Apostasy in Poland
It’s finally done, I’m an apostate. Well, almost – I just need to get the baptism certificate with proper annotation by mail. I am no longer institutionally tied to the Catholic Church and it feels great.
It all started about 3 years ago. I got to the conclusion that I do not believe in the guy up in the sky, and even if I did – I would not need the Church for that. What logically followed was that a nice “thank you Godbye” note was in order, as I strongly disagree with policy, methods and actions of this organisation.
What was needed¶
According to a document issued by the Polish Episcopal Conference (Rules of conduct concerning the formal act of leaving the Church, original here), what was needed was:
- a letter of resignation from the Catholic Church;
- baptism certificate duplicate;
- two witnesses;
- at least two visits to the rector of “our” parish.
Two, as during the first visit one is supposed to reveal the will to leave, rector then has to (according to the document above, and I cite):
(…)should in a personal, full of concern, pastoral conversation establish what are the real reasons for such a decision and with love and prudence try to change that decision and awaken faith seeded in the sacrament of baptism. Hence as a rule the act of apostasy – if it goes through regardless of undertaken efforts – should not be done the same day the person wanting to leave the Church announces their intent to the priest, but after a time rector prudentially sets for making the final decision, having such dire canonical consequences.
Apparently nobody seems to care that when I decide to take apostasy the last thing I fancy doing is “a personal, full of concern, pastoral conversation” with a representative of an organisation that I am trying to leave.
I got the baptism certificate, found a few templates of the letter (sorry, they’re in Polish only), based on those I created a short, succinct version and gone to the rector. That last thing was not an easy task, as the poor overworked man only had a single duty hour on a single day of a week, and exactly when every normal working person is either at work, or at school.
That, I suppose, should be a good sign of priest’s “you-are-a-mere-supplicant” take on our case, but I must have ignored it. After all, the conversation was supposed to be full of “love and prudence”…
Obviously, rector was not amused. Thankfully I don’t recall all the details of our conversation, but I do remember that: 1. an attempt was made to convince me that a person not heeding the One True Faith is completely irresponsible, immoral and generally a scoundrel; 2. having taken a course in Logic (and a good one at that) I was shocked to discover that a person in such a high office as the rector, being in a position of authority to many, is unable (unwilling?) to comprehend the difference between an implication and if-and-only-if.
All in all it was both funny and scary. The “personal and full of concern” conversation consisted of him announcing his truths and their supposedly “obvious” conclusions, after which I in a calm manner was showing the gaping holes in his reasoning (no, I will not agree to an assumption that if I am Catholic somehow automagically that makes me moral; and even if I did, it still does not follow that only Catholics can be moral!..); after that the priest would either repeat his reasoning or pound his fist, or – for added rhetorical effect – do both in any order.
Basically the whole conversation was lost time, as rector finally just stated that my letter was too short. Simple statement of intent of leaving the Church is not enough, one “needs to justify”. I’ll just quote here in response:
Engaging with world-view issues of third parties or justifying to another person one’s religion is in our opinion unacceptable in a law-observing state. It is also not required in other countries.
– Polish Association of Rationalists.
Long break and a nudge¶
After that delightful conversation I didn’t get back to the topic for about 3 years. I didn’t want to drag my witnesses to the end of the charted lands (where I lived) just to hear, e.g., that the justification must be different. Besides I just lost interest. In making any further contact with rector, for example.
Then one day a friend reporter from Sweden wrote that she’s going to Poland due to impending Polish EU Presidence and is supposed to write a few articles on social issues (including the Church) – and might I know anybody that would be willing to do apostasy and go on record with it? I asked around, suggested her to write to the Polish Association of Rationalists, and when her desperation to find somebody reached it’s zenith – “ah, what the hell” (sic!), thought I, and we decided I will be the guy.
A long expected party¶
This time I was prepared perfectly. I had three witnesses (one of whom decided at the last moment); I had my (Catholic) girlfriend by my side; I had two Swedish journalists on-board; and I had the letter, calling on the canonical code, the Freedom of Religion Bill, and the Protection of Personal Data Bill (and here is a pdf version; sorry, both in Polish). I have established the “working hours” (up 400%! now whole 4 hours a week!) and the whole gang was afoot with the idea that – after all the sacraments I took – the time is high for my first profanment.
