In the last week, three dioceses in Poland have published their data on clerical sex abuse, saying they are trying to better understand the issue and find effective measures to stop it.
On Sep. 27, the Diocese of Warsaw-Prague – located in the eastern part of greater Warsaw – said in the last 26 years twelve priests were accused of abusing minors, and that all of the cases were reported to the Vatican. It added that two of the accused were cleared of charges.
“I want to do everything in my power to help those who feel hurt, so they could have a safe return to the Church and regain confidence in her,” said Bishop Romuald Kaminski.
The diocese also published its policies on child protection and gave information about its special team of priests and lay experts working on issues related to abuse.
Auxiliary Bishop Marek Solarczyk, who is one of the Polish delegates for the upcoming Synod on Youth in Rome, told Crux, “We don’t have anything to hide. We will discuss the report with our priests in November.”
The report from this diocese was released just a day after the Polish bishops’ conference announced it will prepare its own “statistical document” on sex abuse for the entire country, although it didn’t give details on its scope, or date of release. However, in November the Polish bishops will release a document about its activities related to the protection of young people in Poland, at the special request of Pope Francis.
“The position of the Polish bishops’ conference in the matter of Church sex abuse is still valid and unchangeable: Zero tolerance for the sin and the crime of pedophilia in the Church and in society,” the bishops wrote in a Sep. 26 statement. The bishops confirmed their “determination to fight this sin and crime, stressing the need to care for the victims and the need to build a culture capable of preventing such acts.”
Archbishop Wojciech Polak of Gniezno, the primate of Poland, also announced that a prevention program on the sexual abuse of young poeple will be fully developed and implemented in every Polish diocese.
“The point is that priests and laity should be sensitized to the problem of protecting children and young people, be sensitized to the harm it does to victims,” he said at a Sept. 26 press conference.
The anti-abuse measures followed the bishops’ Sep. 25-26 plenary assembly in Płock.
The place was selected to commemorate St. Stanislaw Kostka, a young Jesuit from the city who died 450 years ago.
The Bishop of Płock, Pior Libera, was the first prelate in Poland to release a sex abuse report, on Sep. 17.
In presenting the report, Libera expressed his “shame and embarrassment” and apologized to the victims of Church sex abuse, telling them he was “sorry for the tears of suffering caused by priests who betrayed their vocation.”
According to the Płock report, which only covers the 11 years Libera has been bishop, nine priests in the diocese have been accused of sexual abuse against minors, two have been removed from the priesthood, and none of those remaining in ministry work with children or teenagers.
“There is no place in the Diocese of Płock for sexual offenses by clerics against minors. It’s not so much the procedure, it’s the people I see behind them,” Libera said.
“Above all, they are victims of crimes. Their good, and the good of children, are our primary concern. The scale of the harm that these children have suffered is truly immense. It is not a bone fracture or bruises. They are emotional and mental wounds with which they will have to live for years,” the bishop said.
The press conference in Płock followed a special prayer of apology and penitence – an answer to the call of the pope given in his Aug. 20 letter to the faithful.
Meanwhile, on Sept. 19, Bishop Józef Guzdek of the Military Ordinariate of Poland, issued a letter giving statistics since he took charge of his jurisdiction.
Since 2010, three priests were investigated and removed from working with minors.
“There is no place in our priestly community for those who are not maintaining the lifestyle appropriate for the followers of Christ. Let’s not be afraid of being criticized for investigating accusations,” Guzdek wrote, adding that “handling sex abuse issues in the Church is a matter affecting the credibility of priests.”
Father Jan Dohnalik, the delegate for child protection of the military ordinariate of Poland, told Crux that it is not only important to gather data on sex abuse, but to communicate it.
“We tend to forget the starting point of that sentence in what Pope John Paul II said to the American Bishops back in 2002 – ‘People need to know that there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young. They must know that bishops and priests are totally committed to the fullness of Catholic truth on matters of sexual morality’ – that’s what our pope told us,” Dohnalik said.
“So, it is clear to us that not only we need to examine those cases, and in each and every one of them act according to the law, but also make sure that the faithful are informed,” he said.
Dohnalik said this will bear fruit, and gave the example of the parish in Legionowo, in central Poland, which had a case of an abusive priest six years ago.
The priest said that after pastoral care and multiple meetings with parishioners, the Church regained their trust. He added that Mass attendance increased and now 45 altar boys serve in the parish, which he said is a sign the parishioners have confidence in the Church.
Another manifestation of a new attitude in Poland is the Center for Child Protection. Created five years ago in Krakow, the center has now trained over 3,000 priests in child protection.
However, although all 44 dioceses in Poland participate in the program, only 18 provide contact information on their websites.
“I am urging bishops to publish the delegates‘ phone numbers. People need to know about them,” Jesuit Father Adam Żak, the director of the center, told Crux.
“Listening to victims is a duty of each diocese, but waiting for the victims to come to us is not enough – we need to work in such a way that the problem is reduced to zero,” he said.