Glemp, Józef (b. 1929)

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GLEMP, JÓZEF (b. 1929)


Polish cardinal and primate of Poland.

The son of a miner, Kazimierz, and his wife, Salomea, Józef Glemp was sent to forced labor in Germany during the Nazi occupation of Poland and did not complete high school until May 1950. Several months later he began training for the priest-hood in Gniezno and Poznań, and was ordained on 25 May 1956. His first posts involved work with young people, including chaplaincy in homes for incurably ill children and youthful offenders, as well as a prefecture in a secondary school for girls.

In 1958 Glemp went to Rome for studies in canon and civil law at the Pontifical Lateran University, which he completed four years later. In 1964 he defended a doctorate on "The Evolution of the Concept of Legal Fiction." During these years he also witnessed firsthand the workings of the Second Vatican Council.

In 1964 Glemp returned to Gniezno, the seat of the primate of Poland, and worked in the education of priests but also as consultor to the primatial tribunal on ratified and nonconsummated marriage. He advanced to the secretariat of the primate in December 1967 and became a close collaborator and member of the household of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, accompanying the Polish primate on numerous meetings with Pope Paul VI and with functionaries of the Polish communist regime. He served as the cardinal's chaplain. Within the secretariat Glemp acted as specialist on legal issues, especially marriage cases, but also as press officer. Throughout this period he also found time to teach Roman law and matrimonial canon law at the Academy of Catholic Theology in Warsaw. This activity ceased in March 1979, when he became bishop of the northeastern diocese of Warmia.

On 7 July 1981, following the death of Cardinal Wyszyński two months earlier, Glemp became archbishop of Gniezno and Warsaw, and thus the primate of Poland (he was appointed cardinal in February 1983). Largely unknown to the Polish public and less charismatic than his predecessor, Glemp soon faced the challenges of mediation between the communist state and the trade union Solidarity in a deepening economic and political crisis. He warned both sides of their obligations to protect Poland from bloodshed.

After martial law was declared in December 1981, Glemp continued a low-key posture of mediation, failing to speak out in clearly critical terms against the state. This cost him sympathy among more radical members of clergy and laity but permitted real concessions, such as permission for the church to aid detainees and for a second visit to Poland of Pope John Paul II in the summer of 1983. He accompanied John Paul in subsequent pilgrimages to Poland in 1987, 1991, 1995, 1997, and 1999, as well as on trips to other countries.

Like the Polish pope, Glemp propounded a rigorously conservative Catholic morality, with high vigilance to banish all thought of homosexual unions and to keep the divorced away from the sacraments of the church. But politically his conservatism went a step further to the right than the pope's, into the realm of Polish National Democracy, which envisions Poland in ethnic terms. A reflection of this leaning was a particular insensitivity on the Jewish question, which surfaced repeatedly since the collapse of communism in 1989.

In the 1990s controversy centered on the construction of a convent and the planting of a multitude of crosses near the camp grounds of Auschwitz, things injurious to the sensitivities of many Jews. Glemp vacillated and failed to promote conciliatory positions, and at one point attacked critics for their "Jewish arrogance." In 2001 he rejected invitations to take part in a commemoration of the murder of Jews by Poles in the Polish town of Jedwabne sixty years earlier, and wondered whether "Jews should not recognize that they are guilty toward Poles, especially in their cooperation with the Bolsheviks and collusion in the deportations to Siberia" (Rzeczpospolita, 15 May 2001) Instead he held a mass of atonement in a Warsaw church that permitted a "patriotic" bookstore to operate in its basement, selling such works as the anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Asked about his tolerance of this bookstore, or national chauvinist Catholic newspapers (Nasz Dziennik) and radio stations (Radio Maryja), Glemp or his representatives argued that they could not limit freedom of speech. Yet the church did act to censor one moderate priest, Stanisław Musiał, who had opposed the setting up of crosses at Auschwitz as an expression not of Christian love but of its opposite.

The 1990s witnessed vigorous forays of the institutional church into education and public morality, with at times successful efforts to roll back abortion rights. Critics maintain that such high political visibility has damaged the church, yet statistics show continued high Mass attendance among Poles, as well as the growth of certain devotions. As in Western countries, however, Poland too is experiencing a decline in religious vocations.

In March 2004 Cardinal Glemp stepped down as chair of the Episcopate of Poland and was replaced by the archbishop of Przemysł, Józef Michalik.

See alsoCatholicism; John Paul II; Poland.


"Biography of Cardinal Józef Glemp, Primate of Poland." Available at

Glemp, Józef. Les Chemins des pèlerins: choix de sermons et d'allocutions. Translated by T.-M. Sas. Paris, 1996.

Micewski, Andrzej. Kościół-państwo: 1945–1989. Warsaw, 1994.

Zieliński, Zygmunt. Kościół w Polsce: 1944–2002. Radom, Poland, 2003.

John Connelly