Revista crítica de Derecho Canónico Pluriconfesional / Rivista critica di diritto canonico molticonfessionale

ISSN 2341-3956 versión electrónica
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Depósito Legal: MA 2137-2014

Andrzej Maria Michal Deskur

Anna Marcin Solarz

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Anna Marcin Solarz (2016): Andrzej Maria Michal Deskur, en Kritische Zeitschrift für überkonfessionelles Kirchenrecht, n. 3 (2016). Resumen: Semblanza biográfica del cardenal Andrzej Maria Deskur escrita por Anna Marcin Solarz, docente del Instituto de Estudios Internacionales de la Universidad de Varsovia, donde está especializada en Relaciones entre la Iglesia y el Estado. La personalidad desbordante de Deskur se vio afectada por una enfermedad que lo capitidiminuyó durante mucho tiempo y que le redujo a moverse en una silla de ruedas.

Palabras clave: Juan Pablo II, Andrzej Maria Deskur, Stanisława Kossecka, Pierre Gerliera, Adam Sapieha, Gaudium et spes, Juan XXIII, Pablo VI.

Born on 29 February 1924 in Sancygniów, died on 3 September 2011, in the Vatican, buried on 12 September 2011 in the Sanctuary of St. John Paul II in Łagiewniki. Andrzej Maria Deskur came from the Polish branch of a French family Descours, distinguished in the history of Poland and ennobled in 1764. The great-grandfather of Andrzej was exiled to Siberia twice. His grandson, Andrzej as well, the father of the later cardinal, married Stanisława Kossecka, who gave birth to four of his sons (Jozef Maria, Andrzej Maria, Stanislaw Maria, and Antoni Maria) and a daughter ‒ Wanda. The mother prayed for a calling for Andrzej. The first mass of a familiar priest was a very moving ceremony for the future cardinal, who was then eleven years old. He attended secondary school in Jasło and in Kielce. During the war, together with his younger brother, he helped Jewish people hiding in the forest by bringing them food and clothing. After the war, he stayed in contact with the rescued.

He attended vocational courses and underground education in Krakow, where he lived since 1940. On 1 July 1943, he passed his secondary school certificate and then began secret law studies at the Jagiellonian University. He was active in the student association "Bratniak" as a secretary (Karol Wojtyla was president). In September 1945, after receiving his Master’s degree in both laws ‒ Roman and Church ‒ he continued his studies at the Jagiellonian University at the Faculty of Theology, while being a seminarian of the theological seminary. In 1948, in fear of reprisals of the emerging Stalin era, Andrzej Deskur was sent by the Archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Adam Sapieha, to study in Fribourg in Switzerland. From there, he made contacts with the French Descours family. On 20 August 1950, he received Holy Orders from Archbishop of Lyon, Cardinal Pierre Gerliera, in the parish church of Saint-Bonnet-les-Oules (estates of his French family were located in this parish). From 1950 to 1952, he was a priest in Switzerland and France and, at the same time, he still studied.

In 1952, he received his doctorate at the University of Fribourg in Theology, with specialization in the field of moral and social theology. He never published his doctoral dissertation. He claimed that he was short of funds to do that, but it may also indicate that the scientific work was not the priority for the future cardinal. He did not develop his academic activity also in later years. Still, his extensive knowledge was used in a variety of ways when he worked in the Vatican.

After his studies, he could not return to Poland due to the Stalinist regime, and he was appointed by Pius XII to work in the Roman Curia, and started education at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy. In 1952, he became a clerk of the Pontifical Commission for Cinematography (later for Press, Radio, Cinema and Television; since 1964 it was the Commission for Social Communications, since 1988 ‒ Council). From 1955 to 1959 he was a vice-secretary, from 1959 to 1970 undersecretary, from 1970 to 1973 secretary, 1973-1984 president. Since 1956, Deskur was an honorary Papal Chamberlain of Pope Pius XII and, since 1958 of Pope John XXIII. In 1964 he became an honorary domestic prelate of His Holiness Pope Paul VI.

On 17 June 1974, he was appointed (ordinated on 30 June) a titular bishop of Tene, adopting the motto "Veritas vos liberabit". He was appointed Archbishop (15 February 1980) and later Cardinal (25 May 1985) by John Paul II, who as the titular church assigned him his earlier titular church San Cesareo in Palatio in Rome.

On 13 October 1978, bishop Deskur had a brain haemorrhage and since then he suffered from paralysis of the left side of the body, moving around in a wheelchair.

He is considered one of the most colourful figures of the Vatican. In relations with people, he was direct, natural, and witty. He used to tell reporters that he was in Rome as a form of payment by the Church in Poland of Peter’s Pence (the Communists did not allow to pay it). He accepted his suffering with great humility, spending 33 years in a wheelchair, and offering his disease for the Popes ‒ John Paul II and Benedict XVI. When asked about how he felt, he used to say: "just like the Colosseum: ruined but visited". He had a sense of obligation resulting from his nobility (nobles oblige). In his opinion, the nobility is a commitment to be noble ‒ to protect one’s faith, homeland, and the weaker. Cardinal Deskur wrote poetry (in 2005 the latest edition of his book of poetry entitled Sonety rzymskie [The Roman sonnets] was released).

