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Who will be the next Polish bishops’ conference president?

Poland’s bishops are due to meet this spring to elect a new president of the country’s bishops’ conference. 

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, the president of Poland’s bishops’ conference since 2014. Biuro Prasowe Konferencji Episkopatu Polski via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0).

The election is likely to be watched closely by the Polish media as Church-state relations have entered a turbulent new era following the formation of a secular-minded new government in December.

The vote will also be followed carefully in Rome, where officials will be eager to see how deeply committed the new bishops’ president is to Pope Francis’ priorities, especially his determination to “create a different Church” through the global synodal process.

There will also be interest in the election across the border in Germany, where bishops will be wondering if the next president will continue his predecessor’s combative line on the German “synodal way.”

Why is there a vacancy? What’s the election’s context? And who are the likely candidates? The Pillar takes a look.

A map showing the location of Poland’s Latin Catholic dioceses. Bastianow (Bastian) via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Why the vacancy?

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, the 74-year-old Archbishop of Poznań, has led the Polish bishops’ conference since 2014. Having served two five-year terms, he is unable to stand again. 

Even if there was no rule against standing for three terms, Gądecki would not be eligible to run again. That is because Rome has said that candidates should only be elected as bishops’ conference presidents if they can complete a full term before reaching the nominal retirement age of 75. 

The rule’s purpose is to avoid a situation in which the pope would like to accept a candidate’s resignation as a diocesan bishop on their 75th birthday but feels constrained because they are president of their bishops’ conference. 

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Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski of Kraków, center. © Mazur/

What’s the context?

This is expected to be a year of major changes for the Polish hierarchy. 

As well as electing a new bishops’ conference president next month, the bishops must also choose a new vice-president. Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski, the 74-year-old Archbishop of Kraków, has held the post for two five-year terms since 2014 and is also unable to run again.

In June, the bishops will also need to elect a new bishops’ conference general secretary. Bishop Artur Miziński, the 58-year-old auxiliary bishop of Lublin, has served in the position for two five-year terms and cannot be re-elected to the same post.

Meanwhile, several diocesan bishops are about to hit the retirement age of 75:

Nycz announced in December that he had already submitted his resignation to Pope Francis. In addition, the Diocese of Sosnowiec is vacant, following the resignation of its Bishop Grzegorz Kaszak in October 2023.

In a Feb. 9 article for the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita, the journalist Tomasz Krzyżak said there were rumors in Church circles that Pope Francis had requested the resignations of two further diocesan bishops accused of negligence in the handling of abuse cases.

If true, this would bring the number of Polish dioceses requiring new leadership in the coming months to seven. 

Among the bishops who could fill the upcoming episcopal vacancies, Krzyżak suggests the following:

Krajewski’s election to any conference position would require a sudden appointment to lead a diocese in his home country — unlikely at this point but not impossible, given the slate of upcoming retirements. 

But even if the cardinal does not move back to Poland, Krzyżak believes he serves as an unofficial papal adviser on Polish episcopal appointments. Ryś also has an influence as a member of the Dicastery for Bishops. 

The pope can also consult with Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, the former apostolic nuncio to Poland, who became president of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the school for Vatican diplomats, in 2023.

Papal almoner Cardinal Konrad Krajewski and Łódź's Cardinal Grzegorz Ryś, pictured at the Vatican Sept. 30, 2023. © Mazur/

Who are the likely candidates?

Tomasz Krzyżak analyzed the likely candidates for the presidency of the Polish bishops’ conference in a remarkably thorough November 2023 article for the website Catolico, as well as his Feb. 9 Rzeczpospolita article. 

He suggests that electors already have a list of desirable qualities for the bishops’ conference president, including proficiency in languages, extensive contacts with bishops abroad, and a gift for navigating the Roman curia. Experience of negotiating with government officials would also be a bonus in the current climate.

Krzyżak notes that a total of 96 Polish bishops are members of the bishops’ conference. But only heads of dioceses are eligible to be elected president. This narrows the field down to 44 bishops, including the leaders of Poland’s three Ukrainian Greek Catholic eparchies.

Bishops’ conferences have a preference for electing heads of archdioceses, he says, further reducing the options to 14. 

Krzyżak rules out three archbishops who are on the verge of retirement — Nycz, Gądecki, and Jędraszewski — as well as three who are 70 and over, and therefore unable to complete a full five-year term before reaching the age of 75:

He also excludes Archbishop Andrzej Dzięga, the 70-year-old head of the Szczecin-Kamień archdiocese, who he says is facing “as yet unexplained” allegations of negligence.

This whittles the number of candidates down to seven:

The first three could serve for a single term, while the final four could serve for two.

Krzyżak divides the electors into three blocks: “hardliners,” led by Kraków’s Archbishop Jędraszewski; “progressives,” seemingly led by Warsaw’s Cardinal Nycz; and “undecideds,” who will fall in behind whoever has the most momentum.

