Europe.” More recently, Energy Minister Krzysztof Tchórzewski went on the same station to extol the geothermal plan, calling it an example for the rest of the country.

A strange choice

But the new geothermal plant in Torun is a curious venture. The fact that Rydzyk's properties will be the primary beneficiaries of the plant's heat doesn't help the optics. But Torun is poorly suited for such a project to begin with. The salt content in the water beneath the city is too high, and it would need to be heated 130 degrees before being used, requiring a traditional power plant.

Moreover, geothermal energy currently accounts for just 0.25 percent of Poland's total renewable energy, in no small part because this form of energy has long been spurned by Polish politicians. But no longer. Marek Józefiak, a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace, remarked that other energy sources, like wind and solar, are cheaper and more efficient but yet "have been deliberately blocked by the PiS government.”

It will be interesting to see if this story actually brings real heat to either Father Rydzyk or the PiS government,. It seems unlikely. Still, it is yet more evidence of corruption by the government, and it may well be corruption that is the biggest threat to this and other populist governments in the region.

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