ROME – Bishops from Central and Eastern Europe listened to gut-wrenching testimony from abuse victims at a summit being held in Poland.
Among the first speakers was Polish Franciscan Father Tarsycjusz Krasucki, who was abused in 1993 at the age of 17 by Father Andrzej Dymer, the director of a center where he was living after being expelled from boarding school.
“It has been nearly 29 years since my trauma,” Krasucki said. “My first attempts to investigate and clarify the case started 26 years ago. The penal canon trial lasted for 17 years. The final canonical sentence was pronounced over 6 months ago [five days before Dymer’s death]. The sentence was pronounced, but not published. Consequently, until now the Church has failed to officially confirm neither my harm nor the perpetrator’s guilt.”
Over all those years there were three bishops serving in Szczecin, but none of them ever met with him. In fact, they defended and protected the abuser, with one bishop delaying a second trial requested by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for over nine years.
“Today I am talking about my experience during an international conference organized by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors,” the priest said. “To my mind, this invitation is a kind of unofficial acknowledgement of the harm I suffered. However, is it possible my Church, our Church, the Church of Jesus Christ explicitly and publicly reveal the sentence of the longest canonical trial? If we are not able to officially recognize and tell the truth, then how can we trustworthily proclaim Jesus – the Way, Truth and Life?”
Krasucki acknowledged that by speaking at the conference, under his own name, he’s becoming an important reference for others who have suffered different kinds of harm within the Church, adding that the stories he has now heard are “absolutely frightening.”
“I wish I did not have to listen to the stories of so deeply abused and harmed men and women,” he said. “And my even stronger wish is to tell them that it is true that they were so severely and instrumentally treated, so abused in the past, but in the modern Church they will be treated with the deepest care and respect. Regrettably, my personal experience does not allow for this statement.”
The priest also said that there have been many changes introduced in the Church, yet when it comes to placing victims as a priority, it still falls short, saying it’s all talk but little action. Until this changes, he said, “we cannot speak of the real good of the Church” because there are still lies and a tendency to protect the perpetrators, with victims and survivors not being respected.
“The harm done to the victims was in fact done to our God, in whom we believe,” said Krasucki.
The conference, called “Our Common Mission of Safeguarding God’s Children,” is being held behind closed doors in Warsaw, but the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors website and social media accounts, as well as those of the Polish Bishops’ Conference and Vatican News, have published much of the proceedings, which has been used for this report.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston and head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors [PCPM], said that it’s necessary to continue “combatting sexual abuse wherever it has occurred regardless of the status or office of the person who has committed the crime.”
O’Malley shared some personal insight as to his own “conversion” when it comes to understanding the depth of the abuse crisis.
“We are gathered here because so many of our brothers and sisters have suffered at the hands of abusive clergy who have perpetrated evil acts by using their office to abuse others or to cover up such abuse,” he said in his opening homily. “And many times, those who have suffered have been rejected in their suffering when they spoke out. This cannot be what Jesus wants of his Church; this cannot be the Church of a loving and reconciling God.”
RELATED: In new interview, Pope speaks about Afghanistan, Latin Mass, and Vatican corruption trial
O’Malley also said that the courage and witness of so many survivors and their families, who are deeply concerned that others are not harmed in a similar way, should be “recognized and welcomed.”
The Sept. 19-22 summit is intended to enable the exchange of experiences, good practices, and the initiation of joint actions among Churches in this part of the European continent in the field of preventing sexual abuse of minors. It is also an attempt to look at the specific difficulties in approaching this phenomenon in the Church and societies of the region.
Welcoming the participants of the conference on Sunday, the President of the Polish Catholic Bishops Conference Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki said that they gather here “to cure themselves of indifference, and even more so, of disregard for the harm” of the victims.
“When I met with victims, I often heard stories in which the sexual abuse was preceded by manipulation, aimed at gaining unlimited trust, and therefore power over the life of a person who is defenseless against such manipulation,” Gądecki said. “The perpetrator – unfortunately also a perpetrator in a cassock and a collar – not infrequently convinces the victim that what he is urging and coercing them to do is not in any way wrong, and is a right thing to do. In this way, sexual abuse is often linked to an abuse of power and of conscience, deepening the devastation that this crime wreaks not only in the psyche but also in the soul of the wounded person.”
People from some 20 countries of Central and Eastern Europe are attending, despite the difficulties posed by COVID-19 travel bans and also “despite other issues that might have come also from the political side,” said German Father Hans Zollner, without elaborating.
The Jesuit priest is a member of the PCPM and director of the institute for child protection of Rome’s
RELATED: Expert says Poland experiencing a sea change on clerical abuse
“I can say from the PCPM side that we’re happy that finally it takes place, and we hope, pray and work so that this might certainly be a push to get things moving more than they have been,” said Zollner, considered one of the Catholic Church’s foremost experts on the issue. “In Poland, lots has happened since 2013. There’s a center [for abuse prevention] in Krakow, [Church] guidelines have been written and implemented. Things have been moving in Poland, and of course, much more needs to be done, but in comparison to other countries in this region, important things have been done.”
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma