Archbishop Wojciech Polak

Primate of Poland: Only by Standing in Truth Will We Rebuild Trust in Church in Poland

Statement by Archbishop Wojciech Polak

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“Purification of the Church in Poland of crimes of abuse of minors by some members of the clergy is only possible through honest and consistent clearance of the offenses as well as through an explanation and assessment of negligence on the part of ecclesiastical superiors,” said Archbishop Wojciech Polak, Primate of Poland and Delegate of the Polish Bishops’ Conference for the protection of children and youth. His remarks were released on July 6, 2020, by the Press Office of the Polish Bishops’ Conference.

Archbishop Polak reminded that in recent years the Church in Poland has been undertaking actions aimed at protecting minors. He informed that in 2013 Polish bishops appointed Fr. Adam Żak SJ as coordinator of the Polish Bishops’ Conference for the protection of children and youth. Thanks to his initiative, the Child Protection Center was founded at the Ignatianum Academy in Cracow. The Center has run for 6 years a number of training courses on preventing sexual abuse directed to the people of the Church who are responsible for the education and pastoral of children and youth. The Center has trained over 6,000 people so far among priests and religious. In order to meet the need to qualify the staff of Catholic institutions of different kinds, the Child Protection Center launched postgraduate studies in the prevention of sexual violence against minors at the Ignatianum Academy. Since 2015, in all 44 dioceses and in over 60 male religious congregations, delegates for the protection of children and youth have been appointed; they are responsible among others for the acceptance of victims who want to report sexual abuse committed against them by members of the clergy. The Centre run by Jesuits has taken care of their professional preparation in a series of training sessions.

The Primate of Poland stressed that since 2019 there has also been operating a helpline “Wounded in the Church”, launched by lay Catholics. It is a support of the official report system for people who find it difficult to present their harm to clergy and need help and accompaniment in order to report their matter to a Church institution. “The activity of the helpline is a manifestation of the responsibility of lay people for the Church and their care for those who have been hurt there,” he said.

Archbishop Polak reminded that the standards of protection of children and young people are determined above all by the guidelines in force in the whole Church in Poland. They define the course of action in case of sexual offenses committed by clergy and Church institutions employees against minors and vulnerable persons. They also set out the principles of prevention in order to protect minors. They have been adopted in accordance with the current norms of the Holy See and they also take into account the law in force in Poland. They also lay down the principles of prevention to protect minors.

The Primate of Poland recalled in this context the opinion of the auxiliary secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Archbishop Charles Scicluna expressed last year, during his visit to Poland. “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,” stressed Archbishop Polak.

The Delegate of the Polish bishops pointed out that the Church in Poland is also learning to apply the new law promulgated by Pope Francis in motu proprio “Vos estis lux mundi”. This law is effective from 1 June 2019 and sets out an obligation and a specific procedure for reporting cases of negligence on the part of Church superiors in cases of sexual crimes committed by clergy against minors. “According to this law, every clergyman and layman with credible information about such negligence is obliged to report it to the Metropolitan or the Holy See,” recalled Archbishop Polak.

The Primate also pointed out that an example of the application of this law is the fact of reporting by him to the Holy See the case of Bishop of Kalisz after the revelations of Sekielski brothers’ film. “After watching the film, I could not remain silent or stay inactive in the face of the presented facts” – emphasized Archbishop Polak. “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” – added the Primate.

According to Archbishop Polak, the starting point of all activities of the Church must be the good of people who have been harmed. “Rebuilding a sense of justice through holding perpetrators of these crimes to account and punishing them is the first sign of help. It’s not just a duty towards the victims, but also a sign of the Church’s love and care” – stressed the Primate. “The victims should also be helped with psychological, legal, and spiritual support. And we are obliged to do so not only by the law in force in the Church but most of all by conscience and human decency,” indicated the Delegate of the Polish Bishops’ Conference for the protection of children and youth.

The Primate also stressed that his actions as Delegate resulted from a mandate received from the Polish Episcopate during a plenary assembly in March 2019. He recalled that in the same year the St. Joseph Foundation was established by Polish bishops. The Foundation aims to support existing actions and initiatives as well as to offer support for new initiatives in favor of victims and to protect minors, both nationwide and at the diocesan level. The Foundation is financed by all Polish dioceses in proportion to the number of priests and bishops belonging to them. “The establishment of the Foundation is an expression of solidarity of the Church in Poland with the victims,” said Archbishop Polak.

“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. 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,” added Archbishop Polak. He pointed out that this is what the prevention policy worked out and adopted in Polish dioceses serve. Its application in practice will make it even more possible that Church environments will be safe places for children and youth.

“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,” concluded the Primate.

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