Julian Rembelski, 21, grew up in the Catholic Church, like most other Polish children, receiving First Communion and Confirmation and taking religion class in school. He says he enjoyed the sense of community he found in the church, particularly when taking part in volunteer activities such as distributing food and clothing to the poor.
But around the age of 17, Mr. Rembelski ceased to consider himself a Catholic, alienated by revelations of clerical sex abuse and what he says are the church’s efforts to impose its teachings against abortion, contraception and gay relationships on the rest of Polish society.
“I believe in God, but I don’t like what the church is doing now, because it’s doing politics and that’s not what the church is supposed to,” said Mr. Rembelski, now a student of government administration at the University of Warsaw. He said most of his friends feel the same.
Poland is known as Europe’s last Catholic bastion, the only major country on the continent where the church still heavily influences political, social and cultural life. But religiosity among the young is falling, suggesting that the country could soon look much like its western neighbors in religious terms, with broader implications for its society and politics.
According to the Rev. Andrzej Kobyliński, a professor of philosophy at Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, in 15 to 20 years, “it’s highly probable that the Catholic Church in Poland will meet the fate of the church in Ireland,” a traditionally Catholic country that in recent times has embraced liberal social policies including legal abortion and same-sex marriage and where the “social presence of the church has disappeared.”
In Poland today, 97.6% of the population of 38 million has been baptized into the faith, according to the Vatican. Catholicism has been inseparable from Polish national identity for centuries, especially during the decades of Communist rule.
But a study last year by Poland’s Center for Public Opinion Research found that the percentage of Poles who regularly attend church is 43% among the general adult population and 23% among young people.
Of more than 100 countries studied by the Pew Research Center in 2018, Poland was secularizing the fastest, as measured by the disparity between the religiosity of young people and their elders. While 40% of Poles over 40 years old said religion was very important to them, only 16% of younger adults said so.