A Catholic diocese in Poland has drawn criticism for asking an abuse survivor if he was gay in a legal response to his lawsuit.
The lawyer of the Diocese of Bielsko-Żywiecka also asked Janusz Szymik if the sexual contact may have been pleasurable for him.
“I was 12 at the time,” Szymik told Crux. “I was a child, don’t they understand?”
Szymik filed the lawsuit seeking $760,000 compensation for abuse that began in 1984, when he was 12.
Crux does not publish the names of abuse victims, unless they are willing to be named in the media.
Earlier this week, the Polish website Onet published excerpts from the diocesan response to the lawsuit, including the questions from the lawyer representing the diocese.
“Those questions were arrogant and ridiculous,” Szymik told Crux.
The diocese apologized to Szymik in a statement on Thursday.
“The content of the document, which is a response to the statement of a claim, should not include questions about the sexual orientation of the victim and suggesting ‘getting satisfaction.’ We apologize to Mr. Janusz and all people scandalized by the media reports,” the diocese said.
The dioceses also made a commitment to clarify the wording of the application of evidence “in the near future,” promising to take into account “the sensitivity of the victim and respecting his dignity.”
“It all comes to this,” Szymik told Crux: “Whether you see the victim first or – until the end and at all costs – try to defend the institution.”
He added that he feels he is being treated as an opponent in a battle, asking himself: “Isn’t the bishop a pastor who should take care of his flock?”
Stephen White, Executive Director of the Catholic Project at Catholic University of America, said that too often, “abuse victims are seen first and foremost as adversaries and liabilities.”
“The Church is very good about forgiving sins; she is still learning how to ask forgiveness,” he told Crux, adding that it took years for the Church in the United States to learn how to do things right.
“While we have made good progress, it’s also clear that many parts of the Church are still decades behind,” he said.
Szymik told Crux that he thinks it is symbolic that the answer to his lawsuit came in January 2022, 20 years after the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” investigation into clerical sexual abuse.
“I know how the victims must have felt. I am in the same place now,” he said.
Father Piotr Studnicki, head of the Office of the Delegate of Child Protection of the Polish Bishops Conference, condemned the wording of the legal response of the Diocese of Bielsko-Żywiecka on Twitter.
“It must be clear to everyone that the child is never responsible for the violence experienced,” he said, adding that the issue of sexual orientation or the child’s emotional reaction to sexual abuse cannot constitute an argument against the victim. It also “cannot diminish the responsibility of the perpetrator,” Studnicki added.
Szymik was abused in 1984 in the town of Międzybrodzie in southwestern Poland, by the local parish priest – identified as Jan W. in Polish legal documents – for more than five years. The canonical trial in the abuse case is finished, and the priest was removed from ministry, and still awaiting canonical trials in other cases of abuse reported against him.
The retired bishop of Bielsko-Żywiecka, Tadeusz Rakoczy – who ignored reports provided to him by Szymik in 1993 and 2007 – was sanctioned by the Vatican in May 2021.
Szymik told Crux he doesn’t hope for much improvement in his relationship with the Diocese of Bielsko-Żywiecka.
“It all started well, when Bishop [Roman] Pindel met with me when he came to office in the diocese. But now with the lawsuit, it’s feels back to the old game,” he said.
He added he also wants the truth clarified to the members of the parish where the abuse took place.
“Many of those people are on the side of the perpetrator because no one was courageous enough to tell them the truth of what happened,” he said.
Follow Paulina Guzik on Twitter: @Guzik_Paulina