Catholic Tradition in Poland


Tradition in Poland:

Dossier for XIV Statutory General Assembly of
Una Voce International
“… with the negative changes in the daily life of the Church … we
do witness a situation in which the issue of Catholic tradition has become one of the most
crucial problems to the Church in Poland today.”



Total population: (in thousands) 36,684
Number of population declaring themselves as Catholics: 34,850 / 95%
(in thousands and in %)
Participation in Sunday Masses: 53%
Easter confession: 83%
Number of archdioceses: 14%
Number of dioceses: 25
Number of dioceses of the Catholic Greek Church: 2
Number of the military dioceses: 1
Number of cardinals: 3
Number of archbishops and bishops: 98
Number of retired archbishops and bishops: 15
Number of parishes: 9,941
Number of priests 26,911
Number of seminarians: 4,614
Average number of faithful per priest: 1,295
Number of indult Masses: 4
Number of FSSPX chapels: 6
(The statistics as of 1998 Source: Institute of Statistics of the Catholic Church SAC)



Mr. President, Dear fellow delegates,This is a privilege for me that I can address today these words to you in the name of
the Una Voce Polonia and present the development of Catholic tradition in Poland. I
believe this may be of interest to you because the position of the Church in Poland is
slightly different than in Western Europe, the United States or in other East European

The Church in Poland during the communist years – an

The Church in Poland has always been a strong institution, deeply rooted in the life of
the Polish people. In the communist era she was practically the only defender of identity
and freedom. For this reason and in order to avoid internal debates among Catholics which
would serve the goals of the communist regime aimed at breaking the Church, the late
cardinal Stefan Wyszynski decided to implement the postconciliar reforms very slowly and
quietly. Because of this, in spite of the Novus Ordo Missae introduction, the face of
Catholicism in Poland remained very conservative, with exceptions of small intellectual
elite promoting the reforms in the most controversial manner. So was the situation until
the late 80-ies. It was even reinforced with the election of cardinal Karol Wojtyla to the
Holy See. As a result of all these factors the status of the Catholic church in Poland is
reflected in the following statistics: 95% of Poles declare themselves as Catholics, 53%
of Poles declare their participation in Sunday Masses, and 83% dlares their Easter
Confession. We have nearly 27 thousand priests and more than 4 thousand seminarians. The
above mentioned data together with a fact that we have no Communion-in-the-hand in Poland
seem to suggest that the situation is positive against Western Europe.

The situation after 1989

In the meantime, we had growing tendencies to copy the Western examples into the Polish
Church as well as the political and economic solutions were copied. These tendencies were
often promoted by some of the Mass media, particularly the ones at the disposal of the
liberal Catholic intellectuals. Consequently, 10 years after the collapse of communism,
cassocks disappear from Polish streets, the youth associations in parishes which bring
most of the vocations are dominated by charismatic and neocatechumenal movements. In some
dioceses we have already lay distributors of the Holy Communion, and the new rite is
getting more and more diverse and loose. Recently some of the Polish bishops made an
unsuccessful attempt to introduce the practice of Communion-in-the-hand. The same people
have also tried to cut out the influence that the Church in Poland exerts on public life.
In response to all these changes the Catholic nation-wide radio station called Radio Maria
began to focus groups of people whose major intention was to preserve the role of the
Church it had so far. This movement that counts as many as 5 million faithful is a
spontaneous reaction, it’s very powerful, however quite disordered. When the movement
fights to keep the presence of Catholicism in public life and maintain the Catholic
morality and doctrine – it is, at the same time, very liberal in terms of liturgy. With
those controversies in the background, we saw the beginning of the Catholic Tradition in
Poland in the middle of the 90-ties. It has to be attributed mainly to the SSPX activity.
Its dynamic apostolate, headed by a German priest, father Karl Stehlin, has become the
focus of interest of almost every Polish Mass media. SSPX sends their publications to all
Polish parishes and Church institutions, they criticise the Holy Father who enjoys a
particular respect in our country. One of the reasons of Mass media interest is the role
SSPX priests and faithful played in the famous action aimed at the defence of crosses in
Auschwitz. If we put this together with the negative changes in the daily life of the
Church I mentioned above, we do witness a situation, in which the issue of Catholic
tradition has become one of the most crucial problems to the Church in Poland today. This
issue is even more important if we take into account the fact that the SSPX Fraternity has
been recently joined by 3 Polish priests: a Jesuit, nominated still by Cardinal Wyszynski
to the post of the national priest for the Gypsy nation, a member of the Congregation of
the Christians Schools Brothers, and a member of the Congregation of the Immaculate Mary.
The last one, however, decided a few weeks ago to return to his convent. Today three
priests, either members or supporters of the Saint Pius X Society, deliver service in 6
chapels in major Polish cities which are visited by approximately 1000 people,
predominantly young and university graduates. According to credible sources, including
father Stehlin’s statistics, he is in touch with nearly 100 Polish priests. Every year a
few new vocations arrive.

