WARSAW (Reuters) - Fewer Poles attend church services every week or have confidence in the papacy than a decade ago but levels of religious belief remain very high in Poland, according to a survey published on Thursday.
Poland is probably the most religiously observant country in Europe and its churches are generally packed on Sundays, in strong contrast to the empty or half-empty pews commonly found in many other parts of the continent.
The poll, published in the Rzeczpospolita daily, showed 37 percent of Poles go to mass every Sunday, down from 42 percent in 1998, but the number of people going to church on a less regular basis showed a small increase.
Confidence in the papacy has slipped to 80 percent from 91 percent in 1998, when Polish-born Pope John Paul II led the Catholic Church, the poll showed. German-born Pope Benedict XVI took over the church in 2005 after John Paul’s death.
The poll, conducted by the Institute of Sociology attached to Warsaw’s University of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, showed 81 percent of Poles count themselves religious believers, against 86 percent in 1998.
A further 11 percent still feel attached to Catholic traditions even if they are not sure about belief, it said. Only three percent described themselves as non-believers, unchanged from 1998.
In line with church teachings, more than two thirds of Poles are opposed to abortion, up slightly from 1998, and more than half oppose divorce, also up from 11 years earlier.
“Poles are not abandoning (religious) belief... but are distancing themselves from systematic religious practices,” Slawomir Zareba, the professor and priest who organized the poll, told the newspaper.
The Catholic Church played a key role in preserving a strong sense of national identity among Poland’s 38 million people during decades of atheistic communist rule. (Writing by Gareth Jones; editing by Richard Hubbard)