“The bishops' conference is on the side of the perpetrators”

In Poland, the "Fear Not" victims' association and Catholic bishops continue to clash over child sexual abuse by clergy. The association called for protests against 19 bishops last Sunday.

At the gates of the bishop's residences in Warsaw, Gdansk, Poznan, Wroclaw and elsewhere, protesters tied stuffed animals and attached the slogan of the action written on paper or cardboard: "Bishop's shame". The president of the association Marek Lisinski lamented, "The bishops' conference is on the side of the perpetrators." The church defends itself and does not side with the victims. Mostly a few dozen people, mainly women, took part in the protests. The initiative "Women's Strike" supported the action.

"They hide and transfer priest offenders"

A few days earlier, at a press conference of the association, a man who was abused by a priest as a 13-year-old in the diocese of Opole described his suffering. His mother said Bishop Andrzej Czaja had advised against reporting the clergyman to the prosecutor's office. It would be better if her son did not have to testify, Czaja had argued. Association activist and left-liberal Sejm deputy Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus stressed: "We have proved that the dioceses are lying. They hide and transfer priest offenders."

Even the presentation of the abuse study commissioned by the bishops in mid-March had not overcome the hard fronts between the association "Do not be afraid", the only mouthpiece of the victims, and the church. The re-elected chairman of the bishops' conference, Posen's Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, asked at the presentation all people who have experienced sexual violence by clergy to report to the church. However, he refrained from asking for forgiveness. Earlier this year, Gadecki had already announced a conversation with association head Lisinski. But until today it did not come about, what not only Lisinski criticizes.

Instead, Gadecki first spoke to others affected by abuse. At the press conference, Archbishop Gadecki had criticized the term "pedophilia in the church": "This is not an institutional problem, but a global problem." It does not only concern the church. The "ideological catchphrase 'pedophilia in the church'" not only points to the problem, but "also undermines the authority of the church and leads to the destruction of the faithful's trust in church institutions in the first place."

Claims for compensation for pain and suffering still pending

His deputy, Krakow's Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski, distanced himself from the "zero tolerance" phrase used by Pope Francis toward perpetrators of the crime. This "totalitarian" sounding choice of words is reminiscent of the fight of the National Socialists against the "enemies of the people" Jews, which had resulted in the Holocaust. Therefore, he prefers to speak of "impeccable steadfastness". These statements of Gadecki and Jedraszewski offended left-liberal commentators and also some clergymen.

Poland's Primate, Archbishop Wojciech Polak of Gniezno, meanwhile, was humble and most responsive to those affected: "Each of these victims should awaken in us clergy pain, shame and guilt that this situation has arisen. This is a shock that hurts the whole community of the church."

A payment of an average of 5.000 euros per victim "in recognition of the suffering suffered" as in Germany has not been an ie for the Polish bishops so far. Their response to claims for pain and suffering from victims of abuse is still pending. The Polish order "Society of Christ for the Pastoral Care of Emigrants" is currently appealing to the Supreme Court a judgment ordering it to pay 230.000 euros in compensation to a woman who was raped several times by a religious when she was a child. Further compensation claims are before the courts.

By Oliver Hinz

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