Young Poles abandon ‘frozen’ Catholic church

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Warsaw (AFP) – It is still one of the most Catholic countries in Europe, but Poland is experiencing rapid secularization, especially among younger generations.

“The children in my classes hardly know who Adam and Eve were,” said Dawid Gospodarek, a journalist with the Catholic News Agency who teaches ethics and religious culture at a school in Warsaw.

According to the latest polls by the CBOS institute, 84% of Poles say they are Catholic and 42% say they practice.

Among 18-24 year olds, only 23% say they practice, compared to 69% in 1992.

Theologian and anthropologist Stanislaw Obirek says the Church has lost its relevance for young people due to a refusal to move with the times.

“The Polish Church played a crucial role in the liberation from communist rule in the 1980s,” said Obirek from the University of Warsaw.

“He retains a superior attitude and a fixed hierarchy that rejects modernization,” he said.

“Poles who grew up in an open society no longer identify with it.”

“Spiritually Empty”

Young people are increasingly turning away from an institution often perceived as in crisis, undermined by revelations of sexual abuse and accusations of intertwining with political authorities.

A symptom of this trend is the mockery of the late Pope John Paul II, an emblematic figure of Polish Catholicism whose statues dot the country.

The number 2137 – the exact time of his death in 2005 at the age of 84 – has become an ironic code on social media to mock the Polish pontiff.

For young people who go to church, talking about faith is no longer considered normal.

“It’s impossible for me to talk about religion with my friends because they laugh at me,” said Weronika Grabowska, a 25-year-old economics student.

Grabowska recalls the “spiritually empty” masses of her childhood with old-fashioned sermons.

“If a priest reproached me for living with my partners without being married, I would be sad. So I would look elsewhere,” she says.

Sexuality and reproductive rights are one of the points of tension between the Church and society.

“In the 1990s, homosexuality was seen as an invention of the decadent West,” said Robert Samborski, a former seminarian who lost his faith.

Like many, Samborski was sent to the seminary “like other young men who are not interested in women”.

“LGBTQ+ people have been more visible in recent years, which makes the Church’s homophobic discourse unacceptable,” Samborski said.

Reform or tradition?

While Samborski and others predict a collapse of the Polish Catholic Church, some believers hope for reform of the institution.

The Catholic organization Congress advocates a more liberal approach to religion and challenges clerical hegemony in Poland.

Its members align more with the more open approach of Pope Francis and progressive German Catholics, who have for example allowed blessings for same-sex couples in church.

“I would like to be adopted by the German Catholic Church,” said Uschi Pawlik, a bisexual Catholic who works at the Faith and Rainbow foundation.

She is “little optimistic” about the future of Polish Catholicism and its ability to reform.

Other groups of believers have more traditional views and see Poland as the last bastion of Catholicism.

Piotr Ulrich, a 22-year-old organist, attends the Latin mass practiced in certain parishes in Warsaw.

In its circles, the condemnation of sexual relations before marriage, homosexuality, abortion and in vitro fertilization are not debated.

Ulrich said Poland has a “messianic role” for Christianity and that the power of the Church lies “in spreading a clear message and not in diluting its identity”.

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