The number of men beginning priestly formation in Poland has fallen again, according to statistics released Monday.
Poland’s Conference of Rectors of Diocesan and Religious Major Seminaries announced Oct. 23 that 280 men had entered the country’s diocesan, religious, and missionary seminaries in the new academic year.
On the 280 new candidates, 195 are studying for the diocesan priesthood and 85 for the priesthood within a religious order.
The statistics were announced the day before Pope Francis accepted the resignation of the 59-year-old Polish Bishop Grzegorz Kaszak. The Vatican gave no reason for the decision, which followed widespread media coverage of an alleged orgy involving a male prostitute in a priest’s apartment in Kaszak’s Diocese of Sosnowiec in southern Poland.
In an Oct. 24 statement, Kaszak did not address the reports, but asked his flock to forgive his “human limitations.”
“If I have offended anyone or neglected something, I am very sorry,” he wrote.
Fr. Jan Frąckowiak, the new chairman of the conference of seminary rectors, said that the new figures for seminary entry “clearly show that there is a steady downward trend.”
“This seems to reflect a certain clear trend in the younger generation, for whom religious matters play less of an important role — a fact confirmed by sociological studies,” Frąckowiak said, according to the Polish Catholic news agency KAI.
The priest may have been referring to a report published last month identifying a stark generational divide when it comes to Catholic practice in Poland. The report said that a “weakening of faith” was particularly evident in the younger generation.
Poland has long been known for its abundant priestly vocations. According to a 2020 report, one in four ordinations to the diocesan priesthood in Europe took place in Poland and the impact of declining vocations is likely to be felt far beyond the country’s borders.
Almost 1,700 Polish missionaries — many of them priests — serve in 99 countries worldwide, mainly in Latin America and Africa.
The number of new priestly candidates has diminished throughout the early 21st century. In 2003, there were reportedly 1,438 new candidates in diocesan seminaries alone, while 20 years later, in 2023, there are 195.
The total number of seminarians in formation in Poland has dropped from 6,789 in 2000, to 5,583 in 2010, to 2,556 in 2020, to 1,690 today.
The country’s bishops have responded by beginning to merge seminary communities. Last year, for example, seminarians from the dioceses of Świdnica and Legnica, which belong to the ecclesiastical province of Wrocław, began their studies in the city of Wrocław.
Students from the Diocese of Łowicz now train in Warsaw, while candidates from Bydgoszcz, Gniezno, and Kalisz are based in Poznań. Candidates from the Diocese of Sosnowiec study in Częstochowa, home to the venerated image of the Black Madonna.
According to the “Church in Poland 2023” report, published in September, the total number of Polish clerics is at its highest level, despite the reduction in seminarians. There are 34,700 clergy overall, including members of religious orders and clergy posted abroad.
The September report also highlighted a rise in new evangelization initiatives, such as the increasingly popular Three Kings parades, Christian music festivals, and the “Extreme Way of the Cross,” which involves a 25-mile night hike alone or in small groups.
Of the 280 new seminary candidates this year, 14 are based in the Kraków archdiocese, 14 in Rzeszów, 13 in Warsaw, and 12 in Tarnów, which is often described as Poland’s “most religious” diocese due to its comparatively high Mass attendance figures.
According to Polish media, the high number of new candidates in Rzeszów startled officials in the diocese in southeastern Poland, near the country’s border with Ukraine.
Local seminary rector Fr. Adam Kubiś said: “This is a surprising number, because the number of vocations throughout Poland is decreasing.”
The dioceses with the highest total number students are Tarnów (87), Kraków (82), Poznań (79), and Warsaw (70).
The religious orders with the largest number of candidates studying for the priesthood in Poland are the Conventual Franciscans, the Dominicans, and the Salesians.
“We are convinced that a good priest will be greatly needed in the community of the Church and society,” Fr. Frąckowiak said. “It is likely that he will not be a guide of crowds, but rather a patient companion who will support his brothers and sisters in troubled times, awakening in them the hope flowing from the Gospel.”