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Losing faith in the Polish church

The Polish church is losing members due to sex scandals and increasing secularism.

Senior clergymen made their preferences in the recent presidential elections pretty clear, stressing that voters should support the more Catholic of the two candidates and underlining the importance of not funding in vitro fertilization procedures. The obvious suggestion was for people to vote for Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the right-wing Law and Justice party, not Bronislaw Komorowski, the nominee of the centrist Civic Platform and the eventual winner of the election.

Some priests even told their parishioners how to vote in their Sunday sermons.

Those actions have prompted a sharp rebuke from Civic Platform, which until now had been almost as socially conservative and pro-church as Law and Justice.

“The church made a big mistake, crossing the boundary in political activism,” said Slawomir Nowak, the head of Komorowski's successful campaign. “ I regret that some priests confused the pulpit with a political podium.” 

In the Paetz sexual abuse case, Tomasz Polak, the priest who first filed the complaint against Paetz and then resigned, changing his last name from Weclawski, said the church's inability to deal with such a case  showed “the strength of the mechanism of avoidance and defense.” The Polish church's peculiar insulation from the trends that have affected religion in the rest of the world was quickly ending, he added.

The Polish church was the country's main defense during 45 years of Communist dictatorship. It allowed for the formation of a civic space uncontrolled by the Communists who were not powerful enough to destroy the church as they had in other Soviet bloc countries. Intellectuals and workers close to the church played a leading role in the formation of the Solidarity labor union 30 years ago. The church's position was further strengthened by the 1979 election of Karol Wojtyla, the archbishop of Krakow, as pope.

The loyalty given to the church for its past protection and the immense affection for Pope John Paul II helped protect the Polish church from the secularism of the rest of Europe. But following Poland's admission to the European Union in 2004 and the Polish pope's death in 2005, attendance at Sunday masses has been slowly dropping (although it is still much higher than in much of the rest of the continent), while the number of young men and women joining seminaries, monasteries and convents is falling steeply.