BYDGOSZCZ, Poland — A committed Catholic Karol, who was an altar boy in his childhood, aspired to enter the seminary as a teenager. in His hometown in Northern Poland and Being a priest.

“I had a deep faith and wanted to serve the church,” Karol, now 26, recalled how he had talked with his spiritual mentor (a priest at The Basilica) about his hopes of becoming bishop one day. Church Divine Providence in The city of Bydgoszcz.

That was before the priest raped them.

“The whole church has been poisoned,” Karol in An interview in which he asked that The Sunday Review not use his name.

His story is just one of many that have caused outrage over the years. in The Polish news media is part of a series of scandals involving sexual abuse that have thrown the Roman Empire into chaos Catholic Church in Poland plunges into deep crisis and distrust among young people. Polish youth are also wary of what many of them see as the church’s symbiotic relationship with the country’s deeply conservative governing party, Law and Justice.

A report issued last November by C.B.O.S., a government-funded polling agency, Only 23 percent of Poles below 25 years old regularly visit church, which is a third of what it was three decades ago. The Catholic Information Agency found that only 20% of young people approve of sex prior to marriage. Archbishop Wojciech Polek, the primate of Polish church, condemned what he called “a shameful practice”. “devastating” decline in religious practice among younger Poles.

The seminary will be open this summer in Karol Bydgoszcz had originally planned to attend the shut down of Bydgoszcz, devoid of new students.

One of Poland’s Dawid, the 29-year-old pop star, announced last month that he was no longer a believer and would be officially leaving the church. “I have a problem with the institution,” He said that it was because of “more and more cases of pedophilia and its meddling in political and ideological matters.”

Andrzej Kobylinski, a professor at Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw and an outspoken critic of the church’s failure to grapple with sexual abuse, said in Interview that was the “creeping secularization” Poland “turned into a gallop.” He continued, “This is a time bomb that was always going to explode sooner or later.”

Poland is still a bastion for faith when compared to most European countries. nearly 94 percent of the population identifying as CatholicAccording to the Central Statistical Office.

The church, deeply embedded in Society thanks to its 33,000+ priests in The Polish government is closely associated with 10,382 parishes. Ruled by Law since 2015. and Justice, the government delivered the changes that were dear to the church: an almost total ban on abortion, ban on Sunday shopping and the expanded use of a law banning “blasphemy” and A drive to root out the things it denounces “L.G.B.T. ideology.”

However, many young people are unable to do so. Poland’s Catholic Synod accepted in Recent research finds that many are bemoaning “empty seats in the pews of parish churches,” The “church is just sad.”

The coronavirus pandemic which started in 2005 in Many have also stopped attending church in 2020 because of the lockdowns that were enforced at the beginning. Large gatherings were banned.

Although Bydgoszcz saw a slight increase in Mass attendance last year due to fear of infection, it was still just 20%, down from 33.5%. in 2019 the local bishop, Krzysztof Wlodarczyk, told Polish news media this month.

For Tomasz Terlikowski — a Catholic The head of a committee investigating abuse of nuns was a philosopher and Other women convicted of rape by Dominican friars in September — the “biggest threat to the church now is indifference” As young people lose their interest in A scandal-plagued institution and There are rumors that it is associated with the Law’s political agenda and Justice.

Michal Malada (23), walked past the closed Bydgoszcz Seminary on a recent morning. He said that he used to attend Mass with his grandmother, but stopped doing so because it was too difficult. “has become too political.” He continued, “I haven’t lost my faith, but the church as an institution does not represent God as it should.”

The bishop of Bydgoszcz declined comment to this article.

The 1980s were a time when the Catholic Church in Poland stood shoulder to side with Solidarity, a trade union movement in The struggle for freedom is regarded as a uniting force that can rally opposition to the ruling Communist Party.

However, the church has become a very divisive institution in A country more divided between supporters and Opponents of governing party

Renata Mazurowska, a former regular churchgoer who now campaigns for women’s rights in Bydgoszcz, recalled how in 1991 She celebrated Mass with Pope John Paul II. in Poland, and Had looked up to the church for guidance.

