As Polish Church embraces politics, Catholics leave

Katarzyna Lipka is one of many Poles abandoning Catholicism - something she says is a political statement.

The 35-year-old has marked many of life's milestones in the Church - considered a symbol of freedom in Communist times.

But in November, Poland's courts pushed through a sweeping clampdown on abortion that bishops had lobbied for.

Her main concern is one shared with many other young people - that the Church's influence is reaching further into other areas of life.

"I used to think being passive was enough - I just didn't take part in the life of the church. But when I started to hear hate speech directed at non-heteronormative people I began thinking I need to speak up against what was happening."

Poland has seen a growing number of its 32 million Catholics turning away.

Church officials stopped collating data on defections in 2010, so there is no nationwide total.

But in Warsaw, more people filed to quit last November than in all of 2019.

And the 577 applications to renounce between January and mid-December were nearly double the 2019 figure.

"It is a turning point for Poland. We are 'born' Catholic in Poland, almost all of us, and we keep being Catholic as a result of tradition, habit, pressure from families. We christen our children so that our parents do not complain, we get married in church to have a beautiful wedding, we become godparents because it is an honor. In reality, what we are doing is helping the Church gain privileges by taking part in the life of the Church despite of the fact that at the end of the day we do not really believe."

The relationship between Church and state in Poland is supposed to be independent and autonomous.

But many Poles say this is not the reality.

Reuters research shows that in more than 140 cases over the last five years, priests have displayed election posters on parish property or discussed elections during mass

- almost always in favor of the governing party.

The Polish Bishops' Conference, which represents the Church in Poland, declined to comment on the clergy's role in political campaigning.

And the government said it remained impartial towards religious belief and protected freedom of religion.