By Jeremy Appel
(AJNews) – An anti-Semitic Polish priest with an international following has been formally banned from the Archdiocese of Edmonton after lobbying from B’nai Brith and Alberta’s former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk.
Father Tadeusz Rydzyk runs the far-right radio station Radio Maryja, which has a television affiliate, Trwam, as well as a national newspaper and Catholic college. He has the dubious distinction of being denounced by two popes — John Paul II and Benedict XVI — for anti-Semitism.
In 2016, Rydzyk lambasted on air “synagogue-type behaviour” among some of his followers, and in private conversations leaked to a Polish magazine said that then-president Lech Kazcynski was taking orders from Jews. His radio station has also promoted Holocaust denial, with a guest in 2000 claiming that the gas chambers at Auschwitz didn’t exist.
The station has also featured diatribes against “gender ideology” and the “Islamification of Europe.”
“Most anti-Semites are racist in many different ways,” B’nai Brith’s Alberta Manager of Public Affairs Abe Silverman said, referring to Rydzyk as an “equal opportunity” bigot.
And Rydzyk isn’t a fringe figure. Poland’s ruling ultranationalist Law and Justice party has reportedly offered subsidies of about $7.5 million to affiliates of Rydzyk and Radio Maryja, and the Polish post office printed a stamp in honour of Radio Maryja’s 25th anniversary in 2016, the Anti-Defamation League reported.
“He has a massive following,” said Lukaszuk, who served as deputy premier under former Alberta premier Allison Redford and is a dual Canadian and Polish citizen. “His following isn’t so much religious as it is political.”
He says there’s major overlap between Rydzyk’s followers and supporters of the government.
“He controls a lot of votes. That’s all there is to it,” Lukaszuk said. “The current governing party before the election campaign literally goes to him for a blessing and he endorses him through his media, and that carries a lot of sway.”
Lukaszuk brought Rydzyk to Silverman’s attention when the priest celebrated mass at Calgary’s Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in 2018, which was approved by the diocese.
In response, Silverman met with Archbishop Richard Smith to express his concerns.
“The effect of this was that virtually all churches and diocese in Alberta will no longer invite Father Rydzyk to preach,” he said. “I was very well-received and treated with the highest level of respect.”
Since Rydzyk’s programs and speeches are in Polish, Lukaszuk says the archdiocese likely wasn’t aware of the full extent of his bigotry.
At the time of Rydzyk’s visit, Archdiocese of Calgary Bishop William McGratton said that he had changed his ways, pointing to a museum Rydzyk founded in Poland dedicated to the stories of Poles who rescued Jews during the Holocaust and a 2016 meeting he had with an Israeli ambassador.
But Lukaszuk says the museum offers a sanitized view of Polish history, downplaying the role many Poles played in carrying out Nazi atrocities. And according to Silverman, the Israeli ambassador reprimanded Rydzyk when they met.
When Rydzyk tours around the world, he doesn’t just celebrate mass but also sells tickets to lectures to raise funds for his various projects.
“If we can somehow cut off his funding by having churches agree not to invite him and give him money, then that’s a win for us,” said Silverman. “If we can successfully start cutting off his funding, and this has to be done on an international level, including the funding he receives from the Polish government, we can maybe put a stop to this guy.”
In a statement, the Archdiocese of Edmonton says they had no plans to bring Rydzyk back to Alberta.
“If a request was made, it would be denied given Father Rydzyk’s history of making controversial comments that at times have caused distress and division,” it reads.
Silverman says the ultimate goal is to prevent Rydzyk from visiting Canada again.
“We will go to other jurisdictions that have Catholic leadership and we will have the same conversations with them, and little by little we hope to have Father Rydzyk banned from Canada period. There may be a time when we go to the federal government and make a case, and hopefully they won’t issue him a visa.”
“If this guy is offensive in Calgary, he’s offensive in Toronto too,” said Lukaszuk.
Jeremy Appel is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Alberta Jewish News.