* Church says Father Lemanski sacked for insubordination
* Priest says 1943 massacre inspired him to seek better ties
* Relations with Jews still sensitive issue in Poland
By Dagmara Leszkowicz
JASIENICA, Poland, Aug 1 When the outspoken
Polish priest Wojciech Lemanski returned with his parishioners
to his church near Warsaw after holding a prayer vigil at the
Treblinka Nazi death camp in early July, a dismissal notice
The Warsaw diocese of the Roman Catholic Church sacked
Lemanski as parish priest in the small village of Jasienica for
what it said was his insubordination after numerous clashes on
issues such as in-vitro fertilisation, abortion and his
engagement with the Jewish community.
Lemanski sealed his fate when in a radio interview he
accused Archbishop Henryk Hoser, who oversees his parish, of
asking whether he was a Jew and circumcised - a charge the
diocese has denied.
The episode exposed a rift within the church, as it
struggles to retain a central role in Polish life, between
conservatives and those who want more openness in dealing with
social issues and some of the darker episodes in Poland's past.
"At a time when Pope Francis is calling for open-mindedness,
the church in Poland is crawling into its shell," said Iwona
Jakubowska-Branicka, a sociologist at Warsaw University.
"As with many moral issues, the question of relations with
Jews has been swept under the carpet," she said.
Relations with the Jewish community are an especially
difficult subject in Poland, where millions of Jews perished in
the Holocaust during the Nazi German occupation of the country.
Most of those who survived were forced to leave in the late
1960s by the communist regime. Poland's post-communist leaders
have condemned the "anti-Zionist campaign" of that time and have
often spoken out against other signs of anti-Semitism.
Poles have celebrated those compatriots who helped to save
local Jews in World War Two, but they have also downplayed
events such as the burning of 340 Jews by Polish peasants in the
village of Jedwabne in 1943.
The episode was buried by the communist authorities after
the war and resurfaced only after a 2001 book written by
Polish-born U.S. historian Jan Gross described the massacre.
The publication was criticised by some Catholic church
leaders as stoking anti-Polish and anti-Jewish sentiments, but
the subsequent debate inspired young Lemanski to work on
improving the dialogue between the two groups.
"God knocked on my door and said he wanted something more
from me. I can't imagine being a priest without a special
sensitivity for the Jews, their tragedies and a need for
dialogue," the priest said in an interview.
Lemanski is among a few Catholic priests who commemorate the
massacre each year with Jewish leaders and holds prayer vigils
at the Treblinka camp, one of the infamous Nazi death factories
where Jews, along with Poles and others, were gassed.
He also recovered gravestones from abandoned and destroyed
Jewish cemeteries, incorporating two of them into the main alter
of his church. That move stoked charges from some conservative
Catholics that he was turning it into a synagogue.
In a statement explaining its decision to send Lemanski on
early retirement, the Warsaw Diocese did not refer to the
gravestones, but said he had failed to get church permission on
issues related to the parish.
The diocese also said Archbishop Hoser's relations with the
Jewish community were "proper and full of trust".
Church representatives declined further comment.
Jewish community leaders have avoided being pulled into the
affair, but some have expressed support for Lemanski's efforts.
"I can say one thing: looking at the way parishioners treat
the priest, I think that if the Jewish community had had a rabbi
like Lemanski, the community would have been very pleased," said
Piotr Kadlcik, head of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities
Despite being sidelined by his superiors, Lemanski said he
would remain active after lodging an appeal with the Vatican.
"I realise it's not an easy path but I don't feel like
someone on the margin of the church. On the contrary, I feel
like I'm in the centre of my church because without this
dialogue our church loses its authority," he said.
(Editing by Gareth Jones)