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Meet Poland's Pat Robertson

Despite anti-Semitic comments, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk has expanded his media empire.

Pope Benedict XVI blesses Father Tadeusz Rydzyk during a meeting at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome on Aug. 5, 2007. (Osservatore Romano/Reuters)

TORUN, Poland — Normally, priests are supposed to be warm and compassionate types, but when Father Tadeusz Rydzyk spied a blazer-wearing stranger standing next to the group of school children he was greeting he had only two words: “Get Out!”

That has been Rydzyk’s normal approach to any reporters he does not control, but that prickliness has not prevented him from building one of Poland’s most powerful media and business empires.

His kingdom is built around the Radio Maryja network, broadcasting from the central Polish city of Torun, and recently expanded to include a television station (Trwam) and a daily newspaper (Nasz Dziennik), as well as a university.

The radio station has been enormously controversial because of the occasionally anti-Semitic comments made by some of the station’s guests and the people who call in to the station’s live programs.

Although occasional comments denying the Holocaust have made the station an object of international condemnation, that has probably helped Radio Maryja and Rydzyk cement a unique place in right-wing Polish politics.

The radio only has about 2 percent of Polish radio listeners, who tune in to prayers, sermons and religious songs. About 70 percent of those listeners are over 60 years old, most are women and many are not well-educated, but they are enormously loyal both to the radio station and to Rydzyk. Blue and white Radio Maryja posters adorn many parish churches, especially in smaller towns and villages. Rydzyk's opponents deride Radio Maryja listeners as “Mohair Berets” for the fuzzy headgear favored by the elderly women who form his core audience, but for them the Redemptorist priest is the only person reaching out to an otherwise forgotten segment of Polish society, left behind by the enormous changes of the 20 years since the end of Communism.

Even gaffes like his recent comment to a black priest: “Oh my God, look at him, he hasn’t washed at all,” do not sway Rydzyk's avid fans.

He has translated that devotion into political power, especially evident during the previous government of the right-wing Law and Justice party, which lost power in 2007. During its spell in government, ministers were frequent guests on the station, and Rydzyk was so powerful that when a new governing coalition was formed, only reporters from his outlets were invited to witness the official formation of the new government.