Polish bishops apologize for not doing enough to prevent sex abuse in wake of documentary

'We admit that as shepherds of the Church we have not done everything to prevent these harm.'
Mon May 27, 2019 - 12:52 pm EST
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Polish Bishops' Conference June, 2017.

GNIEZNO, Poland, May 27, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) ― A documentary about clerical sexual abuse released this month in Poland has resulted in the country's bishops dropping their prior defenses and profusely apologizing for not doing more to "prevent these harms." 

They followed this initial apology with a May 22 statement that was read at all Sunday Masses this past weekend. 

“We admit that as shepherds of the Church we have not done everything to prevent these harms,” it said. 

“For many believers, especially for young people sincerely seeking God, sexual scandals involving clergy become a hard test of faith and a reason for great scandal. Disappointment and indignation are all the bigger and more painful that children, instead of caring love and accompaniment in seeking the nearness of Jesus, experienced violence and brutal [diminishment] of the dignity of the child,” it continued.  

“....We welcome with gratitude the new Motu Proprio of Pope Francis, in which the Holy Father orders the reporting of such crimes and provides for serious punishments for superiors who neglected their duties to protect the flock of Christ. We also remember that according to the new norms of Church law contained in this document, nobody can be obliged to remain silent when reporting a crime. We will do everything in our power so that these reports are proceeded in Church institutions with compassion and with the greatest sensitivity and in the sense of security for each person and their drama. We will also continue reporting crimes to state law enforcement authorities.”

Within hours of seeing the film “Jeszcze nic mów nikomu” (“Tell No One”), the Polish primate and archbishop of Gniezno, Wojciech Polak released a filmed apology on May 11. 

“I am deeply disturbed by what I saw in Mr. Tomasz Sekielski’s film,” said Polak.

“... Thank you to everyone who had the courage to tell of their suffering,” he continued. 

“I apologize for every wound caused by people in the Church.”

Speaking as the Polish Bishops’ delegate for the protection of children and young people, Polak said he would do everything in his power to help victims of clerical sexual abuse.

“The revelations show how much the regulations of Pope Francis’ new document [the motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi] are necessary,” he said. 

“Everything must be made clear. No-one in the Church may shirk responsibility. We must protect young children and young people. There is no other way for the Church.” 

The head of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, was similarly humble in his response to the film. After thanking the director, he apologized to victims for all the Polish bishops:

“On behalf of the entire Episcopate Conference, I would like to apologize most deeply to all those who were hurt,” he said.  “I realize that nothing can compensate them for the wrongs they have suffered.”

Gądecki predicted that the film would “contribute to an even more severe condemnation of pedophilia, for which there can be no place in the Church.” 

The swift and abject episcopal apologies were a departure from the defensive attitude the bishops took this March in response to a fictional movie about clerical sexual and fiscal misconduct called Kler (“Clergy”). 

“The [recent] reaction of the Polish bishops surprised me very positively,” Polish-American journalist  Filip Mazurczak told LifeSiteNews via social media from Kraków. Mazurczak is a doctoral student in history at Kraków’s Jagiellonian University. 

“For years, whenever the topic of priestly sexual abuse came up in the Polish media ...  the Polish bishops responded by saying something along the lines that sexual abuse is a problem in many milieus, not only among the Catholic Church,” he continued. 

“Many Catholic bishops - and many priests and rank-and-file lay Catholics as well - felt that they were being unfairly attacked.”

Mazurczak believes the bishops had a point because, he said, “the left-liberal media particularly loves this topic” and in the anti-clerical Gazeta Wyborcza “this topic is probably second only to the weather report in terms of daily coverage.” 

However, the student believes that the Church should be a “model” in dealing with sexual abuse and that the bishops made a serious mistake in their March press conference, footage from which turned up in “Tell No One.” 

“The March conference was a public relations flop for the Church,” Mazurek said.  

“During it, the Polish bishops presented statistics on priestly abuse in all Polish dioceses. The statistics were presented by Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki of Poznan, the head of the Polish bishops' conference, and  Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski of Kraków. They did not apologize for these cases.”

Archbishop Jędraszewski made a particularly egregious error when asking for mercy for the abusers. Mazurczak called his appeal a “disaster.”

“He literally spoke more about the need to be merciful and forgiving of the perpetrators of priestly abuse than about helping the victims,” Mazurczak revealed. 

“He also said that we should not follow the rule of ‘zero tolerance’ towards priestly abusers literally, because Hitler also followed a policy of ‘zero tolerance’ towards the Jews. This comparison was downright stupid and offensive to victims of the Holocaust. If I were Jewish, I'd be very angry that someone would compare my martyred compatriots to sexual abusers.”

The Polish bishops’ March press conference left many other Poles furious, and the swift expressions of abject apology that followed the release of “Tell No One” this month seem to show that the bishops have realized they owe their nation, especially the victims of abuse, a better response.  

Mazurczak told LifeSiteNews that he believes that younger Polish bishops, like Bishop Andrzej Czaja of Opole (born 1963), have been quicker than older bishops, like Jędraszewski (born 1949), to drop a defensive tone and reach out to victims, perhaps because they have fewer memories of Communist-era attacks on the Church and anti-Catholic, anti-clerical propaganda in the Communist-controlled media. 

The history student told LifeSiteNews that after “Tell No One” was released on Youtube, it was the most talked about subject in the Polish media. However, as far as he and his friends could tell, it made no negative impact on Church attendance the following Sunday.

“I was nervous when going to Mass because I knew about how sexual abuse had emptied parishes in Ireland during the 1990s,” Mazurczak said.  

“When I went to Mass at the Franciscan church, attendance was the same as it always is. My friends I've talked to told me the same thing: when they went to Mass, attendance was more or less the same as always. Nobody saw a major decline,” he continued.

“Sunday evening, I coincidentally stumbled upon the Vincentian church near the technical university. It was almost eight o'clock, and the Mass for university students was starting. I peeked into the church; it was bursting at the seams with young people, and more people kept filing in as I was leaving.”

  catholic, clergy sex abuse, clerical sex abuse, poland, polish bishops, sex abuse coverup, sex abuse crisis, tell no one, vos estis lux mundi, wojciech polak

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