He and Karol Wojtyła, later Pope John Paul II, were bound by a true friendship that began in Kraków and flourished in the Vatican. Cardinal Deskur was one of the closest advisers and associates of Pope, and a regular guest of his Sunday lunches. What particularly connected both priests was living out in practice of Vaticanum II, devotion to the Devine Mercy and a great tribute to Mary.

On 1 November 1946, a seminarian Deskur received his tonsure during the mass, when Karol Wojtyła was ordained a priest. After Wojtyła’s departure to Rome to study, and Deskur’s to Fribourg, their contacts loosened up, but they met occasionally, for example in 1950, together with Cardinal Sapieha, they participated in the audience with Pope Pius XII. They renewed their friendship in the context of the forthcoming Second Vatican Council in 1962. Deskur helped in preparation of the works of the commission working on the text of the Constitution Gaudium et spes. Wojtyła visiting Rome used to stay at the bishop Deskur in Palazzo San Carlo (and Deskur at his place in Kraków). Pope Paul VI Lent retreat teachings were prepared at Deskur’s and presented by Wojtyła in 1976. Future Cardinal Deskur introduced Wojtyła to different Vatican dignitaries. On 17 October 1978, shortly after his election, Pope John Paul II surprised the world when he paid a visit to sick Deskur in the hospital. From the beginning, he combined his friend’s disease with his pontificate, treating it as a sacrifice of suffering.

During the Communist period, he belonged to a small group of connectors between the Church in Poland and the Holy See, which was associated with the so-called Vatican’s Eastern policy. Among others, in 1967 and 1974, he accompanied a priest, later Bishop Agostino Casaroli, Secretary of the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church, during his trips to Poland (not only as an interpreter). Deskur was a Papal legate to international congresses (among others in Cologne in 1954, Havana 1957, Ottawa 1958, Manilia 1961, Dublin 1963, Munich 1964, New York 1965, La Valetta 1972).

From 1960 to 1962, he was a secretary of the Council Preparatory Secretariat for the Press and Entertainment, and from 1962 to 1965, as an expert, he worked in various committees (for Bishops, for the Clergy, for Laity, for the Press and Television). Among other endeavours, he helped to prepare the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et spes and a decree On the Means of Social Communication Inter mirifica. Deskur’s dedication to the Council was appreciated by Pope Paul VI, who invited him as one of the twelve distinguished priests to concelebrate the mass at the end of debates in December 1965.

Acting in the Council for Social Communications, he was a co-author of documents on the means of social communication (among others, Communio et progressio). He was responsible for implementation of the teachings of the Council (especially Inter mirifica), hence his many travels. In total, he visited more than 70 countries. One of his achievement was starting a catholic Radio Veritas that broadcast from the Philippines on the whole of Asia and Oceania. He initiated the first satellite transmissions from the Vatican. According to the words of Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, Cardinal Deskur “did a pioneering work. In a sense, he was a living history of reflection, structures and involvement of the Church in the preaching of Gospel in a new language of the media”. After his retirement in 1984 he advised his successors. He was also an adviser and a participant of the meetings of the Synod of Bishops from 1974 to 1983.

Cardinal Deskur was a member of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers, Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State, Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments; since 1988, a member of the Coordinating Committee for the Pontifical Academies. In retirement, he retained the honorary title of President of the Pontifical Commission (since 1988 ‒ Council) for Social Communications. He made a major contribution to the dissemination of the Divine Mercy cult, and to elevation to the altars of many Polish and other Saints. He also helped in establishing relations of the Holy See and Israel in 1993.

From 24 January 1987, Cardinal Deskur was a head of the Pontifical Academy of the Immaculate Conception (Pontificia Accademia dell’ Immacolata), the aim of which, among others, was to restore devotions to Mary. At the request of John Paul II, the Academy founded centres operating in the most important Marian Sanctuaries in Europe (the so-called Houses of Mary), whose task is to help the pilgrims.

On 15 November 1991, the Pontifical Academy of Theology awarded Cardinal Andrzej Deskur with the Honoris Causa Doctorate. From 31 October 1989, he held the position of Knight Grand Cross of Honour and Devotion in the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (earlier, from 27 June 1963, he was a Knight of Magistral Grace ad honorem). He was awarded, among others, with the Portuguese Cross of the Order of Prince Henry the Navigator, the French Legion of Honour (third class), the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, the Cross of the Knights of Columbus and the highest Polish national distinction - the Order of the White Eagle.

