Solidarity-era priest accused of abuse a monumental problem for Polish Church

Solidarity-era priest accused of abuse a monumental problem for Polish Church

Solidarity-era priest accused of abuse a monumental problem for Polish Church

Workers dismantling a statue of the late Solidarity-era priest, Henryk Jankowski, following a decision by city councilors to remove it, amid allegations Jankowski sexually abused minors, in Gdansk, Poland, on Friday, March 8, 2019. (Credit: Wojciech Strozyk/AP.)

On a day set aside for prayer and atonement for victims of sexual abuse in Poland, a statue of a Cold War-era priest was removed in the city of Gdańsk, after he was accused of abusing minors.

On a day set aside for prayer and atonement for victims of sexual abuse in Poland, a statue of a Cold War-era priest was removed in the city of Gdańsk, after he was accused of abusing minors.

Penitential liturgies have been organized throughout Poland on the first Friday of Lent, including the Archdiocese of Gdańsk. On the same day, a statue of the legendary priest, Father Henryk Jankowski  of Solidarność, was dismantled by order of the city council.

The coastal city of Gdańsk could be where “transparency,” the new flagship slogan of the Catholic Church – proclaimed during the Feb. 21-24 Vatican abuse summit – could run into the shallow waters of Poland.

Gdansk was the place of the first step of the fall of the Soviet Empire. The city made history when Solidarność – better known in English as ‘Solidarity’ – the first trade union in a communist country, was founded in its port by an electrician, Lech Walesa, in 1980.

Next to Walesa, and probably as famous as him in Poland, was the eccentric cleric of Solidarność, Jankowski. In the 1980s, he was a respected leader and an excellent organizer for the underground anti-communist opposition. In the 1990s, he mutated into a luxury-loving prince of the Church. From his pulpit of St. Brygida Church, he became an outspoken preacher of political messages, making anti-Semitic remarks that stirred controversy in the whole county, and angering his bosses – the bishops. When he died in 2010, private donors funded a statue in front of his parish church.

Almost ten years later, Jankowski’s name made headlines again – this time with accusations of being a serial sexual abuser for years.

In December 2018, now 63-year-old Barbara Borowiecka told Gazeta Wyborcza that Jankowski abused her “from 10 to 20 times.” She claimed she was 12 when he first abused her, and the priest was well known in the whole neighborhood as “the one who chased the kids.”

The report published by Wyborcza’s magazine, Duży Format, provided many graphic details of Jankowski’s long trail of sexual abuse. For instance, there is the story of a friend of Borowiecka: She was raped by the priest, got pregnant and, after telling her father, the young girl committed suicide.

A week after the report’s publication, the Archdiocese of Gdansk issued a statement that none of the accusations were reported to the archdiocese within the last 10 years and that at the same time “the Archdiocese of Gdansk expresses its readiness to undertake a material and truthful examination of all possible aspects of the matter.” Borowiecka reported her case to the curia on January 25, 2019. So far, an investigation hasn’t been started.

The public in Poland was outraged. Protesters illegally dismantled the statue of Jankowski twice, including one time while the Vatican was hosting its abuse summit.

On March 7, the City Council of Gdańsk decided that Jankowski will no longer be an honorary citizen of the city, and his statue will be officially removed. Solidarność leaders decided to dismantle it right away, not waiting for the city officers.

Many former trade union activists say they never saw any suspicious behavior by the priest, yet if the accusations could be proven, they said they didn’t want the statue to be standing where it was.

On the other side, a close friend of Jankowski and his family, Gdańsk businessman Grzegorz Pellowski, said in a conversation with Wirtualna Polska that a defamation lawsuit will be filed against Gazeta Wyborcza on behalf of the priest’s sisters.

Putting aside political decisions and opinions of those who personally knew Jankowski, the question remains – what is the state of the matter inside the Church?

“It lays in the interest of the Polish Church to properly investigate and explain that case,” Antoni Dudek, political science professor of Cardinal Wyszynski University in Warsaw told Crux. “Jankowski was the face of the Polish Church for years, he was known better than many bishops, so all accusations that lay in the public sphere should be examined.”

The responsibility of investigating Jankowski’s allegedly dark past lays with the Archbishop of Gdańsk, Sławoj Leszek Głódź.

Yet during Christmas Mass in the Gdańsk cathedral, the archbishop strongly hinted that he thought the case was being driven by the media.

“Environments hostile to the Church are putting clergy [both dead and alive] under the pillory of accusations and slanders that are exaggerated and blind, published only for a media effect,” he said at the time.

Back in 2004, his predecessor, Archbishop Tadeusz Gocłowski, wrote a letter to Jankowski stating that he was “disturbed” with Jankowski’s “approach to young men and boys” who “are constantly wandering around the rectory, walking in your rooms, pouring wine during lunch or dinner – as I pointed out to you previously.” Gocłowski died in 2016.

Father Adam Żak, director of the Center for Child Protection in Krakow – the local version of the prestigious CCP at the Gregorian University – told the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita that a “higher rank Church official” should intervene in Jankowski’s case, commenting that the apostolic nuncio should urge the Archdiocese of Gdańsk to start the investigation on Jankowski.

Recalling Jankowski as an always-controversial figure, wearing expensive white suits instead of normal clerical attire, Dudek said, “The Polish Church is afraid to even touch the case” because the bishops know “further in the forest, you’ll find even more trees,” adding that the case has been “swept under the carpet.”

Father Jan Dohnalik, canon lawyer and delegate for child protection of Poland’s military diocese – one of the five ecclesiastical institutions out of 44 Polish dioceses that has publicly revealed the scale of sex abuse in their jurisdictions –  told Crux that “Catholics have the right to expect that the Church reports what is happening in that case.”

Even if there is no more place for a penal process, he said, it’s still a matter of credibility of the Church: “If we examine the past properly, we can make sure we will not make similar mistakes again.”

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