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Poland’s Catholic bishops advise people how to ‘quit church’


Poland’s Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference has for the first time issued guidelines for dealing with Catholics who wish renounce their baptism and leave the church.

"The duty to stay in communion with the church is violated in the most radical way by a Catholic who carries out an act of separation from the church community, either as an apostate who totally rejects the Christian faith, or as a schismatic who refuses to recognise the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome," the bishops said in a document approved at a recent meeting in Bialystok.

"Persons in peril of committing such a deed should be instructed and encouraged in love to abandon their intention of leaving the church, but their natural right to decide their path in life should also be upheld," the bishops said.

The 22-point document said the church was "pained by every sin" of departure and would eagerly accept those wishing to return.

Poland remains one of Europe’s most religious nations, with 95 percent of its people claiming membership of the Catholic Church and at least a third attending church services each week.

Still, the number of children attending school religion classes has dropped in the past two years, according to media reports, alongside a sharp fall in priestly vocations, especially in smaller towns and villages. Around 700 ordinands were admitted to diocesan seminaries in October, 20 percent fewer than in 2007.

In the guidelines, the bishops said those wishing to leave the church should state their wish "consciously and freely" in writing, in the presence of their parish priest and before two adult witnesses. The priest should also explain the consequences, which include barring from Christian sacraments, marriage and burial, and a "personal, caring pastoral talk". They should allow also time for the decision to be reconsidered.

Applicants seeking to leave the church would not be able to have their names removed from parish registers, since these would continue to be "needed for the church’s work", the bishops stated.

Speaking in Bialystok, the bishop conference’s president, Archbishop Jozef Michalik, attributed the decline in the number of children at religion classes to a drop in the Polish birth-rate, as well as a tendency to "realise Christian values" in other ways. However, he said a fall in religious order vocations was causing unease, and he called for efforts to publicise the attractions of monastic life.

(c) Ecumenical News International