Cardinal Andrzej Deskur’s contribution to the development of theological reflection of the Church is mainly focused on the domain to which he has devoted most of his life, thus, to the role of mass media in the dissemination of the faith in the contemporary world. He significantly contributed to the creation of such documents as the Council Decree On the Means of Social Communication (Inter mirifica of 4 December 1963) or the Pastoral Instruction on the Means of Communications (Communio et progressio of 24 May 1971). The theological thought of Deskur expressed explicite may be found in his various statements, among others in articles and interviews to the press, for example to the Vatican L’Osservatore Romano or Polish Tygodnik Powszechny, introductions to church documents, books, prayer-books, or other short statements preserved in writing usually by other people. In his activities devoted to the Church, Cardinal Deskur was primarily a practitioner and did not leave behind any theoretical scientific or journalistic paper. Therefore, only an outline of some of Deskur’s theological thought may be presented on the basis of the statements mentioned above, made by him and the Church.

While discussing the Council Decree Inter mirifica in Polish edition of the Council documents1, Deskur emphasized that “the means of social communication of thoughts constitute a major constitutive component of the new civilization that is being born before our eyes and which the Church would like to make Christian”. Thus, it is impossible to separate the considerations on social communication of thoughts from their “natural context”, i.e. "from all issues of modern civilization and its trends, in which means of social communication of thoughts are efficient and influential bearers"2. As particularly important, Deskur recognized especially the parts of Inter mirifica where the issues of rights to information, relation between arts and morality or attitude towards moral evil are discussed. He also highlighted the fact that the means of social communication constitute providential tools that may be used for evangelisation in the rapidly demographically developing world. However, he also saw the threats ‒ in his opinion, their positive impact will not be possible without particularly deep formation, especially among young people, in the face of exceptional pressure of the media on moral and intellectual development of every human being3.

Those are the key issues in the social teaching of the Church concerning the role of the means of social communication in the contemporary world, developed also in other documents, especially the key document Communio et progressio, signed among others by Andrzej Deskur, then Secretary of the Commission for Social Communications. In his speeches, he stressed that these two words: “unification and advancement” best reflect the vision of the Council and its guidelines related to the dialogue, unity and aggiornamento of the Church with the contemporary world4. As can be read in the document: “In Christian Faith, the unity and brotherhood of man are the Chief aims of all communication and these find their source and model in the central mystery of the eternal communication between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who live a signal divine life”5. Due to the new technical possibilities offered by the modern communication, the unification can take place in a greater sense of community among people. But the lack of experience or good will can cause even more confusion and discord, especially when they “contradict and corrupt the fundamental values of human life”6. That is why it is so important for the Christian principles of social life to guide the use of the means of social communication. “Every communication must comply with certain essential requirements and these are sincerity, honesty and truthfulness”7. Better understanding of people through social communication serves “a deeper understanding and a greater sympathy between men, as well as fruitful cooperation in creative work”. Promotion of such unity is associated with the “innermost nature of the Church”, which is “by the relationship with Christ, both a sacramental sign and an instrument of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all mankind”8.

In his speeches, Deskur stressed that the Church has its own concept concerning the social role of the means of social communication, which he described as the “theory of the round table”. It assumes that both “«artists» and «informants» “as well as “«viewers» and «informed»” should actively participate “so that everyone could present to the society the important things they wanted to say”. For the Christians, it is “the joy of the Good News, which is the foundation of their optimistic view on the world, and is a gift of God”9.


E. K. Czaczkowska, Papież który uwierzył. Jak Karol Wojtyła przekonał Kościół do kultu Bożego Miłosierdzia, Kraków 2011.
Ks. A. Deskur, Wprowadzenie do Dekretu o środkach społecznego przekazywania myśli, w: Sobór Watykański II. Konstytucje dekrety, deklaracje. Tekst polski, Poznań 1968.
A. M. kard. Deskur, Sonety rzymskie, Izabelin-Warszawa 2005.
Kościół i „mass-media”. Rozmowa z księdzem biskupem Andrzejem Marią Deskurem, przewodniczącym Papieskiej Komisji dla spraw Przekazu Społecznego, „Tygodnik Powszechny” z 30 maja 1976 r.
Pastoral Instruction “Communio et progressio” on the means of social communication written by order of the Second Vatican Council, G. Polak, Jan Paweł II. Historie męskich przyjaźni, Warszawa 2011.
K. R. Prokop, Polscy kardynałowie, Kraków 2001.
D. Zsupan-Jerome, Connected toward Communion. The Church and Social Communication in the Digital Age, Collegeville 2014. [Recibido el 25 de noviembre de 2016].

1 See A. Deskur, Introduction to the Decree on the Means of Social Communication, in: The Second Vatican Council. Constitutions, decrees, declarations. Text in Polish, Poznań 1968, page 73.

2 Ibidem, p. 75.

3 Ibidem, p. 76.

4 See. D. Zsupan-Jerome, Connected toward Communion. The Church and Social Communication in the Digital Age, Collegeville 2014, p. 40.

5 Pastoral Instruction “Communio et progressio” on the means of social communication written by order of the Second Vatican Council (no. 8).

6 Ibidem, no. 9.

7 Ibidem, no. 17.

8 Ibidem, no. 18.

9 Church and "mass-media". Conversation with Bishop Andrzej Maria Deskur, president of the Pontifical Commission for Social Communications, Text in Polish,"Tygodnik Powszechny" of May 30, 1976., P. 1.

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