A new Polish documentary film on sexual abuse by Catholic clergy was released Saturday through the internet. Hide and Seek, produced by brothers Marek and Tomasz Sekielski, documents not only the sexual abuse of children within the Church in Poland, but also the abuse of power by the Church hierarchy.
The film is a follow-up to the Sekielski brothers’ documentary Tell No One, which was quickly referred to in the media as the “Polish Spotlight” – referring to the 2015 Oscar-winning film documenting the Boston Globe’s 2002 investigation into clerical sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston.
After the documentary aired, the Primate of Poland, Archbishop Wojciech Polak – who also serves as the Delegate of Child Protection of Polish Bishops Conference – immediately announced that he had reported the case in the documentary to the Vatican’s representative in the country.
The case is the first one in Poland being processed under the rules imposed by the Motu Proprio Vos Estis Lux Mundi, a Church law promulgated by Pope Francis last year for reporting bishops accused of committing or covering up the sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults.
Commentators say it is not only a test for the Church in Poland, but also for the Vatican, since only the pope can dismiss a bishop.
The torment of abuse
Exactly a year ago, the Polish church underwent an earthquake after Tell No One was released.
The film documented that although child protection procedures has technically been in place for years in the Church in Poland, many Church authorities were still indifferent to the plight of the victims of sexual abuse.
With the release of Hide and Seek on YouTube on May 16, the Sekielski brothers turn their attention to the abuse of power in the Church.
The film tells the story of brothers Jakub and Bartek Pankowiak, where were being abused in their own apartment, while their parents were in the kitchen next door.
Jakub was 13 when his family – his parents had four children – moved to the new parish apartment in Pleszewo in the Diocese of Kalisz in central Poland in 1996.
His father was the organist at the parish church.
“We thought it was a gift from heaven,” Jakub said about his new home. Even if it was modest, it was more spacious than their previous home, and the parish subsidy meant there was more money to care for one of his brothers who was terminally ill.
“We were fish that were easiest to catch,” said Bartek Pankowiak, Jakub’s younger brother. When the abuse started, he was 8.
Both brothers were being abuse by Father Arkadiusz Hajdasz, but at first neither knew the other was also a victim.
“Even if I was very attentive and distrustful, I did not know, he was hiding it so well,” Jakub said.
The priest was allegedly giving the boys guitar lessons while their parents were busy in the kitchen, but instead he was kissing and fondling each boy in their bedrooms.
“He is ‘with me’ all the time. I have the impression we will go to the grave together – I only know we will not meet in heaven,” Jakub says in the documentary.
The brothers were afraid to tell their parents – if their dad lost his job as a parish musician, the life of their sick brother would be put in danger.
When Hajdasz left Pleszewo, he was moved to another parish in the same diocese, where the pattern of abuse continued.
“I remember laying naked on his bed. I didn’t even understand what was happening to me,” said Andrzej, one of the now-adult victims in the documentary.
In 2016, the parents of one of the abused boys secretly recorded a confrontation with Hajdasz: “You don’t have to go to the bishop” – the priest told them – “he knows about everything.”
But they did go to Bishop Edward Janiak, who became bishop of Kalisz in 2012, but only to receive a reprimand: “These are lies and you have to leave now,” he told the parents.
The bishop then moved the priest to the city hospital, without reporting the case to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, which Church law required.
It wasn’t until the case began to be become publicly known in 2018 that Janiak finally referred the case to the Vatican: Hajdasz had been abusing multiple children for over 20 years.
“I am devastated,” Robert Fidura, a clerical sexual abuse victim, told Crux after watching the documentary.
“I am devastated mostly with the bishop’s behavior towards the parent reporting the abuse of their child,” he said. “Many cases would not end in a court if the people of the Church finally learned how to listen.”
Church in Poland turns to Vos Estis in light of latest revelations
Less than half an hour after the new documentary went online, Polak issued a statement announcing he was making use of Vos Estis.
“The film Hide and Seek shows that the standards of protecting children and youth in the Church have not been obeyed,” the archbishop said.
“Due to the information presented in the film, I am asking the Holy See through the nunciature [the Vatican embassy] to initiate proceedings ordered by Motu Proprio of Pope Francis, regarding abandonment of the action required by law,” Polak continued.
“All of the faithful have got the means in the new Motu Proprio Vos Estis Lux Mundi to report both types of cases, sexual abuse and abuse of power. The Holy Father gave us a clear signal – it is an act of love to report. It is a difficult act of love, but it is what is needed,” Father Piotr Studnicki, the Head of the Child Protection Office of the Polish bishops’ conference, told Crux.
“It is an evident case. The documentary proves the lack of reaction. It is the duty of the Delegate of Child Protection to report and words wouldn’t be enough in those circumstances,” Studnicki said. “Action was needed.”
The Polish primate also used his statement to condemn the cold and inappropriate reaction to the parents after they reported the case. Polak also spoke with Jakub Pankowiak by telephone on Saturday afternoon.
In a statement released on behalf of Janiak, the Diocese of Kalisz defended itself, enumerating actions it said it had done in response to the abuse. However, it didn’t explain why the case wasn’t reported to the Vatican until 2016, nor did it include an apology to the victims.
Poland a testing ground for new Vatican law on abuse
Over the past year, officials in the Polish Church have been taking steps to try and change the mentality of about sexual abuse in the country. The Foundation of St. Joseph was set up to help the victims of abuse, funded with donations from priests and bishops.
However, the new documentary has shown that it hasn’t been enough.
“The Church in Poland had a chance to do it on her own. It was wasted,” Tomasz Krzyżak told Crux. Krzyżak writes for the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita and has investigated sexual abuse in the Church for 20 years.
Hide and Seek has been viewed more by more than 2.5 million people in less than 24 hours. Krzyżak said it now up to the Vatican to restore faith in the Church in Poland.
“If this case lands on some bureaucratic Vatican desk and sits there for months – the very last chance for the Polish Church will be thrown to the trash bin,” Krzyżak said. “It needs to be a priority for the Vatican. Period.”
An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname Pankowiak.
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