A Polish monastic order has defended its decision to bar a former superior-general from speaking to the media, despite a protest against the decision from thousands of the priest's supporters.

"Like all monks, the Marians take three community vows: chastity, poverty and obedience - no Marian can be the property of a TV station or editoral board, or of an institution or office," the Rev. Pawel Naumowicz, the head of Poland's Order of Marian Priests, wrote in an open letter.

The order was reacting to an Nov. 11 petition urging the withdrawal of a media ban on the Rev. Adam Boniecki.

On Oct. 31, Boniecki told a TV interviewer that he believed debates touched off by a new anti-clerical political party were "needed by the church, since it must be aware that, outside the circle of its friends and faithful, there are very many people in society who view the church very critically." The party came in third in October's parliamentary elections and has demanded the removal of a cross from the Polish parliament.

In another TV interview, he said he believed a Polish bishop had "over-reacted" by calling on Roman Catholics to withold their state TV license fee to protest the appearance of an allegedly satanist rock star on a music program.

Naumowicz said in his Nov. 18 letter that it was up to the order to decide on each member's "conditions of apostolic work," adding that he was not obliged to give any reason for the gagging order other than to the order's current superior-general or the Vatican. He announced the ban on Nov. 3.

Boniecki, 77, a prominent media personality, retired last January after 12 years as editor of Poland's Catholic Universal Weekly newspaper. He headed the Marian order in 1993-2000 and founded a Polish edition of the Vatican's L'Osservatore Romano (Roman Observer) daily in the 1980s at the request of then-Pope John Paul II.

The ban was deplored by Universal Weekly's current editor, Piotr Mucharski, who said it would "make a fool of the church," as well as by the priest-director of Religia.TV, Kazimierz Sowa, who criticized the Marians for "treating a priest of such age and experience like a schoolboy."

Meanwhile, in their petition, the Roman Catholic signers said Boniecki was well known as "a guide for a great many people," adding that the gagging order contradicted an appeal by John Paul II to "build a culture of dialogue and understanding."

"Acting against this spirit strengthens a false image of the church ... in which subservience and captivity are held up over the power of truth and responsibility," said the document, signed by 7,860 lay Catholics, including editors of Roman Catholic magazines.

--Nov. 21, 2011