The Polish Church is spiralling into a deep crisis, with just 9% of young people there saying they have a positive view of the institution.

– Poll: 47% of 18-29-year-olds openly negative about Church, 44% neutral

Last week IBRiS conducted a poll for the Rzeczpospolita newspaper, putting the question to citizens: “How would you assess your attitude towards the Catholic Church in Poland?”

35% of respondents overall said they had a positive view of the Church, 32% a negative view and 31% of people said that they were neutral.

Among the 18-29-year-old demographic, however, things were rather different: 47% of respondents said that they view the Church negatively, 44% were neutral and just 9% assessed the institution positively.

Though 90% of Poles are officially Catholic and over 80% of people there identify as believers, thE Catholic majority in the country is increasingly under threat as an ever-wider gap with regard to faith opens up between older and younger generations.

A 2018 Pew Research Center survey found 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”.

Data published in March 2020 by the government agency Statistics Poland confirmed that trend, finding that while 51% of those over 75 and 41% of 55-64 year-olds were strongly or moderately committed to their faith, the number of committed Catholics dropped to 17% of people in the 25-34 age bracket and to 18% of those aged between 16-25.

Figures like those led Catholic pundit Tomasz Terlikowski to tell the Rzeczpospolita paper that the Church’s crisis of confidence among the young “is not particularly surprising”. “The Church has been losing its authority for a long time”, Terlikowski rued.

– Anger at sex abuse crisis casts shadow even over legacy of John Paul II

The Polish Church has found itself in the eye of a hurricane in recent weeks as it battles a multitude of scandals over its LGBTQ-phobia, over clergy sex abuse and cover-ups and over its support for a controversial near-total ban on abortion imposed by the country’s Constitutional Tribunal.

A key figure in the Polish Church’s sex abuse crisis – former Archbishop of Wroclaw Cardinal Henryk Gulbinowicz – died this Monday ten days after being punished by the Vatican for the abuse of minors, homosexual activity and collaboration with the communist-era secret security service.

But Gulbinowicz’s death did not come before the Archdiocese of Wroclaw was forced to apologise for the crimes of its former leader, releasing a statement to say it was “deeply pained” that people had been “seriously harmed” by the cardinal’s crimes.

No fewer than 20 Polish bishops are now under investigation for abuse and/or cover-ups, including Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz – the long-time secretary to Pope John Paul II (1996-2005) and later Archbishop of Krakow (2005-2016).

Dziwisz has denied claims made on Polish TV that he covered up for pedophile priests and also received money from the Legionaries of Christ order of notorious abuser Marcial Maciel.

The cardinal has also rejected accusations arising from the report the Vatican released last week on molester former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and specificially that Dziwisz played a key role in McCarrick’s 2000 elevation to the archdiocese of Washington.

But that last scandal swirling around the figure of McCarrick is also threatening to sully the legacy of the Polish Church’s most illustrious son, John Paul II.

After the Vatican report into McCarrick admitted that the Polish pope personally appointed the former cardinal to Washington in defiance of warnings about his sexual misconduct that he received from both sides of the Atlantic, many are wondering now whether John Paul II wasn’t canonised too soon.

Among the reflections offered by numerous theologians, commentators and media outlets, perhaps the most eloquent expression of the doubts around the late pope came in an anonymous protest in Warsaw, where activists stickered over a John Paul II Avenue street sign to make it read “Victims of John Paul II Avenue”.

More stories on Novena on the Polish Church:

It’s not just McCarrick: Record of John Paul II on abuse comes under scrutiny in Poland, France

Church faces reckoning on clergy sex abuse in Poland, France with punishment of cardinal, publication of new report

Majority of Poles – even Catholics – think Church plays negative role in public life: survey

Polish priest admits Church “has made mistakes” in abortion debate, calls on Bishops to apologise for role in social unrest

“Revolution is a woman”: Poland erupts in mass protests over near-total abortion ban


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Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.