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A bureaucratic “miracle” : Confession of a failed apostate

To leave the Church in Poland you must go to the priest of the parish where you were baptised and ask him to make a note of your “apostasy” beside your baptismal entry. Here is a first-hand account of the "miraculous" disappearance of one young Pole's baptismal record, which prevented him from officially leaving the Church.

Some of the Poles who tried to leave the Church have described (on a Polish apostasy site or in a German TV programme) what happened. This was before the Polish bishops issued unified guidelines in September 2008 and the results vary widely. Most encountered polite co-operation, but not all.

  • If they made the application by post, many found themselves ignored.
  • One was told to come back the next morning at 7 before Early Mass.
  • Another had the priest slam the door shut and hide inside, refusing to talk to him. It took a second try for him to get a note put in the baptismal book.
  • It even took one would-be apostate three tries to make it official. The news travelled from the priest to a godparent and then to his grandmother, causing her to fear that he must have joined some dangerous sect instead.
  • Yet another was warned that, because of Canon  849, he was "indelibly" in the Church and would therefore have to face the Final Judgment as a Catholic, with ominous implications.
  • One young man seeking to leave the Church since the new guidelines came in, was told by a priest in Malbork that, in addition to fulfilling the other requirements, he must submit a certificate to prove that he was of sound mind.

The new guidelines, which came out in September 2008, are designed to make the process more difficult.

The Polish bishops are trying to portray themselves to the world as co-operative in letting people leave the Church, but their regulations, (published only in Polish) are more restrictive than in many other countries, and the actual practice is more restrictive, still. Here's what can happen where the Church encounters little opposition. 

A bureaucratic “miracle”:
Confession of a failed apostate 

 In the summer of 2008 I set out to commit apostasy. [This is the Vatican term for “leaving the Church”, unless it's the result of heresy or schism.] Accordingly, I went to this church in northwestern Poland (Eastern Pomerania) where I was baptised as a newborn. It's a beautiful brick gothic building with a gable designed to make the building look bigger than it really is. However here, near the coast, a solid facade that isn't anchored to the building would blow down. This is why the round rose windows above the roofline are holes to let the strong winds from the Baltic blow right through.

I wanted to say goodbye to the world preserved inside this ancient church. and so I asked for the parish priest, but he was hearing confession. Finally, when he finished, I followed him out of the church, introduced myself and explained the purpose of my visit. At first he seemed a bit taken aback, but then he started talking to me gently as we walked to the parish office a few hundreds meters away. He told me the story of a prominent philosopher who converted to the Catholicism in the late autumn of his life.

“I'm not in my 80s, Father. We still have a lot of time. I'd just like to follow the procedure set up in 2006 by the Catholic Church.”

When we reached the parish office we found there a very old nun. The priest bid me be seated.

“Has this gentleman come to collect a certificate of belief and morality?”  [This is a document issued by parish priest, which is required by seminarians.] She addressed this question to the priest, despite the fact that I was sitting right next to her.

“More or less, Sister. He has come to get something he desires. Can Sister be so kind as to tell us about the time Sister saw a ghost?” he asked, while starting to pull down from the shelves old baptismal registers from the 70s and 80s. The nun recounted the tale of an apparition she had seen before I was born. Apparently it was the ghost of her dead father, returning to beg her to have Masses said for his soul, so that he could be freed from the fires of Purgatory and finally enter Heaven.

I got the message.

After searching for a while in the book for my baptism, he said “I'm very sorry, but I cannot see your record, sir. Maybe you have a better eyes, so you can search yourself”. He allowed me to hold the book and search. I looked through hundreds of records, but couldn't find my own name.

“Perhaps my record is in another book? Maybe the priest who baptized me kept his own book?”

“No, they are all in chronological order. I'm sorry, but it seems that we don't have you in a book. There is not much more I can do to help you, sir”.

I have no idea what bureaucratic “miracle” caused my baptism to disappear from the records of the church where I was baptised. Reluctantly I said, “Thank you Father. Goodbye” and left his office – still a member of the Church.

[Due to the religious climate in Poland, the writer wishes to remain anonymous.] 



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