Poland: Controversial Survey on the Identity Crisis of Priests

Source: FSSPX News


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A study has been carried out on 823 Polish priests by Jozef Baniak, professor at the University of Poznan and a researcher specializing in the sociology of religion and morality. Setting out his findings in the journal Gazeta Wyborcza, reported on February 13 by the ecumenical agency ENI, Jozef Baniak declared that more than half of the priests questioned referred to a “profound and long standing crisis in their pastoral identity.” According to him, the problems associated with celibacy were one of the major causes, coming even above conflicts with the Church hierarchy and doubts about faith.

The survey suggests that 53.7% of Polish priests wanted an end to celibacy, while 12% stated that they were already living with a woman, with one third of them saying that they had had “free relations” with women or “sexual relations without obligation”, said Jozef Baniak. He also explained that he had received “many letters” from priests expressing their “need for personal relations” with women.

After having explained his conviction that once the pope was enlightened by the Holy Spirit on the understanding of the problem, the Church would function much better, Jozef Baniak concludes: “This is a very good solution, which would be of great benefit to the Roman Catholic Church,” if she adopted the example of the Orthodox Church, and “looked into the question of celibacy of priests and the problems it causes in their personal lives.”

The study was published following the announcement of a decline of 36% in the entries into Poland’s 84 Catholic seminaries since 2004. In 2008, 953 young men entered the seminary compared with 1,500 four years earlier, and 362 young women applied to enter a religious order compared with twice as many in 2004. (See DICI no 176, May 31 2008).

Polish Catholic leaders protested angrily at the survey conducted by Jozef Baniak. “All that I can say is that this survey has resorted to generalities, and that it is difficult to be in agreement with the interpretations and conclusions presented,” declared Mgr. Wojciech Polak, president of the Council for Vocations of the Church in Poland, to the Agency ENI.

Fr. Pawel Bortkiewicz, assistant dean of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Poznan, affirmed to the Gazeta Wyborcza that the “opinions and positions” of Professor Baniak were in contradiction with Catholic teaching. He has been asked to “re-examine his position.” “I have serious doubts about the reliability of these surveys. I do not know how they were conducted or what questions were posed. Much depends on how the questions are presented,” pointed out Fr. Bortkiewicz. For example, if someone asked me if I missed the warmth of family life, I could not deny it. But this does not mean that I am for the abolition of celibacy.” On the other hand, he continued, “I know it is not true that one out of two priests would like a child. In our experience, these observations have not been confirmed.”

However, beyond this distorted analysis, there definitely exists in Poland “a profound and long standing crisis in their pastoral identity.” The significant decline in vocations was explained thus by Fr. Krzysztof Pawlina rector of the Warsaw Seminary: “The candidates for the priesthood are characterized by a ‘fragmented’ personality, an emotional immaturity and relationship problems. Equally, we observe their confusion and their interior divisions. Many who enter the seminary today do not do so because they wish to become priests, but because they do not know what to do with their lives. So, they search and it is perhaps the seminary, perhaps the university which will give them an answer.”

In the face of this worrying situation, the Polish Bishops Conference addressed a letter to their priests last Easter (2008) in which they deplored the fact that many Catholics, including some priests, think that to be employed by the Church is a contract which may be signed, amended, and even revoked. “Sometimes one hears that parish work is founded on a contract in which every task must be specified. We are alarmed by this attitude towards the priestly vocation, which should in its very essence be disinterested.” (see DICI no 176)

(Sources: apic / eni / Gazeta Wyborcza )