Although the Church in Poland has had procedures for preventing child abuse for years, these rules need to “flow through the Church’s veins,” according to the bishops’ new child protection point man.
This has been a summer of reckoning for the Polish Church, beginning with a grim uncovering of sexual abuse cases in the documentary “Tell No One.”
Soon afterwards, Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s lead official on clerical sex abuse, addressed the bishops about proper safeguarding procedures.
In August, Father Piotr Studnicki started his job as Director of the new Child Protection Office at the bishops’ conference.
The priest’s background is in communications, and he hopes his new office will also be a new chapter in fighting sexual abuse in the country.
Studnicki is also the righthand man to Archbishop Wojciech Polak of Gniezno, the Primate of Poland and Delegate for Child Protection of the bishops’ conference.
“After a couple of weeks by my desk I can see that the needs are huge, especially needs for conversation,” Studnicki told Crux.
Much like the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors, the Polish Child Protection Office does not deal with specific allegations, which is the task of special diocesan advocates. Instead, it will deal with safeguarding procedures and helping survivors of sexual abuse.
“For my boss, Archbishop Polak, and myself, the most important thing is to take such a step in the Polish Church that the Church stands by the survivors. That we want to help, and we want to help concretely,” he said.
The first concrete step – already confirmed by the primate – is a fund for victims, which the bishops have given the green light.
“The idea is to start an organization that will be able to concretely help the victims after they report a case to the delegate of child protection in their diocese,” Studnicki told Crux.
It is not about taking over the tasks of the bishops– he explained – but to make professional help immediately available for those harmed: Legal support, psychological therapy and educational scholarships are some of the things being considered.
The establishment of psychological and legal counseling centers in several cities throughout Poland is also being looked at.
However, the sticking point is how the fund will be financially supported.
“A few models of financing are discussed, but one thing is for sure – all dioceses in Poland will be included in the fund,” Studnicki told Crux. “We are determined to spend the internal money of the Church for it, and we are aware we need a lot to support it.”
Victims have been awaiting the establishment of a support fund by the bishops for years.
The well-respected Center for Child Protection in Krakow is run by the Jesuits, without funding from the bishops. Its head, Jesuit Father Adam Żak, has been desperately knocking on the bishops’ doors for ages, trying to get them to do more to safeguard children in the Church.
Since March, Żak has had a serious ally in Polak, who has taken to his task as the official responsible for the child protection at the bishops’ conference.
Polak chose Studnicki because he thinks he can let some fresh air into the Polish Church.
“For years we have rules of child protection and prevention of sexual abuse,” Studnicki told Crux. “Now we need to work to make those rules flow through the Church’s veins.”
When asked about how he has been received at the bishops’ conference, given the past resistance in speaking about the issue of sex abuse by the Polish hierarchy, the priest replied diplomatically.
“Last but not least, communication is key in that matter,” Studnicki said.
“Sexual abuse is a devastating, tragic problem for the Church, and it has to force us not only to professionally communicate it; it primarily needs to be communicated with empathy, honesty, transparency and openness to deal with that sickness that we need to cure immediately.”
Studnicki knows about communications, having graduated with a degree in the subject from Rome’s Santa Croce University, considered the Church’s top program. He also serves as a Professor of Communications at the Pontifical University of Krakow.
He said his new position is primarily about communicating with those who have been hurt by the Church.
“Suffering cannot be presented by numbers. I will repeat it over and over again – one person harmed is one too many – we need to talk to people more, be open to conversation about it: First and foremost conversation with those harmed, because without it, it is impossible to deal with the problem in the Church.”
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