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KRAKÓW, Poland (ChurchMilitant.com) - Sunday Mass attendance is nosediving in the predominantly Catholic nation of Poland.
The Institute for Catholic Church Statistics — a Polish organization — recently published its latest numbers, reporting that regular Sunday Mass attendance by Catholics fell from 36.9% in 2019 to 28.3% in 2021. The number of Mass-going Catholics receiving Holy Communion also fell, from 16.7% in 2019 to 12.9% in 2021. Due to global COVID hysteria, the study was not conducted in 2020.
Although the report largely faults COVID lockdowns, church closures and mandatory capacity limits, it does admit "sociocultural factors" have played a role in the decline.
Despite the fact that nearly 93% of Poles identify as Catholic, Sunday Mass attendance in Poland has been declining ever since the early 1980s.
There are two chief reasons the Polish population is falling away from the Church. One is misperceptions held by faithful Catholics about the hierarchy. The other is a growing desire among the populace — especially youth — for nihilistic liberalism.
Last year, as part of their synodal listening process, Poland's bishops found that there was a strong and growing divide between Polish Catholics and the clergy.
According to the synodal report, Polish Catholics found that the Church "triggers frustration among its members, as it rather resembles a mismanaged institution than a community with charismatic leaders."
While some of the Polish Synodal report's findings mirrored those of other countries (e.g., the call for women to hold more prominent roles), Polish Catholics also expressed a deep sense of hurt and betrayal over ongoing sex abuse scandals and the Polish Church's perceived proximity to the ruling political coalition, the Law and Justice Party (known by its Polish acronym "PiS").
Sex abuse scandals have been one cause of growing mistrust amongst the laity. The revelation that even one of Poland's national heroes, Pope St. John Paul II, shuffled abusive priests was especially damning.
Many Polish Catholics also misperceive the Church as too close to the ultra-conservative Law and Justice Party.
The misperception was bolstered by a speech that was made during Mass by Law and Justice chairman Jarosław Kaczyński. Although the speech upheld Catholic social teaching and condemned such evils as abortion and communism, many felt it was a clear example of partisan bias.
Catholic journalist Marcin Przeciszewski recently attempted to correct this misperception, explaining:
[T]here is a stereotype in Poland, widely relayed by the media, according to which the Polish Church is affiliated to this political power – which is not necessarily a reality. But as a result, people who are opposed to political power will tend to reject the Catholic Church, to move away from it. This stereotype is therefore very destructive for the faith of the Poles.
While the division between laity and clergy may be a fissure, there are cracks forming even among Poland's episcopate.
Archbishop Wojciech Polak, the primate of Poland, and Kraków's Abp. Marek Jędraszewski have expressed conflicting views on the decline in Mass attendance. Polak contends that sex abuse scandals and the perception that the Church abuses Her power are the chief reasons Catholics are falling away. Jędraszewski, however, faulted Draconian pandemic measures, the growing use of technology and the allure Western liberalism holds for Polish youth.
Poland's population is essentially politically divided in half. One half adheres to moral conservatism and promulgates Catholic social principles politically. The other half is drawn to Western liberalism and views a Catholic-allied state as repressive.
Since the 19th century, the Catholic Church in Poland has had moral authority throughout society, in the eyes of the most fervent believers and atheists alike. But for about ten years, this authority has been called into question. First with global societal changes and the process of Western secularization in which Poland in turn is part. ... And especially with the cases of abuse and the fact that certain bishops hid these cases.
For both factions, the Church in Poland has lost some or all of its moral authority. The more conservative faction finds itself justly appalled at the cover-up of clerical sex abuse, while the liberal faction points to the scandals as a reason to finally be freed of the "shackles" of Catholicism.
Among the liberal faction, the Church's pro-life stance is viewed as perhaps one of its most glaring faults. A poll in November found that 66% of respondents among the Polish public supported expanding abortion access. Among 18–29-year-olds, support stood at 90%. A more recent survey reports that nearly 70% of Polish women do not want children, and only 17% definitively do.
The Church's support for a 2021 abortion ban sparked widespread protests, led mostly by young women.
In 2020, Poland's bishops warned that this liberal-fueled exodus from the Church is comprised predominantly of young people. A poll posted in 2019 by Pew Research showed the truth of the bishops' warning, reporting that "young adults in Poland are considerably less likely than their elders to say religion is very important in their lives, to go to church weekly or to pray daily."
Under Soviet rule, the Catholic Church led the charge against communist oppression, but, just as in the West, nihilistic liberalism — with its trappings of abortion, contraception, and homosexuality — is proving a far more cancerous enemy.