The issue of paedophilia in the Catholic Church is a delicate and important matter. The issue of covering up of paedophiles among the Catholic clergy has been a major problem for the leadership of the Catholic Church for years. This week the Vatican summit on clergy sexual abuse takes place. There are two new Polish developments in the summit context.
Do not be afraid
Rome, 20 February. A Polish liberal MP Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus of Teraz (Now; she was previously with .Modern) attends the general audience. The general audiences take place every Wednesday in Rome; participants can meet the Pope personally – all you need is to preregister. MP Scheuring-Wielgus approaches Pope Francis and hands him an independent report on the situation in Poland with the Polish bishops protecting priests guilty of sexual abuse of children.
The report is handed over by representatives of the non-governmental organisation “Do Not Be Afraid” that helps the victims of sexual abuse of Catholic Church paedophiles. When he learns that among the people who give him the report is a victim of paedophilia himself, Marek Lisiński, the Pope kisses his hand with deepest respect.
Marek Lisiński is leading the non-governmental “Do Not Be Afraid” foundation. The very name of the organisation is a quote famous in Poland – once used by John Paul II to inspire the political opposition to a totalitarian regime. Mr Lisiński reports to the media that he talked to Pope Francis about the report and that the Pope responded positively: Pope Francis will read the report. Mr Lisiński is certain of it as the Pope ended with the following words:
I promisePope Francis
The delegation from Poland is overwhelmed. “The Polish bishops had five years to meet us. Only the Pope meets us”, says Marek Lisiński. Earlier this month the leader of the Catholic Church in Poland, archbishop Stanisław Gądecki met with several victims of priests-paedophiles, but until now he did not have the time to meet with the representatives of the organisation.
The report accuses 24 bishops, including two Cardinals, of covering up of acts of paedophilia committed by priests in Poland. The non-governmental organisation on its website also runs a map with reported acts of sexual abuse, covering almost entire country. The scale is overwhelming.
The next day, the Vatican summit on sexual abuse begins. Archbishop Gądecki feels ill and does not go to the Vatican.
The monument goes down
Gdańsk, 21 February. At 3 AM three activists take down a monument in Gdańsk. A monument of Henryk Jankowski, who was a Catholic priest and an important Solidarność activist in 1980s. Later in life he became a highly controversial figure with his anti-European and anti-Semitic rhetoric. Henryk Jankowski died in 2010. There were gossip earlier, but the news broke in December 2018 when Gazeta Wyborcza revealed Jankowski was a paedophile.
The process of taking down the monument is filmed. This is not an act of vandalism. This is an act of protest, say the activists: “the objective is to break up the false and hideous myth of Henryk Jankowski, not the matter of his monument”. They protect the monument as it falls. Watch the process on YouTube:
They go to the police and are arrested. In a statement shared with Oko.press they accuse Henryk Jankowski of being a child predator, the Catholic Church for knowing and covering up his crimes, and the public administration for failing to prosecute the crimes when the priest was alive and for glorifying the perpetrator of crimes. This is their act of civil disobedience.
There are two types of reactions. Some media point out to the fact that the video was first published on Tomasz Sekielski Facebook, a popular journalist who is working on a documentary on the Catholic Church in Poland paedophilia. He has crowdfunded the film. It will be released later this spring. Was this an act of civil disobedience or a promotion of the upcoming movie? Sekielski answers: “I got a hint about the upcoming act so I came with a camera”.
The second type of reaction comes from the political class. Asked, all politicians (PiS, PO, PSL, .Modern) agree: the act of civil disobedience was wrong, the issue should be dealt with within the legal order. In Gdańsk the issue to take down the monument later this year was on the agenda, but the local politics has been derailed with the murder of mayor Adamowicz last month. The elections of a new mayor are scheduled for early March.
The monument was erected by a local social committee, not by the city. This private committee is an owner of the monument. After its decomposition the social committee was appalled. Grzegorz Pellowski, member of the social committee of the monument: “We want the monument to be put back”. For now, the city agrees.
In the evening of the day the monument is back up. This time it is a group of citizens protesting peacefully. They want the city to remove the “monument of shame”, as they call it. They say they will come back every 13 of the month, starting on 13 March. Why the day? This is because of the Marshall Law introduced in Poland on 13 December 1981. “Martial law was the moment of separation of the nation from dignity. And the same is with paedophilia and violence – it deprives us of dignity and stigmatizes people for life. We will meet here every month the 13th, until the establishment of the Truth and Atonement Commission. Every month we will meet on Gdańsk monthly”, says Michał Wojciechowicz, the organiser of the evening gathering.
The issue of child abuse among the priests of the Catholic Church in Poland is a long-time taboo. Last year 5 million people went to see a movie drama Kler [Clergy]. It was the first time the issue of priests paedophilia broke the glass ceiling. It coincided with the opening of the Catholic Church HQ in Rome to debate paedophilia around the world. There will be a follow up to the first movie, Kler 2, in the Vatican.
The issue is debated and shows a dramatic face of the Catholic Church in Poland. The Church remains a powerful institution with over 90% of Poles identifying themselves as Catholics and over 50% attending Sunday mass on weekly basis. The Church is also close to the ruling Law and Justice. The paedophilia debate weakens the Church, hence it weakens the popular shallow religiousness and conservatism of the population.
Hopefully the Jankowski monument will be removed in due course. He earned his place in history as the main priest of the Solidarność protesters in 1980s, but he will be remembered as child predator.
The wider problem is how the Catholic Church approaches paedophilia in Poland. In 2013 a bishop said it was children who were the guilty party. Last November new data came from Łódź, third largest city in the country, about the children en masse no longer attending the religion classes in schools. The future of the Catholic Church in Poland is not cloudless.