The very future of Catholic Poland darkens with the publication of the latest statistics relating to the religious practice of young people and the attendance of religious classes in schools. The Catholic hierarchy no longer hesitates to speak of a “devastating decline.”
In Poland, religion classes, i.e. the teaching of Christian doctrine with textbooks and teachers chosen by the Catholic hierarchy, are an integral part of the public education system.
From 2019, the Warsaw Education Office, a branch of the National Education Ministry, began to collect data relating to participation in these catechism classes. At that time, it emerged that 78% of primary school students and 44% of secondary school students attended these classes. In 2021, the figures fell to 72% and 33% respectively.
But in 2022, 67% of primary and 29% of secondary school students took catechism classes. This is an even greater drop if we look at the technical stream and the commercial stream, where only 23% of students still attend doctrine classes. There were twice as many just a year ago.
If Polish society has tended up until now to secularize slowly but surely, this pace has been accelerating for several years, well orchestrated by opponents of the Church who have seen a real godsend for their cause in the cases of abuse committed by clerics and in the rejection of progressive reforms.
In an interview with the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, Fr. Rafal Kowalski, spokesman for the Episcopal Curia of Wroclaw, the third largest city in the country, admits that the public image of the Church has deteriorated significantly: “The Church is now seen as an intolerant institution, linked to political power, and damaged by scandals.”
And the priest added: “After the Constitutional Court’s decision [to write an almost total ban on abortion in the stone of the fundamental law of the country], we were inundated with a wave of departures from the Church and desertions from catechism classes at school.”
Moreover, shortly after the high magistrates’ decision, a poll revealed that only 9% of young Poles had a positive opinion of the Catholic Church.
For Grzegorz Rys, Archbishop of Lodz, it is no longer a time for words: “We are facing a wave of apostasy that is growing ever more extensive,” recognizes the prelate.
We can console ourselves by saying that adults are still largely attached to Catholicism, and that a majority of young children, pushed by their parents, still attend catechism classes: 42% of adult Poles thus claim to practice the faith every Sundays by going to church—even if it is notable that large cities now have a growing proportion of non-practitioners.
But the Polish prelates understand that this is window dressing. The Primate of Poland, Msgr. Wojciech Polak, lucidly admitted to the “devastating decline” of religious practice among young people, which bodes ill for the future of the Church in the country.