20 May 2019, The Tablet
Pulled down priest Henryk Jankowski statue is seen in Gdansk, Poland on February 21, 2019. Three activists during the night attached a rope around the statue and pulled it down to protest the failure of the Polish church to deal with the sex abuse and pedophilia by clergy.
Photo: Vadim Pacajev/SIPA USA/PA Images
Polish Church leaders have apologised for the first time for sexual abuse by their clergy, after a harrowing TV documentary led several dioceses to issue statements and suspend implicated priests.
"The great suffering of these harmed people arouses pain and shame. I thank everyone with the courage to speak of their suffering and apologise for wounds inflicted by people of the Church", said Archbishop Wojciech Polak, Poland's Catholic Primate. "All these cases must be investigated and no one in the Church can shirk responsibility. We must defend children and young people – there is no other path for the Church."
The 54-year-old archbishop issued the statement after the graphic tell-all film attracted 12 million internet viewers within three days of its mid-May screening. He said he had been "deeply affected" by the documentary and would support a "solidarity fund" for victims and the verification of catechists and Church staffers in contact with children.
Meanwhile, the president of Poland's Bishops Conference also apologised for the film's "moving and sad" contents, and said it would bring "an even harsher condemnation of the crime of paedophilia".
"I am certain it will also contribute to a firmer upholding of guidelines, and the implementation of preventive principles by priests in every diocese", said Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan. "On behalf of the whole Bishops Conference, I offer the strongest apology to all hurt people, knowing no one can compensate for the harm they suffered".
The two-hour film, "Just don't tell anyone", made by Tomasz Sekielski, an investigative journalist, was the first to detail and expose the much-criticised cover-up of sexual abuse in the Polish Church, and follows a cinema drama on Church corruption, "Kler" (Clergy), which broke box-office records last autumn.
Among immediate reactions, a 91-year-old priest, Fr Eugeniusz Makulski, who founded the Marian basilica at Lichen, the largest church built in Twentieth Century Europe, was barred from all publishing and media activity by his order after being named as a paedophile in the film. A large statue of the priest with St John Paul II, who dedicated the basilica in 1999, was also tarpaulined last week, although the Church-owned Catholic Information Agency, KAI, denied that the Polish pontiff had been personally implicated.
The Vatican's Nuncio, Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, said Pope Francis, who met Polish abuse victims last February, had pledged his "closeness and solidarity" after hearing of the latest exposures.
Meanwhile, the Bishops Conference spokesman, Fr Pawel Rytel-Andrianik, said Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Holy See's principal child protection specialist, had been invited to share his "experience and knowledge" with the Polish bishops during a June visit. Polish newspapers have predicted the encounter could bring the resignation of several Church leaders for concealing or ignoring past abuse complaints.
However, Poland's centre-right government, which is widely considered close to the Catholic Church, has urged the bishops to take firmer action, and sponsored criminal law amendments last week, imposing up to 30 years' imprisonment for child abuse.
Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw also apologised for criminal activity by Polish clergy and called on lay Catholics to "report any sign worthy of attention".