(JTA) — A Polish priest with a long track record of antisemitic comments has been sentenced to community service after being convicted of insulting Jews and inciting hatred against them, in what his critics say is a landmark case.
Father Michał Woźnicki, a Catholic priest from the city of Poznan, must perform 30 hours of community service a month for the next six months, according to the order handed down by a judge earlier this month.
Woźnicki was on trial for comments made during a sermon in October 2021. “Jews in the world have assumed the role of a leech, a tick, a body that lives on the host’s body, swells, leading the host’s body to death, moving on to the next one,” he said, according to Polish media. He also said that Jews were in league with the devil and responsible for the spread of sexual impropriety in Poland.
Woźnicki is already facing sanctions from the church because of his record of controversy, and he delivered the sermon online because he has been suspended from his pulpit. But because he remains an ordained priest, his conviction is groundbreaking, according to the civil society group that pressed for him to face charges.
The group, Otwarta Rzeczpospolita or Open Republic, is devoted to fighting antisemitism and xenophobia in Poland.
“This is a precedent case,” it said in a statement. “It was not Woźnicki’s first hateful sermon, but the first one that the prosecutor’s office dealt with.”
Jewish leaders in Poland are cheering the verdict.
“Woźnicki is well known for his antisemitic diatribes and anti-church tirades (he has called Pope Francis a heretic),” Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency by email. “The Polish court has handed down a clear verdict that antisemitic hate speech is illegal in Poland. We are hopeful that the Polish courts will continue to find others guilty of this crime.”
After the Polish judge ruled that Woźnicki was guilty of insulting Jews because of their nationality and inciting hatred on the basis of national differences, the priest lashed out in comments to journalists.
“I am convicted of preaching,” Woźnicki reportedly said. “Apparently, the Jews do not like me very much because I love the Lord Jesus. As a non-Jew, I concede to the Jewish king, while the Jews do not so much to their king.”
While Woźnicki’s comments were extreme, traditional Catholic liturgy includes some antisemitic elements. In 2021, Pope Francis restricted the use of the Latin Mass, a traditionalist liturgy that includes a prayer for the conversion of Jews, out of concern that it was being used by those who did not accept the Catholic Church’s 1965 statement declaring that the Jews were not responsible for Jesus’ death. Pope Francis has also condemned antisemitism.