Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

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[BRIEF NOTE] Roman Catholicism's problems in Poland

Roman Catholicism in Poland is well-grounded by the standards of an increasingly secular Europe, so well-grounded that people like George Wiegel hope that a conservative Poland might reevangelize the European continent. Poland is unique, not in the whole of the continent but, as Norris and Inglehart document in chapter 5 of their Sacred and Secular (PDF format), in most of post-Communist Europe.

Unfortunately for Wiegel, the facts don't support his thesis of Poland as the low-tide mark for European secularism. I turn to Norman Davies' 9 April 2005 in the Spectator, "God and Mammon," for an overview of the Polish situation.

The Pope intervened sparingly, in the matter of paedophile priests, for instance, or later over the threat of an ultra-Catholic vote against entering the EU. But, generally speaking, he left his compatriots to make their own mistakes. The hierarchy failed to take a firm lead, except in the continuing mania for church-building. The Primate supported the project for a new basilica which is designed to dwarf St. Peter's. The paternalistic style, wehich had felt good in communist times, now looked authoritarian, especially to young people. Above all, the laity failed to mobilise effectively. Catholics, being in a clear majority, saw no need to unite politically; and their influence was dissipated among the flurry of new parties that appeared in the 1990s. Poland was ripe for a Christian Democratic movement of the sort that had existed before the war and effectively balanced the Left in Germany or Italy. But it didn't materialise. Opposition to post-Communists was left to the short-lived Solidarity Electoral Actino (AWS) of 1997-2002, and increasingly to a number of resentful right-wing Catholics who felt excluded. This last unsavoury trend saw the rise on the one hand, of Radio Maria, a xenophobic and mysteriously funded media movement, which classes Brussels as the new Moscow, and, on the other of the League of Polish Families (LPR), which combines traditional Catholicity with old-fashioned nationalism.

Poland in the 1990s saw a surge of unrestrained, American-style capitalism. With millions of Poles living in the USA, the defeat of communism, led many to aim for a lifestyle derivative of Chicago or Detroit. And after a couple of years of austere transition, a decade of sustained high economic growth brought results. A new generation of young entrepreneurs flourished. Motorisation boomed, and consumerism arrived with a vengeance, except in the old industrial rust-belts or among the unemployed. Warsaw in particular became one of the hot spots of the New Europe. Dashing young women drove their children to private schools in shining SUVs, while workmen erected electric fences around their opulent villas. Their reward was to learn that the Pope disapproved of American-style capitalism as much as he did of dialectical materialism.

This week's enormous church attendances--featuring even the President, a self-confessed atheist--were exceptional. It is estimated that the number of Polish communicants has declined in the last 15 years from 70 per cent to 50 per cent of the population, and means of contraception are freely available in every supermarket.

[. . .]

Now the Polish Pope has gone, his bewildered Polish flock could run off in all directions. Optimists believe that his benign, moderating influence will continue to operate long after his death, and that major conflicts will be avoided. The pessimists believe the opposite. The talk is of the possibility of a schism within the Polish Church between the radical ultras and the liberal intelligensia, and the likelihood of youngsters turning away in droves.

The reactions to the recent recent presidential elections suggest that early 21st century Poland, already torn by serious socioeconomic conflicts but now embedded in a pan-European political structure and popular culture, is about to develop American-style culture wars. They don't exactly predict any successful Polish evangelization of the wider European Union, if only because Poland's religious traditionalists will be too busy fighting their opponents inside Poland's frontiers to look outside.
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