Catholic Poland charting its own path from Ireland’s liberalization on abortion?

Ireland’s vote to overturn its constitutional ban on abortion was not only another sign of the country’s weakening Catholic identity but has also been seen as pointing to a pattern that may be followed by another European country, namely Poland, according to the Wall Street Journal (May 29). Ireland’s vote on abortion last month “echoed through another Roman Catholic-majority country in Europe, but one where the procedure is broadly illegal and the subject of a continuing battle,” write Drew Hinshaw and Francis Rocca. “We think that now there will be pressure on Poland to also go in the same direction,” said Rozalia Kielmans Ratynska, a legal analyst at the antiabortion Ordo Iuris Institute. But Poland is already the mirror image of Ireland. “The only outstanding question on abortion in Poland is whether its Catholic and conservative government will succeed in tightening already strict laws regulating the procedure,” even as Poles have widely protested such measures, Rocca and Hinshaw add.

The different directions taken by Poland and Ireland may also show how the Catholic Church itself is divided under the influences of secularism and nationalism and the leadership of a pope who has taken the accent off a confrontational, culture-wars approach. To conservatives’ consternation, Pope Francis made no public statement in the run-up to the Irish referendum. In such an environment, “countries like Ireland and Poland are left to choose their own paths as they seek to fill pews in countries where populations are stagnating and young people are emigrating to wealthier, but more secular states like the UK.” Because the child sex abuse scandals and the upswing of secular liberalism have eaten away at the Church’s authority in Ireland, clergy conceded that their criticism of the vote would not sway the public, and actually further hurt the Church’s reputation. In contrast, the populism and nationalism of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party has reinforced the Church’s positions. Even the state-owned media have criticized the Irish vote as revealing “the once-Catholic Ireland.” Polls show that 56 percent of the Polish public supports existing abortion laws, while nine percent want to tighten them, and 29 percent want to loosen them.