In comparison with other European countries, Poland still exhibits a high level of religious beliefs and attendance at religious services; but while criticism of the Catholic Church was associated with Communism in the 1990s, it is no longer the case with the younger generation. This is especially true for those linked to the new left, which associates church criticism with wider social and political discussions, writes Cezary Koscielniak in Religion & Gesellschaft (February).
Until he passed away in 2005, Pope John Paul II had a special meaning for most Poles: they tended to see him as their leader; even the party of the former Communists had enthusiastically welcomed him during his 1999 visit to the Polish Parliament. The signing of a Concordat between the state and the Holy See in 1993 seemed to be self-evident, allowing for wide control of the church in matters of confessional religious teachings and theological departments at state universities.
Only today, 20 years later, does the political opposition question its provisions. In the political sphere, two secular-oriented movements are active: firstly, the party of the former Communists (27 seats), although it has avoided letting frictions within the Catholic Church lead to open confrontation. Secondly, the Palikot movement obtained 40 seats in the 2011 elections: one of its main goals is to put an end to the special position of the Roman Catholic Church (including banning religious teaching at state schools).
Palikot members are aggressively anticlerical, staging, for instance, demonstrations supporting “debaptization.” Interestingly, its leader used to be an active Catholic (and even the publisher of a Catholic weekly) a few years earlier. Yet recent surveys indicate that the Palikot movement would probably no longer manage to gain seats in Parliament if elections were held today. According to Koscielniak, for most Polish citizens, religious questions do not take a central place, especially at a time of economic difficulties.
On the one hand, despite full churches, it is difficult for the Catholic Church to convince Poles to follow its moral rules. But, on the other hand, there is a network of charitable and educational Catholic institutions that are valued even by non-believers: few would want to put an end to those services. A current of “national Catholicism,” mixing religion and politics, remains strong in Poland. But today most people would not accept a priest in political office, and political statements from bishops have little real impact.
Christianity is alive and well in Poland, but the progress of political secularization cannot be denied.Meanwhile, a study by sociologist Lukasz Kutylo suggests that the steady decline in participation in the Catholic Church in Poland may be more because of dissatisfaction with the church and its political role than a loss of religious belief or secularization. In an article in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Religious Research (Volume 9, Article 2), Kutylo writes that there is a growing gap between the percentage of Poles who believe in God and the percentage who take part in religious services.
He finds that the percentage of Poles who believe in God in both Polish surveys and the European Values Survey has changed little; in 1997, 61 percent said they believe in God without any doubts; in 2009 this percentage was only one point lower. Kutylo finds that parish offerings (such as pilgrimages and youth activities) became less attractive to churchgoers between 2005 and 2008, and argues that the church is increasingly perceived as a bureaucratic institution and less as a community that unites its members.
(Interdisciplinary Journal of Religious Research, http://www.religjournal.com)