Primate of Poland: Church must rebuild trust amid abuse crisis

prymas 4 1068x670 Archbishop Wojciech Polak, Primate of Poland. | Press Office of the Polish Bishops’ Conference.

The Catholic Church can only rebuild trust in its handling of clerical abuse by "taking responsibility for clarifying all crimes and omissions," the Primate of Poland said Monday.

In a statement issued July 6, Archbishop Wojciech Polak noted the steps that the Polish bishops have taken in response to a burgeoning abuse crisis in the country. 

"I am convinced that only by standing in truth and taking responsibility for clarifying all crimes and omissions, we will rebuild our credibility and trust in the Church in Poland," he said.

Polak is the Polish bishops' delegate for the protection of children and youth. As the metropolitan archbishop of Gniezno, the Polish primatial see, he is the Primate of Poland.

His comments came a week after more than 600 people took out a full-page advertisement in the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica urging the pope to intervene in the growing abuse crisis in the country.

A Vatican spokesman said that Pope Francis had been informed of the appeal and was praying for those who sent it.

The Church in Poland has faced intense scrutiny of its handling of abuse allegations in the wake of a documentary film, Tell No One, which has been viewed almost 24 million times on YouTube since its release last year. 

In 2019, the Polish bishops' conference issued a report which concluded that 382 clergy sexually abused a total of 624 victims between 1990 and 2018.

Polak recalled that the Polish bishops' conference had appointed the Jesuit priest Fr. Adam Żak as its coordinator for the protection of children and youth in 2013.

Żak oversaw the establishment of a child protection center at the Ignatianum Academy in Kraków, which has trained 6,000 people, including priests and religious, in the past six years.

The Primate of Poland also highlighted the creation in 2019 by lay Catholics of a helpline, known as "Wounded in the Church," to support the Church's official abuse reporting system. 

He said that the Polish bishops' safeguarding guidelines complied with the norms of the Holy See and Polish law, and had earned praise from Archbishop Charles Scicluna, one of the leading figures in the battle against clerical abuse.

"He assessed the documents and guidelines of the Polish bishops' conference as being very good; but what counts is their application that in some cases malfunctions," Polak said in his statement, which was issued by the Press Office of the Polish Bishops' Conference.

The archbishop noted that he personally had reported a fellow bishop, Edward Janiak of Kalisz, to the Vatican under the law promulgated by the pope in June 2019 in the motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi

He said that he had taken the step after viewing the documentary film Hide and Seek, by brothers Marek and Tomasz Sekielski. In the follow-up to Tell No One, they alleged that Janiak had failed to take action against a priest accused of abuse. The bishop has denied the allegations.

"After watching the film, I could not remain silent or stay inactive in the face of the presented facts," Polak said. 

Last month Pope Francis appointed an apostolic administrator to take charge of Janiak's diocese while an investigation into the bishop's actions is carried out.

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"Reporting does not resolve the guilt and gives Bishop Edward Janiak a real chance to present arguments in his defense in the context of a canonical process. Judging the case is the exclusive competence of the Holy See," the Polish Primate explained. 

Polak hailed the creation last year of the St. Joseph Foundation, which seeks to support abuse survivors and to safeguard minors within the Church in Poland.

"The establishment of the Foundation is an expression of solidarity of the Church in Poland with the victims," he said.

The archbishop acknowledged that, despite progress in combating abuse, confidence in Church authorities had been shaken by the crisis. A survey in January, conducted by the research institute IBRiS, found that trust in the Church had fallen by 13 percentage points compared to 2017, down to 39.5%.

"We must honestly admit that despite the actions taken in Poland, we need to work constantly on changing our mentality. Still in this area there's a lot to do," he said.

"We must also honestly admit that the law in force in the Church is not respected everywhere, and not all victims receive the help they need. Ensuring the safety of children and young people in the Church is still a challenge for us." 

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