KRAKOW – A new report by the Polish bishops, summarizing the results of consultations with both the leadership and the rank and file of the Polish church, points to a deep division between clergy and laity and an urgent need to rebuild he relationship between the two groups.
“It not a report about the state of the church,” Archbishop Adrian Galbas, coordinator of the synodal process in Poland, told Crux, referring to a synthesis of the results of widespread consultations published Thursday.
“It’s a very personal document, giving an image of the church,” Galbas said – and that image is often fairly harsh.
In the Archdiocese of Katowice, the faithful wrote that the church, rocked by sex abuse cases, not only “scandalizes and hurts her people. It is a church that is hopeless, shocked with changes, and one that is frustrating the faithful.”
In the Archdiocese of Gdańsk, birthplace of the Solidarity movement, participants commented: “The church is characterized by anonymity, and treats the faithful as a collective of parishioners – it lacks an individual approach to people.”
“Yes, it is a difficult read,” Galbas said, but he nonetheless found a silver lining.
“What is very hopeful for me is that the people who took part in the synodal path in Poland are those who are very deeply rooted in the church; they are insiders who care about the church,” he said.
“The synod is not an audit,” said Aleksander Bańka, a philosopher at the University of Silesia and Polish delegate for the Synod on Synodality, during the presentation of the synthesis.
“If what we learn during the Synod is to talk to each other, it will be a success already,” Bańka said.
“The Synod is, most of all, about listening to the Holy Spirit,” said Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish bishops’ conference, during the presentation at Jasna Góra.
“When we do not listen,” participants of the presentation agreed, “we exclude, misunderstand and marginalize the people of God.”
Some 100,000 faithful filled out synodal surveys in Poland; 39 percent of Poles declared themselves practicing Catholics, representing almost 15 million people. Critics suggest that means only a handful of practicing Catholics participated in the process.
“That only shows how much we still have to do,” said Dorota Abdelmoula, former spokesperson of World Youth Day in Krakow, now working in the Vatican’s Dicastery of Laity, Family and Life.
“The synod didn’t require a lot of resources and time from the faithful. It only required caring about the reality around us,” she wrote in the Polish media.
Thirty-five dioceses have officially published their synodal synthesis in Poland. Three dioceses only published press releases, and four did not provide a synthesis to the synodal team in the Polish bishops’ conference.
Another complaint that surfaces frequently in comments is that homilies are either told in an abstract church language, or are of very poor quality.
Galbas said that the critique of the faithful, visible on the diocesan level of the Synod in Poland, “is a critique of love.”
“They don’t want to kick the church. On the contrary, the basis of their critique is the love for the church,” he said.
Bańka added that people who truly participated in the Synod are ready to implement necessary changes.
“The key word for all dioceses is ‘relationship’. The potential to change the church is huge – we just need to meet it,” he said.
For the last four years, the institutional church in Poland, among the biggest Catholic communities of Europe, has been experiencing earthquake after earthquake regarding scandals of sexual abuse.
In one recent public opinion poll, the most common reason given for leaving the church in Poland is a critical approach to the church (12 percent) and clergy (10 percent). Seven percent of those who left point to a lack of trust of the Church and priests, and 5 percent cite the sex abuse scandals.
The last point is often mentioned in the synodal surveys. Faithful in Poland are also being hurt by a “wordly” life lived by clergy, the synthesis says.
“They are attached to material things, they run into activism and forget about spirituality and apostolate,” one of the diocesan surveys said.
The faithful also complained that the church in Poland too often plays the political card.
“I would like the priests to read the synthesis carefully,” Galbas told Crux.
“What we forget,” he said, “is that the church is a missionary church. We dive into the contemporary, daily spinning of the news, and we forget about the fundamental mission of the church to share Christ with each other,” he said.
The national coordinator of the synod said the church doesn’t have to wait until the synod is over to do something about the results of the diocesan synthesis.
“The time to act is now; we can start right away,” he said.