Warsaw, Poland – The Polish Catholic Church has released a report admitting that Polish clergymen have been guilty of sexual abuse against hundreds of children since the 1990’s.
This is the first time Poland’s clergy publishes data, stemming from more than 10.000 local parishes. on the issue. Covering the period from 1990 to 2018, the study was commissioned by the Episcopal Conference of Poland. It found that a total of 624 victims, including nearly 200 under the age of 15, were sexually abused by 382 clergy – who remained unnamed – in the last 28 years.
The Polish episcopate’s coordinator for child protection and youth told reporters that “we know that this is only the tip of the iceberg”.
Archbishop Marek Jedraczewski stated “the church must be impeccable and firm in stigmatizing evil. But it must also show mercy to the perpetrators if they strive for internal transformation”. According to reports, “archbishops speaking at a news conference emphasized that pedophilia was not limited only to the Catholic Church and that most abuse took place in families”.
As soon as it was released, the report from Poland’s Catholic Church faced a strong backlash, criticized for grossly underestimating the extent of the sexual abuse and glossing over the responsibility of Poland’s bishops in covering up the cases of pedophilia for decades. Liberal opposition politician Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus said that it “spat in the face” of victims, “defended itself as an institution [and] defended the perpetrators”.
Poland’s clergy has lately come under intense scrutiny over cases of sexual abuse and pedophilia. Local NGO Don’t Be Afraid recently published a report that documented nearly 400 cases of abuse by Polish clergymen, including cases of priests convicted for pedophilia or accused by the media or alleged victims. It also reported several cases of bishops and archbishops covering up the cases. The report was presented last month to Pope Francis, who hosted an unprecedented summit on child abuse gathering bishops from all around the world.
In Poland, one of Europe’s most devout nations, the Catholic Church has long enjoyed a special moral stature, including due to its role in toppling communism in the 1980’s and fostering civil society movements in the 1990’s. “Without the church, Poland as it is today wouldn’t exist”, Warsaw University sociologist Ireneusz Krzeminski said. “Being Polish has inadvertently intertwined with being Catholic. That’s why Poles have always approached the subject of the church’s sins with restraint”.
But the public’s trust in the religious institution has been heavily hit by a series of scandals and numerous allegations of child abuse among clergymen.
In November last year, a Polish court passed a landmark ruling granting 1 million zlotys compensation to a victim of sexual abuse by a priest, acknowledging the Church was officially responsible. “We ask God, the victims of abuse, their families and the Church community for forgiveness for all the harm done to children and young people and their relative”, Polish bishops then wrote in a statement.
Last year, the movie Kler (Clergy), which directly addressed the issue of corruption and pedophilia within the Church, sent shock-waves throughout the country and broke attendance records: five million people went to see the film since it was released in September.
In February this year, the statue of Henryk Jankowski, a priest and former leading figure of the Solidarity movement who died in 2010, was removed by protesters. The priest was defrocked in 2005 over claims he abused minors, with activists claiming the Church had failed to “react to the evil” he had committed.