Polish bishops attend a news conference to release the church's first clerical sex abuse report March 14
CNS photo/Adam Stepien, Agencja Gazeta via Reuters
Poland's Catholic bishops have pledged to step up child protection measures and offer greater help to victims, after publishing the first ever Church report on sexual abuse by local clergy.
"These data highlight the necessity of surrounding those harmed with care and support - they also demand a continuation of the fight against abuse of children by Church people", the Warsaw-based Bishops Conference said in a statement. "Care for those hurt is a special dimension of care for the human good, and it will be served by decisive prevention programmes in all dioceses".
The weekend statement was issued after a press conference to launch the abuse report at a plenary session of the 157-member Conference, attended by the Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and Catholic bishops from a dozen other countries.
Compiled by the Polish Church's Statistics Institute and Child Protection Centre, the document said 382 priests had been accused of sexual abuse between 1990 and 2018, involving a total of 625 minors, 58 per cent of them male. It added that said 63 per cent of abuse cases had been reported by victims or their relatives, compared to 11 per cent reported by state officials or the media and five percent by parishioners. Of these 44 per cent had been investigated by state prosecutors, with around half resulting in convictions. Only a small fraction of cases had seen damages awarded to victims.
Welcoming the report, Poland's honorary primate, Archbishop Wojciech Polak of Gniezno, the bishops had all agreed on making the data public, believing it would assist further training and prevention, and ensure no crimes were "swept under the carpet". Speaking to Poland's Catholic Information Agency (KAI), he said "clear procedures and a rise in exposures" were speeding the Polish Church's "purification", but cautioned that Church leaders could never do enough" to atone for the "pain, shame and guilt" touched off by abuse crimes.
However, the Bishops Conference president, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, who met selected victims for the first time in February, warned that sexual abuse was a "global problem", adding that preoccupations with abuse in the Church had diverted government attention from need to tackle it in wider society. "We've got used to thinking the Church is the only guilty party", Archbishop Gadecki told journalists. "But worldwide data show the violence is also occurring in homes, among neighbours, in schools and sports groups".
Poland's Catholic bishops set out anti-abuse guidelines last September after being repeatedly accused of inaction, and all 43 Polish dioceses now have child protection officers, with over 3000 clergy trained in psychological, legal and spiritual help for victims.
The report said canonical procedures had been followed by the Church in 95 percent of instances, with three-quarters brought to completion. However, it added that only a quarter of cases had seen the defrocking of perpetrators, compared to 40 percent ending in restrictions on priestly ministry, and 12 per cent in with work transfers, suspensions and acts of penance.
"Differences of reliability" between Polish dioceses and religious orders in responding to enquiries had necessitated "additional monitoring and data verification", the document noted, while there had also been "a certain ignorance" about Church rules on abuse.
In its statement, the Bishops Conference said it was grateful to Pope Francis for highlighting the "global dimension" of the sexual abuse problem, and the "concrete action" required from the Catholic Church, adding that it had appointed Archbishop Polak as its first delegate for child protection.
The director of KAI agency, Marcin Przeciszewski said in a weekend commentary the report represented a "milestone towards Church transparency" in Poland, as well as proof of a "zero tolerance" policy and willingness to "cleanse the Church". He added that abuse accusations had concerned 0.8 percent of Polish clergy, but said the figure could rise as more victims came forward.