The Ecclesia Dei Movement

Now, talking about the groups of faithful benefiting from the Papal Motu Proprio
Ecclesia Dei of 1988, there are 4 such centres with the fifth coming in in the near
future. Unfortunately, only one of them enjoys a service delivered every Sunday and on
major feasts. They group mainly young and educated people who touched tradition while
being in Western Europe or Found her in SSPX publications, however they want to maintain
their admiration to tradition being faithful to the right jurisdiction. Some of them
discovered tradition as a result of their own consideration, watching the changes that
take place in the Church in Poland. There are as many as 1000 of them. Polish indult
groups, like all over the world, face the problem of bishops who don’t approve them or the
problem of priests who deliver the service but personally are not convinced to tradition
or even are not familiar with it. Also, they are often perceived as semi-lefebvrist. The
last pilgrimage to Rome on the 10th anniversary of Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei
publication included 70 pilgrims from Poland. The petition to cardinal Medina Estevez with
a request to withdraw the official publication of the 1411 protocol was signed by 75
people, with famous representatives of politics and social life among them. Currently,
Polish traditional vocations include 1 deacon and 3 seminarians in the Fraternity of Saint
Peter and 1 seminarian in the Institute of Christ the King


Talking about prospects, if we consider the level of interest in tradition among the
Catholic circles in Poland, it seems to be very likely that in the upcoming years we will
see a significant increase in the number of faithful to the Tradition. One of the
indications was nearly 3 hour long radio broadcast in Radio Maria with
FatherJosef Bisig, the superior general of the Saint Peter’s Fraternity during his last
visit to Poland. ‘The next day the same radio station covered the Old Mass as an everyday
7 o’clock morning Mass transmitted by Radio Maria. This visit was in the
headlines of major secular mass media. When it comes to contacts with Polish bishops, we
can hardly draw any conclusions out of them. Although, during the visit I mentioned above,
one of the Masses celebrated in Poznan by Father Josef Bisig was attended by the local
Archbishop Juliusz Paetz, this fact did not bring an extension to the indult permission
granted in Poznan.

Also, the growing interest in tradition developed in obedience to the right Church
authority will be possible only with the support of the priests of Saint Peter’s
Fraternity working directly in Poland. Otherwise, this interest will either fade away or
will lead many young Polish Catholics to places where they will no longer be affected by
the lack of bishops’ approval. Let me tell you that the second alternative has taken place
most often so far. The most recent steps taken by the Holy Father addressed at the Saint
Peter’s Fraternity and its Superior General give us hope that this is nor the case. Thanks
to these steps we are hoping that Polish bishops would be more favourable. Let’s pray for
it fervently.


Author is a Representative of Una Voce Polonia at the XIV Statutory General Assembly of
International Federation Una Voce Rome 13-14 November AD. 1999.