A bishop at the center of a documentary on sex abuse in the Catholic Church in Poland has tried to defend himself, but has only generated more controversy.
The film “Hide and Seek” documented a dramatic case of abuse of power by Bishop Edward Janiak of Kalisz in central Poland. In 2016, when a family visited him to report that their son was abused by their parish priest, Janiak expelled them from his office and didn’t report the case to the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, as the law required.
The documentary was released on May 16, and on the same day Archbishop Wojciech Polak, the Primate of Poland and Delegate of Child Protection at the Polish Bishops Conference, reported the case to the Holy See through the Vatican embassy, using the procedure outlined in a new Vatican law – Vos Estis Lux Mundi – which was promulgated by Pope Francis on June 1, 2019. It was the first time the law had been utilized in Poland.
Janiak responded with a June 13 letter to the Polish bishops rejecting the accusations and attacking Polak for reporting him.
Now Janiak has two problems: The letter was leaked to the media, and was filled with factual errors.
The daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza published the leaked document on June 15. In his letter – which was sent to most of the Polish bishops, but not Polak and those considered part of his circle – Janiak wrote: “The Primate claimed (…) that his statement after the film was a matter of his conscience. This is not the point, because it is a matter of facts, not conscience.”
The bishop added Polak “issued a verdict,” created “great confusion” and “harmed the image of the Church” by reporting the case.
Janiak also condemned the Polish primate for allegedly meeting with the filmmakers before the film’s release: “I don’t have to add that they are the enemies of the Church and what low motives they are driven by.”
The bishop also claimed that the St. Joseph Foundation, established by the Polish bishops’ conference to support victims of sexual abuse in the country, was only set up through the manipulation of the hierarchy.
“The bishops were against the establishment of the foundation,” Janiak wrote, claiming that it was the first time in his 24 years as a bishop that “after the secret voting where bishops were against the initiative, the decision was changed to a positive one.”
Janiak even suggested that even the election of Polak as Delegate for Child Protection was also forced “in order not to compromise the Primate.”
The same day the letter was leaked to the press, Bishop Artur Miziński, the secretary general of the Polish Bishops Conference, released a statement saying, “The appointment of Archbishop Wojciech Polak as Delegate of Child Protection of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, and the creation of St. Joseph Foundation were approved by a vast majority of bishops during the Episcopal plenary meetings in 2019.”
On June 16, Polak released a statement reiterating that “any priest, after receiving reliable information about a case of abuse, is obliged to inform Church authorities about the matter.”
The archbishop added that in his position as Delegate of Child Protection, he “could not remain silent or remain idle with the facts presented” in the documentary.
The Office of Child Protection also confirmed to Crux that Polak did not meet with the Sekielski Brothers, the documentary producers, but spoke on the phone to the victims of the abusive priest featured in their film, and that the Foundation of St. Joseph is already paying for therapy of one of the survivors whose story was presented in the film.
The latest scandal over Janiak’s letter is a further blow to the Church in Poland, which has been facing questions over its handling of clerical abuse over the past few years.
“The Polish Church is on an inclined plane. I am surprised that the Papal Nuncio didn’t yet manage to suspend Bishop Janiak since his actions are scandalous,” said Zbigniew Nosowski, chief editor of Więź, a Catholic magazine.
Nosowski is also a cofounder of Zranieni w Kościele (“Hurt in the Church”), the helpline for victims of sexual abuse in the Church. The initiative was also criticized by Janiak in his letter, saying that putting posters with the helpline number in the parishes “scandalized” the faithful.
“I am also surprised that Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki [of Poznan], who is Janiak’s metropolitan and who is officially investigating his case for the Vatican, is letting him do such things,” Nosowski told Crux.
The journalist also noted that Gądecki is the current president of the Polish Bishops’ Conference and expressed his hope that the archbishop could “save the dignity” of the institution.
Tomasz Terlikowski – a Catholic writer and journalist who appeared in “Hide and Seek” – says Janiak’s letter has convinced more people to leave the Church than the movie “Kler,” a 2018 film about an abusive priest that became a blockbuster in Poland.
“You know why? Because it showed that the reality is much worse than the film’s imagination,” he wrote in a June 15 Facebook post.
Terlikowski added that the letter showed the “mafia mentality” of Janiak who “is threatening the bishops that he will not remain silent,” suggesting he has information that may compromise them.
Janiak’s letter to his fellow bishops came after a June 5 letter he sent to all parishes in his diocese on Trinity Sunday, in which he asked “especially for prayer at this time of a media campaign against me, that I may be sanctified by the invisible power of the Holy Spirit.”
The same day he was defended by Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, the longtime director of the popular, conservative Radio Maria station.
“Let’s pray for our father, the bishop,” the priest said after his June 5 Mass at the shrine of St. Joseph in the city of Kalisz.
“If you love Poland, don’t harm, don’t attack the Church with your hatred. Whatever would happen, it is not right to hit the bishops … Don’t attack, don’t kill with your words, because throwing words, you become killers,” Rydzyk said.
Nosowski said the Janiak case could be a turning point for the Church in Poland, which still suffers from a Cold War mentality aimed at preventing external attacks by the Communist regime.
“The reaction of Primate Polak ended symbolically what was the era of silence in the Church in Poland – which meant that no bishop will ever comment publicly about the dirty laundry of another bishop,” the journalist said.
“I stress the era ended symbolically, because in reality … Archbishop Polak, seems still pretty alone,” he added.
Tomasz Krzyżak, a journalist for the daily newspaper Rzeczpospolita said swift action was needed to restore trust in the Polish Church.
“We can clearly see that if Vatican doesn’t react, and if it doesn’t react quickly, nothing will change in the mentality of the bishops who, like Janiak, are not even considering a change of heart,” he told Crux.
Krzyżak is currently reporting on another case of the abuse of power – this time in the Diocese of Radom, which is in central Poland.
Follow Paulina Guzik on Twitter: @Guzik_Paulina