Lead by example, not documents, Vatican abuse expert tells Polish bishops

Warsaw, Poland, Jun 14, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- As the Catholic Church in Poland continues to respond to sex abuse by clergy, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, a leading Vatican expert on prosecuting sex crimes under church law, attended the bishops’ plenary assembly to discuss child and youth protection.
 
Scicluna told the Catholic news source KAI that he wanted to encourage the bishops “to implement the very good guidance points that they themselves adopted” in 2013, Reuters reported.
 
“I have a great hope that Polish bishops will do what is needed…I hope this situation can be repaired,” said Scicluna, who took part in a June 14 session of the 383rd Plenary Assembly of the Polish Bishops’ Conference in Walbrzych.
 
“My very strong message to the bishops of Poland this morning was – we need to pass from very good documents to an example of best practice,” the archbishop said.
 
He said rules alone are not enough unless they are implemented. Parishioners need to know to whom they can report suspected abuse.
 
Scicluna urged anyone aware of a coverup to report it to Church authorities. In cases where high-ranking bishops are involved, they should report the coverup to Poland’s papal nuncio, the Associated Press reported.
 
In a May 22 letter, the Polish bishop’s conference spoke out against clergy sexual abuse and pledged both to continue to “eliminate factors conducive to crime” and to adopt a more sensitive attitude toward victims.
 
“We admit that as shepherds of the Church we have not done everything to prevent these harms,” they said, thanking the victims who have come forward and urging those who have not to report their abuse to both Church and state authorities.
 
A documentary about clerical sex abuse in Poland, titled “Tell No One,” was produced and recently released by filmmaker brothers Tomasz and Marek Sekielski. Millions of viewers have watched it on YouTube.
 
Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan, President of the Polish bishops’ conference, thanked the filmmakers on May 13. He said he was “deeply moved and saddened” by the film.
 
“I am convinced that this film, too, will result in an even more stringent compliance with the guidelines for the protection of children and young people in the Church,” he said, noting Pope Francis’ recent instructions in the document “Vos estis,” which includes rules on the prevention of and response to sexual abuse by clergy.
 
Close to 400 Polish priests were accused of sexual abuse of minors, with alleged incidents dating as far back as 1950 with as many as 625 potential victims, according to a study commissioned by the Episcopal Conference of Poland and released in March 2019. These accusations were submitted to Poland’s bishops starting in the year 1990 until 2018.  
 
The study covered data collected from the more than 10,000 parishes in Poland, and included religious orders.
 
According to the report, 382 priests were accused of abuse during the time covered. Of the clerics accused, 284 were diocesan priests, and 98 belonged to a religious order. Figures provided by the Holy See Press Office in 2016 reported there are 156 bishops and some 30,661 priests in Poland.
 
At the time of the report’s release, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, head of the Episcopal Conference of Poland, called the report’s findings “tragic,” and said every instance of sexual abuse is a “particularly painful” betrayal of public trust.
 
About 58 percent of allegations of abuse involved male victims, while 42 percent of victims were female. About 45 percent involved sexual abuse of a victim under age 15.
 
Only 168 priests were charged with a crime by civil authorities, with 85 being convicted. Two of these priests were acquitted outright, while other accused priests’ cases did not move forward. As of March 2019, 33 priests’ trials were ongoing.
 
Polish law currently provides for a 12-year prison sentence for abuse of a child under 15. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party in Poland, has discussed extending this to 30 years.
 
A canonical process under the Catholic Church’s internal laws was sought against at least 362 of the 382 accused priests.
 
A total of 68 priests were canonically removed from the priesthood, and another 109 punished by limits on ministry or other sanctions. Another 31 were transferred either to a different parish or to a location away from children. Of the accused priests, 34 passed away before the process could finish. Only 28 priests were acquitted. There was no data or explanation for the canonical response to 20 of the accused priests.
 
A separate report was produced by the sex abuse victims support group Have No Fear. The group presented a Spanish-language edition to Pope Francis after his general audience Feb. 20.
 
Their report aims to document “violations of civil and canon law by Polish bishops in the context of priests who engaged in sexual abuse of minors.” It examines more than 20 cases of clergy sexual abuse reported to the relevant Polish bishops in the last three decades, some cases reported as recently as 2012. It also examines these bishops’ responses.
 
The report accuses 24 former and current Polish bishops of having protected or transferred priests who abused children and adolescents.
 
According to the New York Times, about 87% of the Poland’s 38 million people self-identify as Catholic.

 

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