“The pope was a moral certainty for me; we were all on the same side” She spoke out in support of communist rule. She doesn’t go to church anymore and She encouraged her daughters to stay home, as well, she stated. “the idea that they are meeting priests who are pedophiles is horrifying.”

“For me,” Ms. Mazurowska said, “the authority of the church has collapsed.”

The collapse of rural areas has been avoided in large part. Piaski Kruszwickie was a small village to the south of Bydgoszcz and was decorated with pennants and Photos of the Virgin Mary taken when almost all the residents celebrated the arrival in their area of the Black Madonna, a Polish icon that is revered and venerated, were recently captured

Even there, however, there was disillusionment among the church’s handling of predatory priests that bubbled above the show of devotion. Beata, a 50-year-old Christian who only gave her first name and joined the crowd to welcome the icon, but she said that she was not a believer. “felt more distant from the church than in the past” Because of the “outrageous behavior of some priests.”

A big factor in the Polish church’s failure to tackle sexual abuse, according to Professor Kobylinski, is the legacy of Communist rule, during which accusations of rape and The molestation of priests was routinely dismissed by the church as an invention spread by secret police officers dedicated to atheism. He said that the church had developed a defense mechanism against the state to defend itself. “culture of omertà,” Or silence.

Abortion rights activists and Other foes of government turn their anger upon the church, Law and Justice has supported the church in all things.

When the head of Law and Justice, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, and The opening of the new canal was overseen by other senior officials in September saw them joined by Slawoj Leszek GlodzA disgraced archbishop who in March 2021 punished by the Vatican for negligence “in cases of sexual abuse committed by certain clergy against minors” and Preaching is not allowed to be done by those who are barred in His previous diocesan.

The head of the investigation into Dominican abuse was Mr. Terlikowski. He said that right-wing politicians would often dismiss evidence of priests’ wrongdoing, seeing it as a distraction. “just another attack on the church” By their political foes.

Some Catholics of senior status have voiced their opposition to the rot in The church and Get involved.

Response to the figures from last year that showed that 368 boys had been abused by the church and girls during a two-year period ending in 2020, Archbishop Polak was the primate. “forgiveness” Starting at “those wronged and all those shocked by the evil in the church.”

Pope Francis has occasionally intervened to punish Polish priests who are egregiously negligent, but has largely allowed local church leaders to police their own followers.

Karol was the former altar boy in Bydgoszcz meant that Pawel Kania was a priest who was taken into custody in 2005 in Wroclaw in SW Poland is the location for child pornography and On suspicion of abuse minors, he was not defrocked. Instead, he was moved to northern Bydgoszcz to supervise altar boys and teach students.

“They all knew they were hiding a pedophile, and that is the biggest tragedy,” Janusz Mazur is a lawyer who represented Karol.

He said: “It is incredible: This priest was a suspected sex criminal and they sent him to teach religion to teenagers. If they had just stopped him when they knew, others would not have been hurt.”

The priest’s move to Bydgoszcz quickly stirred complaints that he was behaving indecently with teenage students. The church moved him to another area.

Mr. Kania was detained again in Wroclaw in 2012 and Accused of abusing young boys Found guilty in 2015 saw him sentenced to seven-years in jail, ending his priesthood.

He had previously been able to give free reign over the altar boys. and Others in His charge in Bydgoszcz.

Karol claimed that he was first abused at the age of 14. Karol claimed he was raped multiple time, but he didn’t tell his parents or anyone else because he was too busy. “felt ashamed and did not realize what was happening.”

Church Only when Karol was in court, did hierarchs admit they had failed Karol? in Gdansk was ruled in 2021: The dioceses in Bydgoszcz and Wroclaw was guilty of negligence “the bishops were aware of their priest’s pedophilia.” Karol damages were to be paid by the court to the two diocesan dioceses for approximately $60,000.

The two bishops who oversaw the cover-up attempt have not been punished. One died, and The Vatican placed one of the two under investigation. He resigned last year.

Karol states that he still believes in God wants nothing to do the Catholic Church.

“The whole institution should be abolished,” He stated. “It is based on lies and hypocrisy. It is evil.”

Anatol Magdziarz Contributed reporting from Warsaw