The Future Of Polish Catholicism
I made a quick trip to Warsaw this weekend to speak at a conference. After my panel, I went out for a beer with some Polish Catholics, all faithfully orthodox. Once again, I heard a thing that I truly hate to hear about Poland: that Catholicism is in serious decline. Once again, I heard young Polish Catholics forecasting that their country is going to go the way of Ireland in short order.
I find this so hard to wrap my mind around, growing up as I did in the era of John Paul II, and having come to really like and admire Polish people. But I've heard this same claim so many times, from young Catholics who don't want it to be true, but who say the signs are everywhere. (Apostasy has accelerated in the past couple of years, in reaction to stricter abortion laws.)
Anti-Christian acts are becoming more common. One young woman told me that she's part of a community of young adult Catholics in the arts. She said that one of their group, an actress, was told by her theatrical director to participate in an exercise in which the director projected an image of the naked Christ onto the screen behind her, and she was instructed to improvise as if she were sexually aroused by Jesus's body. The young woman who related the story told me this kind of thing happens more and more here.
Mostly, though, the people with whom I spoke said that interest in Christianity is simply no longer there. I asked them why. We didn't have as long to talk as I would have liked -- a couple of them were rushing off to late mass -- but the consensus around the table was that the institutional church was failing. I mentioned to them something that a now-deceased prominent Benedictine monk near Krakow had told me in 2019: that the "vainglory of the bishops" (his phrase) was chiefly responsible for the decline. Lots of nodding heads around the table.
One woman complained that the clergy are just going through the motions. "The priests tell us what to do and what not to do, but there's nothing more behind it," she said.
A man agreed saying that priests act like what I have called before "managers of the Sacrament Factory". He said, "I know that there is nothing more important than the Eucharist, but there has to be more than that to the Christian life."
I wasn't taking notes, but I recall that the general feeling around the table was that Christianity is dull and dutiful, and young people don't see the point. One woman at the table said, "We are so desperate for leadership in the Polish church, but it's just not there." I thought on the walk back to my hotel about what that Benedictine, Father Wlodzimierz Zatorski (who died later of Covid), said to me in 2019. By "vainglory of the bishops," I understood him to mean that after the fall of Communism, the Catholic bishops sat on their laurels, and did not adjust to the new environment. They became prideful and complacent.
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My book The Benedict Option is here in Polish, and has inspired a couple of communities. This one was founded by Father Zatorski. And this one seems to have been founded by lay Catholics. May God prosper them and bless them for their efforts. This is what it's going to take to keep the faith alive. A young Catholic woman who did not know my book said to me yesterday, "You know, Pope Benedict said it would be like this." Yes, I told her, I quote him in The Benedict Option warning us to prepare.
Once again, let me emphasize to religious readers (not just Christians!) how important it is to refuse complacency. One reader in America, an Evangelical, was telling me not long ago about how his conservative denomination is relatively rich but starting to fall apart because its leadership has no idea how to reach the young, and are spending their funds on things that seemed to work in the 1980s and 1990s, because that's when the leadership class was young. It's all they know, and, he said, they refuse to consider that they should do anything different. Mind you, the reader was not suggesting theological changes at all, only saying that the world young people today live in is very, very different from that of the leadership's youth. But the leadership class, in the reader's view, believes everything's going to be fine if they just keep doing what they've always done. I guess that the Polish Catholic bishops aren't the only ones crippled by vainglory.