Sunday, July 18, 2010

Losing faith in the Polish church

Losing faith in the Polish church
The Polish church is losing members due to sex scandals and increasing secularism.
By Jan Cienski - GlobalPost
Published: July 17, 2010 08:48 ET in Europe
A child marks the fifth anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II on April 2, 2010. (Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images) WARSAW, Poland — Poland's powerful Roman Catholic Church is losing its faithful as the country becomes more secular and the church finds its moral authority sapped by sexual scandals and increasing concern over its political influence.

The sexual scandals facing the Polish church are still a far cry from those faced by its sister churches in the United States, Canada, Ireland, Spain, Germany and many other countries, where clerics have been accused of molesting children, and bishops with sweeping the the issue under the rug. But an old embarrassment has highlighted the Polish church's difficulty in grappling with the issue.

Earlier this summer, Archbishop Juliusz Patez, the retired bishop of the central Polish city of Poznan accused of molesting seminarians in his diocese, was reported to be close to receiving a decision from the Vatican reversing previous sanctions placed on him by John Paul II.

Paetz retired in 2002 but never admitted any wrongdoing. A church investigation into his behavior petered out without any results, although the cleric who had leveled the initial charges ended up resigning from the priesthood in disgust at the lack of progress in bringing Paetz to justice.

Paetz has battled hard to stay in the public eye — appearing at events like the recent funeral of Lech Kaczynski, the Polish president killed in an April 10 plane crash, to the dismay of more circumspect churchmen.

The Vatican was preparing to again allow him to publicly administer sacraments but the report aroused fury in some church circles, including a reported threat by his successor, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, to resign, before Rome began to deny it was reconsidering a change in Paetz's status.

Although the issue was quickly hushed up again and the hierarchy closed ranks behind Patz, it remained a potential threat to the position of the Polish Catholic Church as it tried to retain its influence in an increasingly secular country, Tomasz Terlikowski, a conservative columnist with the Rzeczpospolita newspaper, said.

“The conclusion from the actions of the church authorities is that if someone wants to clear up an issue of sexual molestation in the church, they cannot stop with Catholic authorities,” Terlikowski said, adding that the collapse of the church's authority in Spain, Ireland and Germany was linked to attempts to keep sexual scandals secret. “In these cases, victims should go to secular courts and to continue to pursue the case until a verdict has been delivered.”

In addition to trying to keep scandals far from public view, the church has been trying to retain its political influence as a way of ensuring the continued Catholic character of Poland.

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