Nearly 20% fewer candidates for the Catholic priesthood have enrolled in Poland’s seminaries this year, compared to 2020.

Fr. Piotr Kot, chairman of the Conference of Rectors of Major Seminaries, told the Polish Catholic news agency KAI on Oct. 12 that 356 seminarians began their studies in 2021.

Last year, he said, there were 441 candidates, meaning that “the number is lower by approximately 20%.”

He explained that of the 356 candidates, 242 were training for the diocesan priesthood and 114 for religious orders.

There were 47 fewer seminarians in diocesan seminaries and 38 fewer candidates for religious orders compared with the previous year, he said.

The Polish Catholic weekly Gość Niedzielny noted that priestly vocations had declined sharply in Poland in recent years.

In 2012, it said, 828 candidates enrolled in the first year of seminary. There were 498 in 2019 and 441 in 2020.

In March this year, Poland’s bishops made their final adjustments to a decree, called “The Way of Formation of Priests in Poland” (Ratio institutionis sacerdotalis pro Polonia), setting out new rules for priestly formation.

Fr. Kot told KAI that it was difficult to identify all the factors behind the fall in priestly vocations with certainty.

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He said that while God continued to call people, young people had difficulty responding.

“Sometimes they judge themselves unworthy or incapable of such a life,” he said. “Behind this may be difficult stories in the past: lack of appropriate role models in the family home, early addictions, personality problems, and identity disorders.”

“Others are reluctant to follow the call of a vocation because a negative image of the Church and the priesthood is entrenched around them.”

“Today this factor is reinforced by the sexual abuse crisis. If such a young man does not enter into deepened prayer, find a spiritual director, or receive support in some community living the faith enthusiastically and authentically, it is hard for him to respond to the call.”

Another factor, he said, was the “hyper-individualism” of contemporary society that makes it difficult to decide to sacrifice one’s life for others.

The Catholic Church in Poland is undergoing a reckoning on clerical abuse.

It announced in June that it had received 368 allegations of clerical abuse in the past two and a half years.

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Since November 2020, the Vatican has disciplined a series of mainly retired Polish bishops after investigations under Pope Francis’ 2019 motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi.

But despite the decline, Poland remains one of the European countries with the highest number of priestly vocations. The website Notes from Poland reported last year that one in four priestly ordinations in Europe takes place in the country.

In Ireland, a former Catholic powerhouse with a population of almost five million people, nine candidates are beginning their studies for the priesthood this year.

In 2020, there were 56 ordinations to the diocesan priesthood in Germany, a country neighboring Poland with a population of 83 million people.

The “Church in Poland” report, issued in March this year, found that 91.9% of Poles -- 32.5 million people -- described themselves as members of the Church.

It concluded that 36.9% of Poland’s Catholics regularly attended Mass.

The report said that the Polish Church had two cardinals, 29 archbishops, 123 bishops, 33,600 priests, and around 19,000 religious sisters.