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Poland's census just revealed a massive drop in Catholicism
The most religious European country is struggling to keep people in the Catholic Church
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Between 2011 and 2021, the percentage of Catholics in Poland dropped from 88% to 71.3%. That’s according to recently released census data declaring that 27.1 million people in Poland belong to the Roman Catholic Church, down from 33.7 million people a decade earlier.
The percentage of “Nones” has jumped to 6.9%, nearly tripling the percentage from 2011 when it was 2.4%.
Perhaps even more significant? In 2011, only 7.1% of people refused to answer the question about religion. That number has jumped to 20.5%, and you have to imagine a lot of those people are either no longer comfortable declaring themselves to be Catholic or they’re non-religious and don’t want to admit it.
The website Notes from Poland highlights another surprising takeaway: Muslims are now outnumbered by literal Pastafarians.
Meanwhile, the number belonging to the Muslim Religious Union (2,209) was smaller than the number identifying as Pastafarians (2,312) – followers of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a parody religion.
None of this should surprise those who have watched the cultural shifts in the country over the past several years. In 2021, the Catholic Church in Poland admitted that in the three years prior, since July of 2018, they had heard new complaints against 292 clergy members who allegedly abused 368 children—nearly half of whom were under the age of 15—over the course of 62 years. The Church’s previous report, covering allegations they learned about between 1990 and 2018, implicated 382 priests who allegedly abused 625 victims. There were also two eye-popping documentaries about Catholic Church abuse released by Polish filmmakers, raising even more awareness of the Church’s crimes.
Then you have the authoritarian government’s hard-right policies on matters of civil rights and abortion, which align with Catholic doctrine, and it’s easy to see why so many decent people would feel alienated from the faith, even in the most Catholic country in Europe:
The archbishop of Kraków called the LGBTQ community a “rainbow plague”, and the church’s hardline conservative stance on women’s rights clearly influenced the recent near-total ban on abortion imposed by the constitutional tribunal of Poland.
It seems that, through its political impact and close affiliation with the governing coalition, the Catholic church in Poland has accelerated the cultural and generational shift against religious conservatism.
Writing for OnlySky last year, Marta Trzebiatowska pointed out that the drop in religious affiliation was especially evident among younger people:
Gen Z (born in or after 1997) appear to be the driving force behind the rising declarations of non-belief. According to the Pew Research Center’s report from 2018, the gap in religiosity between the young and the elderly in Poland was one of the two largest in the world, with only 16% of under-40s claiming religion was very important, compared to 40% of the older cohort. The results of a cohort analysis by CBOS also reveal the most rapid rise in nonbelief among the Gen Z between 2015 and 2021. In 2015, 15% of 18- to 24-year-olds declared themselves to be non-believers, and by 2021 that percentage had nearly doubled to 28.6%.
Almost a third of the youngest generation of Poles are now nonbelievers.
At this point, many of the people who identify as Catholics are doing it for cultural reasons, or convenience, rather than genuine faith, which means they’re far more likely to walk away when their personal ethics go against Church dogma.
Last month, the Polish Catholic news agency KAI and the Institute for the Legacy of Polish National Thought (IDMN) released a report called “Church in Poland 2023” that described the obvious problems facing Catholicism in the years ahead. Here’s how Pillar Catholic summarized the findings:
The report, which is issued annually, noted that the number of people describing themselves as regular practitioners of the faith had fallen by more than a third in the past two decades.
According to Poland’s Institute for Catholic Church Statistics (ISKK), the proportion of Poles attending Sunday Mass has fallen from 47% at the turn of the millennium to 28% today.
The report summary suggested that the decline in religious practice among young people was so severe that “one can even speak of a disruption of the intergenerational transmission of faith, which until now has been one of the hallmarks of Polish identity.”
It’s an important point: If younger Catholics are walking away from the Church, they’re not very likely to indoctrinate their own children into the faith, which takes away the most powerful weapon the Church has to keep people in the fold. Even the number of people choosing to enroll in seminary has dropped from 6,800 in 2000 to 1,900 today. Why choose the priesthood when the Church is responsible for so much suffering? At least in the past, those younger Catholics could have looked up to Pope John Paul II who hailed from Poland; hard to imagine anyone’s looking to the Vatican for inspiration these days.
If this is what’s happening in one of the most Catholic countries in the world, it’s easy to see why the Church is struggling to maintain relevance everywhere else. On many of the most pressing moral issues of our time, the Catholic Church has taken the more evil path, leaving behind scores of women, LGBTQ people, and the people who love them.
By refusing to rethink their beliefs, and maintaining firm support for faith-based cruelty, Church leaders have no one to blame but themselves for their own decline.
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