When we got there we were treated with 25 minute wait, a procession (basically about 20 people walking around the church) and some 2 persons waiting in line.
When our queue came I entered the parish chancellery, the rest of the group with me; I tried to explain the rector who all those people were, but he got extremely agitated (taking a photo by one of the Swedish journalists was a bit counterproductive in the circumstances) and showed everybody but me and the witnesses the door (while loudly stating his disapproval and waving his finger).
Insulting Comrade as a supplicant¶
Either way we got straight to business, I took four copies of the letter out and stated that I would like the additional witness (the one that decided late, so her name was not printed on) to write in; It was a bit superfluous, but I wanted her to be part of the process too. Then it started and Logic raised its ugly head once again.
Namely, the rector asserted that there should be just two witnesses. I steadfastly stood by the notion that there should be at least two – so that there can be three. After quite a bit of back-and-forth between the two of us (“nowhere does it state that there has to be three witnesses!”/“yes, but nowhere does it state that there cannot be three of them.”/“but here it states that there should be two!” and so on and so forth) I used the “proprietor” argument: this is my document, prepared by me and presented to you, but I retain the right to change it and make it look the way I wish. And this is the moment we got our first great quote!
You are a mere supplicant here and you should act accordingly.
To be honest I was completely awestruck. First thought: get out, shut the door. But too long it all took already, so as calmly as I was able I explained that “I must strongly protest what has just been said”, that I am simply exercising my constitutional rights, and that in no way, shape nor form am I a supplicant here. But I decided to back off the “third witness” thing, abiding the age-old rule that “one should not argue with a fool; he will be brought down to fool’s level and beaten with experience”.
A short verification of identities ensued, followed by re-writing of witness’ data by the rector (even though part of that data was already present on the papers), and finally – signing.
During the whole visit a discussion was underway and I – as surprising as it may seem I do not have much to do with priests – habitually kept calling the priest “Sir” (instead of “Priest” as is apparently customary), to what he vehemently protested. That caused next two great quotes. After yet another “Sir”…
Stop or I will start calling you Comrade – that caused short bursts of laughter from witnesses’ direction. I simply opened my arms and said “please do”. Unfortunately he was unwilling to take that opportunity.
And the third great quote, after yet another “Sir” in place of “Priest” – Stop offending me! Things should be called by their true names.
That was the quote I honestly did not know where to start with. First, never ever in the Polish language and culture calling anybody “Sir” was considered offensive; quite the contrary, it was an expression of some elemental, fundamental respect. Second – oh how tempted was I to indicate that had I wanted to call things by their true names, precisely that would be something that rector could feel offended with!..
But the papers have already been signed, I got my copy, so we went in peace.
Summary and conclusions¶
After the whole exercise a few conclusions come to mind. First, apostasy in Poland is an extremely arduous process, requiring closer contacts with genuinely troublesome people. Not much fun. Conversation with the rector cased sudden outbreaks of facepalm every single time. Bureaucracy is absurd – do I really need to go, in person, to my baptism parish, then two times to “my” parish (which could be miles and miles away) simply to leave an organisation I never actually said I want to join (the decision was made for me in infancy)?.. Then there is the royal treatment one gets from the people one has to talk to – as a supplicant, a scoundrel, an immoral person. “With love and prudence”.
Nevertheless I believe I made the right choice. Now nobody can manoeuvre me into anything faith- or Church-related. Church statistics (counting the “number of baptised”, as manipulative as it is) as far as I know will sadly still include me, but fighting that is the next step.
Report based on my apostasy will be published in a Swedish newspaper. As soon as that happens, I’ll link it here.
I believe I should thank a few people:
- Pixel, Kasia, piorek, Kondzi, Sasza, czesiek – thanks for the support and the will of being my witness (and actually doing that where applicable);
- Basia, My Dear Parents – for support and understanding, discussions and conversations, openness and positive take on it all;
- Kinga and Kalle – thanks for the nudge and going along with the plan in a fun and relaxed manner.