The Polish Church has plunged to new lows in public trust, and priests are knocking door-to-door for donations.

Driving the news

A IBRiS opinion research institute poll for the newspaper Rzeczpospolita out January 28 revealed that just 39.5% of Poles trust the Catholic Church.

That’s a plunge of over 13 percentage points in a little over two years, from September 2017.

It’s also almost half the level of support for the Polish Church as the Polish population expresses in the European Union (68%), the army (67.7%) and NATO (66.4%).

In fact, the results of the IBRiS poll put the Polish Church on the same level of trust as the government (30.5%) or the country’s Constitutional Tribunal (32.5%).

Both of those institutions are currently under intense scrutiny for controversial legislative reforms which critics – including European Commission Vice President Věra Jourová – fear may undermine the rule of law.

Indeed, according to the IBRiS pollsters, the Polish Church has seen the greatest loss of confidence within the past two and a half years among the ten institutions surveyed.

Go deeper

What explains this dramatic loss of confidence in the Church on the part of the Polish people?

One factor that certainly doesn’t seem to be helping is that a church in Białystok, in Poland’s north-east, has published guidelines on its website reminding that donations are customary when priests from the parish come knocking for their annual post-Christmas visit, as Notes from Poland reports.

The post-holiday pastoral visit – known as kolęda – is traditional in Poland, so it is to be expected that other churches in other places outside of Białystok are also rattling the tin at parishioners’ front doors.

That along with warning that people who refuse to open the door to the priest are closing the door to the Church and “agreeing to being refused all future pastoral services”.

Why it matters

The Białystok parish guidelines for pastoral visits also contain a series of instructions from how to dress for the priest – in “formal attire with shoes, not slippers” or least of all barefoot, “an expression of the highest contempt” – to what to talk about – “the problems of the family, but also about issues concerning our parish community and our fatherland”.

“Dogs should be locked away in an appropriate room beforehand”, the guidelines continue, warning that canine contact with a cleric “is not a welcoming gesture, but a sign of neglect from the hosts”.

Priests’ contact with children, though, is not only welcome but in fact mandated, with the Białystok parish guidelines stating that “all members of the household should be present” for the cleric’s visit, and young family members not allowed to leave for the duration.

Children should also prepare lessons from the Catechism in order to show the priest their learning, the guidelines stipulate.

For the record

The issue of church donations is without a doubt, though, the most controversial aspect to the Polish parish’s pastoral visit protocol.

So much so, that the Białystok parish actually encourages Catholics to give two envelopes to their priest: one for the cleric himself, “and another for the church”, which currently requires “much maintenance work” after having suffered a fire in 2013.

It’s not the first time the Białystok church is shaking down its people for money.

In 2018, for example, the parish sent out a debt-collection style notice to congregants reminding them of “overdue voluntary” donations.

The same church has also been in the headlines for its controversial recommendations on how to dress appropriately for Mass, “especially women sitting in the front pews”, who should refrain from “wearing a short dress or skirt” so as not to “disturb[] those conducting the service”.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.