He suggests that the “hardliners” lack a clear-cut candidate, while the “progressives” have three: Ryś, Polak, and Galbas. 

Ryś is the rising star of the Polish Church. He is the author of more than 50 books, ranging from scriptural studies, to ecumenism, to inter-religious dialogue, and has an evident passion for evangelization, especially among young people.  In 2011, he was asked to serve as the first chairman of the Polish bishops’ New Evangelization team, a position he held for two five-year terms.

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In 2017, Ryś was named Archbishop of Łódź. A year later, he convened a synod that led to the launch of the permanent diaconate in the archdiocese and the establishment of a Neocatechumenal Way seminary. He received the cardinal’s red hat in September 2023 and is a papal nominee to the synod on synodality.

Polak studied at the Alphonsian Academy, so is also familiar with Roman ways. He served as bishops’ conference general secretary from 2011 to 2014, meaning he is familiar with the episcopal bureaucracy. In 2014, at the relatively young age of 49, he was named Archbishop of Gniezno and Primate of Poland.

In 2019, Polak was elected as the bishops’ delegate for child protection, making him the public face of efforts to vanquish clerical abuse and cover-ups. He therefore occupies one of the most sensitive and high-profile roles in the Polish Church.

Polak is also a member of the joint commission of Polish government officials and bishops — a critically important body in the current political circumstances.

Galbas, a member of the Pallottine order, is a philosopher and theologian who has served as the Archbishop of Katowice since May 2023. He was selected by the Polish bishops to attend the synod on synodality, alongside Gądecki and Jędraszewski, after overseeing the synodal process in Poland.

Galbas was named apostolic administrator of Sosnowiec in October 2023, so is also something of a troubleshooter. Krzyżak describes him as “a straightforward, open-minded man who speaks a language that the faithful understand, and sees the future of the Church in the laity, with whom he is not afraid to cooperate.”

The “progressive” trio are so young, in ecclesiastical terms, that they could first serve a term as vice-president and then two terms as chairman. That was the path followed by the now-retired Archbishop Józef Michalik between 1999 and 2014.

But in Krzyżak’s view, Ryś already has too many commitments as a cardinal, Polak will have put too many episcopal noses out of joint in his battle against abuse and cover-ups, and Galbas will be seen as too “progressive.” 

Archbishop Stanisław Budzik of Lublin. Ryszard Hołubowicz - via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

With the “hardliners” and “progressives” unable to put forward a commanding candidate, the bishops might look for a figure acceptable to both wings. Krzyżak suggests they will home in on Wojda (Gdańsk), Kupny (Wrocław), and Górzyński (Warmia). 

Of the three, he thinks that Wojda has the best chance. Wojda worked in the Vatican’s Dicastery for Evangelization from 1990 to 2017, serving as under-secretary from 2012. He was Archbishop of Białystok from 2017 until his transfer to Gdańsk in 2021.

In his most recent article, Krzyżak also outlines a “dark horse” scenario, in which the bishops cast aside the convention that the bishops’ conference president must be eligible to serve for a full five-year term.

If they take this shorter-term route, Lublin’s Archbishop Budzik could be an attractive candidate, Krzyżak says. 

Budzik (whose name means “alarm clock” in Polish) served as bishops’ conference general secretary from 2007 to 2011, so he knows the apparatus well. He is also a member of the joint commission of Polish government officials and bishops, as well as the Vatican’s Dicastery for Culture and Education.

The icon of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa at the Jasna Góra Monastery in Częstochowa, Poland. © Mazur/

Dialogue or confrontation?

Krzyżak thinks that when the identity of the next bishops’ conference president is revealed, it will be clear whether the bishops as a whole want to take a combative or conciliatory approach toward the new government.

He suggests that both Budzik (Lublin) and Guzdek (Białystok) could be seen as cool-headed conciliators. They were both involved in discussions with government officials the last time that Poland’s new Prime Minister Donald Tusk was in power.

Whoever emerges as president will not only be occupied with Church-state affairs. They will have to grapple, at the same time, with the rapid secularization of Poland, including eroding Mass attendance and plunging priestly vocations.

They must also represent the local Church in Rome, where Polish Catholicism is seemingly regarded with an air of mild suspicion. Will the next president view the global synodal process with skepticism, or will they seek to bring the “synodal revolution” home?

Will they insist as vocally as Gądecki on the need for the Church to preserve “unity in the faith,” while recognizing diverse “pastoral practices” around the world?

Will they also follow Gądecki in denouncing the Catholic Church in Germany’s efforts to launch “a moral and legal revolution in the universal Church”? Or will they adopt a milder approach to their Teutonic neighbors? 

Such questions suggest just how much will be at stake when Polish bishops cast their ballots next month.

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