Polish Catholicism: Without Its Communist Opponent, Less Monolithic
Paul Froese and Steven Pfaff
National conflict allowed the Catholic Church of Poland to attain the highest levels of religiosity in all of Europe. Nearly all Polish adults surveyed in 1990 (97.6 percent) reported they had been raised in a religious household. [But] a new spirit of democracy in Poland has left the Catholic Church in search of its political and national voice. Having dispelled Communist rule, the public is less trustful and less obedient to the church. In 1989, 87.8 percent of Poles expressed confidence in the Catholic Church, but public confidence fell dramatically after the end of Communism to 73.5 percent in 1990 and to 52.9 percent in 1991. These changes in public opinion have surprised church leaders who expected to be rewarded with political and legal power for their role in unseating Communism. One Polish journalist explained that in seeking more political power the Catholic Church "burned its fingers, as we know, and it gave up part of these aspirations" (_Time International_, 1999). With newfound freedoms of democratic rule, Poles embraced the ideology of democratic rights over the hierarchical traditions of their church.
In 1994, not only did overwhelming numbers of Poles (93 percent) favor individual choice over church law on political matters, but over three-fourths of the population believed that individuals need to decide for themselves whether divorce or the interruption of a pregnancy is appropriate. Church doctrines clearly take a back seat to individual choice, even among the world's most avid Catholics. By 1994, many Poles (44.4 percent) felt that the Catholic Church had amassed too much authority after Communism. These data indicate that high religiosity in Poland was truly an expression of opposition to Communist rule.
Compared to other East European countries, new religious movements in Poland have acquired substantially more adherents. On the other hand, mainline Protestant missionaries have been reluctant to pursue the opportunities of Poland's newfound freedoms, apparently daunted by the overwhelming size of the Polish Catholic Church. In fact, Poland has a lower proportion of Protestant missionaries for their population than any other East European country for which we have data.
Paul Froese is a graduate student in sociology at the University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Steven Pfaff is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Washington, Seattle, WA.
Edited excerpt reprinted with permission from "Replete and Desolate Markets: Poland, East Germany, and the New Religious Paradigm," Social Forces 80 (no. 2, 2001): 481-507.
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