Faced with the departure of young people, Polish Catholics between progressivism and reaction [OPINION]


"The young people who take my classes can barely say who Adam and Eve are," admits Dawid Gospodarek, a journalist for the Catholic Press Agency, who provides lessons in ethics and religious culture in a Warsaw high school.

The finding seems paradoxical for one of the most Catholic countries in Europe: 84% of Poles declare themselves to be Catholic, 42% practicing, according to the latest estimates from the polling institute CBOS.

However, these figures cover a creeping secularization movement, particularly clear among young people.

Between 1992 and 2021, the proportion of practitioners among 18-24 year olds fell from 69 to 23%, according to the CBOS.

"The Polish Church played a crucial role in the emancipation vis-à-vis the communist regime in the 1980s. It retains a posture of superiority, and a frozen structure which refuses modernization", indicates Stanislaw Obirek, Jesuit, theologian and anthropologist at the University of Warsaw.

“Poles who grew up in an open society no longer recognize themselves there,” he says.

Young people are massively turning their backs on an institution said to be “in crisis”, tainted by the revelation of cascading sex scandals, and by interdependencies with political power that some qualify as toxic.

Symptom of this trend: the former Pope John Paul II, tutelary authority of Polish Catholicism whose monuments swarm in the public space, is the subject of countless corrosive memes.

The number 2137, which refers to the time of the pontiff's death in 2005, has become, on social networks, the code of a latent irony on the memory hype relating to his figure.

mockery and memes

For young practitioners, displaying one's faith is no longer the norm.

"It's impossible for me to talk about religion with my friends, because they make fun of me, find it 'corny'," sighs Weronika Grabowska.

This 25-year-old economics student only found her spiritual fulfillment in adulthood, in the ecumenical community of Taizé and among the Dominicans of Warsaw, reputed to be more open.

She remembers, moreover, the “spiritually empty” masses of her adolescence, and the out of phase speeches, vertically delivered by the clerks.

“If a priest reproached me for living with my partner without being married, I would be saddened. Then I would look elsewhere,” explains Ms. Grabowska.

Sexuality and reproductive rights underpin much of the tension between church and society.

Related to these, LGBTQI+ issues are an emerging subject.

"In the 1990s, homosexuality was taken for a pure invention of the decadent West", says Robert Samborski, a former seminarian, directed at 18 to the priesthood "by default, as we directed young men who did not not interested in women.

"LGBTQI+ people have been more visible for a few years, which has made the homophobic speeches of the Church inaudible" advances the one who has since lost his faith, and "encountered Love not with Jesus, but in the arms of a man ".

R. Samborski, like many commentators, predicts the collapse of the institution.

Struggle and pessism

Some groups of believers nevertheless intend to work for the evolution of Polish Catholicism.

Among these, the Congress of Catholics advocates a liberal approach to religion, and contests clerical hegemony in Poland.

The reflections of its members are more readily aligned with the postures of openness initiated under the pontificate of Pope Francis.

Some look to progressive German Catholics, lately noted for their rebellious outbursts: preaching women or blessing gay couples.

“I would like the German Catholic Church to adopt me,” jokes Uschi Pawlik, a bisexual Catholic, active in the Faith and the Rainbow foundation.

Like many, she says she is “not very optimistic” about the future of Polish Catholicism and its ability to reform.

Clear message strength

Not all young believers necessarily assimilate to progressivism. Some, on the contrary, cling to an inveterate vision of the world, and see Poland as the last bastion of Catholicism.

Piotr Ulrich, a 22-year-old organist, is a follower of the Tridentine liturgy, practiced in a few rare Warsaw parishes: the mass is dispensed there in Latin, with the priest's back to the assembly.

The condemnation of extra-marital relations, homosexuality, abortion and in vitro fertilization are not subject to any debate.

The young organist doubts the “messianic role of Poland for Christianity”, but firmly declares that “the strength of the Church must reside in the diffusion of a clear message, not in the dilution of its identity”.

Nell Bleeds (with AFP)

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Summary of news for September 22, 2023

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