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Monday, June 7, 1999 Published at 18:26 GMT 19:26 UK

World: Europe

Polish Church under fire

Poland's bishops are being criticised for their extravagance

By Religious Affairs Correspondent, Emily Buchanan

The chant taken up by every crowd at every mass the Pope has visited in Poland is "Stay with us!"

Emily Buchanan reports from Lichen in Poland
But while Poland's greatest living icon is received with adoration, the Catholic Church in Poland is coming under increasing criticism for the number of new churches, and commercial enterprises it is becoming involved in.

One in three Poles attend mass every Sunday, but there has been a sharp fall in the number of young people in the congregation.

Many blame that on a disaffection in the church because of the apparent wealth of churchmen at a time when many Poles are suffering real poverty.

[ image: The Pope has received an ecstatic welcome in Poland]
The Pope has received an ecstatic welcome in Poland
The most striking example of the extravagant aspirations of the Church is in Lichen.

The choir's rehearsals for the Pope's blessing take place in a vast basilica that rivals St Peter's in Rome.

This is the largest church in Poland, build to hold 17,000 worshippers. So far it has cost over £30 million, and the huge golden dome is yet to be finished.

Jacek Mirkel, a founder of the Solidarity trade union movement which was so supported by Pope John Paul II, is saddened by the church building boom.

"In the opinion of many people in Poland this is abnormal," he says. "Building new, big churches - it's like something from the Middle Ages."


[ image: Poland's greatest living icon]
Poland's greatest living icon
A marble fountain gracing an elegant 17th century square in the city is part of the latest renovation project by an influential priest in Gdansk.

This is an ecumenical centre funded by the city's nouveaux riches, that also boasts 100 apartments to rent, and entertainment rooms decorated with gilt mirrors, oil paintings and a grand piano.

The entrepreneurial priest, Father Henrik Jankowski, is unapologetic. He has built 15 chapels and four huge churches, and describes the ecumenical centre as his "masterpiece".


But a growing number of Poles are beginning to ignore the Church's teachings - for example, the instruction not to shop on Sundays.

Many say they feel put off the Church because of its hypocrisy and its political power - a power which has led to the criminalisation of abortion in Poland.

And most of all, they resent the apparent wealth of some priests.

"People can't believe the priests," says one shopper in the local hypermarket. "They have big, new cars - and people here are a little poor."

The Catholic Church has just launched its own pension fund. For an organisation repressed under communism, it seems to be making up for lost time.

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