Atheists Haven’t Forgotten Poland

I’ve mentioned in the past that as the Catholic church dwindles and ages, it’s increasingly having trouble finding enough people who want to join the priesthood, and it’s relying heavily on the few Catholic-majority countries remaining, such as Poland, that are net exporters of priests. At the time, I mused:

Even former Catholic strongholds such as Italy and Spain, the article points out, have only a 10-20% rate of church attendance. In this respect, it seems that Europe is leading the way; now only if we can make headway in Poland, the Vatican’s last European stronghold, the results might truly be worth seeing.

Well, what do you know: it looks like the gods of atheism have answered my prayers! (I knew that extra burnt offering would do the trick.)

“It seems we are Catholics in a cultural way; we identify as Catholic, but do not attend church,” said Tomasz Terlikowski, editor of Fronda, a conservative Catholic magazine, who said he was upset with what he called the lack of effective church leadership against the secular tide.

Mr. Terlikowski said he was astounded when he heard that church leaders in Poland were so frustrated with what was being said about the church in the national newspapers that they ordered their staff members to stop bringing them the papers.

This article observes that Poland, in recent years, is experiencing the same secularizing trend we’ve seen in other European countries. A majority of Poles still identify as Catholic for cultural reasons, but church attendance is plummeting, the influence of church leaders is waning, and large majorities reject the church’s harmful and archaic moral beliefs. In major cities like Warsaw and Krakow, church attendance has fallen as low as 20 percent, similar to the numbers in other former Catholic strongholds like Italy and Spain.

The papacy of John Paul II, who was hugely popular in his native country, probably masked this trend for a while. But since his death, the church has grown more rigid and doctrinaire, and Poles’ warm feelings are beginning to ebb. A key turning point was the Vatican’s recent, shockingly heavy-handed intrusion into Polish politics over in vitro fertilization. When Parliament took up a proposal to regulate the popular procedure, bishops demanded that it be banned and openly threatened to excommunicate any politician who didn’t fall in line. Even Poland’s center-right government was disgusted by this naked attempt at blackmail:

A spokesman for the centre-right government, Pawel Gras, said: “The threats and attempts to blackmail are amazing.”

…Prime Minister Donald Tusk said politicians were responsible to citizens, not the Church hierarchy.

On behalf of the atheist movement, I’d love to take credit for the decline of the Catholic church in Poland. I’d love to say that our slashing rhetorical attacks and dazzling wit are persuading people to quit the church in droves. But the truth is that they brought it on themselves. With their clumsy and brutish intrusions into politics, with their arrogant demands that Polish people put their own opinions and moral beliefs aside and bow down before their betters, they’ve shown themselves to be a gang of thugs and bullies, and the people are responding accordingly. But even if atheists didn’t have anything to do with this, we can take heart: even as the church shrinks and fades, it steadfastly refuses to change course, continuing to confidently steer its way into irrelevance.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.