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Poland’s synod report says Catholics want change, but not to doctrine

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, pictured on Jan. 1, 2012. © Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk.

Catholics in Poland want the Church to change the way it functions but not its doctrine or structure.

That is the conclusion of Poland’s national synod synthesis, unveiled on Aug. 25 at a press conference at Jasna Góra, home to the revered icon of the Black Madonna.

The 23-page document summarized discussions held during the diocesan phase of the two-year global process leading to the 2023 synod on synodality in Rome.

It said: “The synod has brought out from us the expectation of change in the Church - concerning the way it functions, not doctrine or structure.”

An estimated 100,000 people took part in local consultations, out of a total Catholic population of 32.5 million - a participation rate of less than 1%.

Speaking at the press conference, Polish bishops’ conference president Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki conceded that “the synod did not arouse mass interest.”

According to the synthesis, lay people focused in listening sessions mostly on “articulating what hurts them in the Church community,” at both a universal and local level.

Among the criticisms were perceptions that the Church was “old, timid and tired,” “a concubine of the state,” “something for the older generations,” and “detached from life.”

There was “harsh criticism” of priests, as well as praise for clergy who showed “deep faith” and “true piety.”

“The synodal consultations highlighted a deep-rooted and widespread clericalism, for which not only presbyters are responsible, but also the laity reinforcing such attitudes among priests,” the document said.

Archbishop Gądecki suggested that the criticisms were motivated by love of the Church.

“There is also a criticism of the Church present there, only it is a different kind of criticism than the one in the newspapers. That is, it is a criticism that does not come out of hatred of the Church, but a criticism out of love for the Church,” he told reporters.

The national synthesis highlighted several “concrete pastoral demands” in diocesan reports.

It said: “Common among these were the need for catechesis for adults, the development of pastoral care that responds to the authentic needs of the faithful, the strengthening (or building up from scratch) of pastoral care for children, young people, families and the elderly as untapped potential in parish life, and the pastoral care of those who, to varying degrees, remain on the periphery of the Church (especially those living in non-sacramental relationships, people with disabilities and - less frequently - LGBT+).”

“These demands largely come down to the ability to read the spiritual needs of parishioners.”

The document included a graphic indicating that half of the diocesan reports mentioned the term “LGBT+”, while more than 90% referred to “non-sacramental relationships” (cohabiting couples).

According to the 2021 “Church in Poland” study, 91.9% of Poles describe themselves as members of the Church, while 36.9% of Catholics regularly attend Mass.

Polish bishops have repeatedly expressed concerns about secularization in recent years.

The 2021 report concluded that religious practice among young people had halved in almost 30 years. It also noted a decline in Poles expressing support for Catholic moral teaching, particularly on sexual ethics. It said that only 20% of Catholics considered premarital cohabitation to be morally wrong.

The Polish Church is currently at the forefront of efforts to support Ukrainian refugees. According to the UN, more than 5.6 million people have entered Poland from Ukraine since the full-scale Russian invasion on Feb. 24.

The national synthesis said that the influx of refugees - the majority of whom are Eastern Orthodox - highlighted the need for parishes to deepen ecumenical ties.

The Vatican will unveil plans for the next stage of the synodal process - the continental phase - at a press conference on Friday.

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