Catholic Poland: Tomorrow’s Ireland?
Last week I saw that the Catholic news site Crux featured a report on a big controversy among the bishops of Poland. Here’s how the report begins:
A bishop at the center of a documentary on sex abuse in the Catholic Church in Poland has tried to defend himself, but has only generated more controversy.
The film “Hide and Seek” documented a dramatic case of abuse of power by Bishop Edward Janiak of Kalisz in central Poland. In 2016, when a family visited him to report that their son was abused by their parish priest, Janiak expelled them from his office and didn’t report the case to the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, as the law required.
The documentary was released on May 16, and on the same day Archbishop Wojciech Polak, the Primate of Poland and Delegate of Child Protection at the Polish Bishops Conference, reported the case to the Holy See through the Vatican embassy, using the procedure outlined in a new Vatican law – Vos Estis Lux Mundi – which was promulgated by Pope Francis on June 1, 2019. It was the first time the law had been utilized in Poland.
Janiak responded with a June 13 letter to the Polish bishops rejecting the accusations and attacking Polak for reporting him.
Readers may recall that when I was in Poland last year interviewing people for Live Not By Lies, I was quite surprised to have a number of conversations with young Catholics who told me that they expect Poland to go the way of Ireland in a decade, maybe two. What they meant was that they — even though they are practicing Catholics — expect to see a collapse of the Church and the rapid secularization of Polish society. I found this hard to believe the first two times I heard it, but I kept hearing it, in Warsaw and in Krakow. I met an older priest and asked him what he thought. He shook his head sadly, and said yes, it’s coming.
Every single person who told me this, when I asked them why, they said that it was because of problems with the institutional church, and its loss of credibility with the young, postcommunist generations. A big part of the loss of credibility is the cover-up of clerical child molestation.
When I saw the news from Crux the other day, I reached out to one of the young Catholics — an orthodox Catholic, I hasten to say, quite conservative theologically — to ask him to explain what’s going on to me. He wrote back:
Well, there is lots of trouble. I will provide you with the immediate context of these events, but will try to remain as succinct as possible. If you would like me to explain or elaborate on anything – I will be glad to help.
As everywhere, in Poland we have a really big problem with priests-pedophiles. Lots of cases have been covered up and still most bishops prefer to hide all the problems from the public. With few good exceptions (e.g. Archbishop Wojciech Polak from Gniezno, the primate of Poland), they deal with them by simply moving a priest-offender secretly to a different parish. Of course, the moved predator still attacks and nothing improves.
Last year, two Polish liberal journalists – Sekielski brothers – published a documentary film “Tylko nie mów nikomu” (“Do not dare to tell anyone”) in which they uncovered a few cases of violation of the Church’s child protection procedures by covering up numerous priests who were sexual offenders. Bishops simply ignored the Vatican’s instructions, have not punished offenders in any way and sometimes even ruthlessly demanded silence from the victims, treating them as if they were rubbish.
The film has been extremely popular in Poland. However, only the primate and few other bishops reacted to it in a positive way. The primate declared a zero-tolerance policy on pedophiles and encouraged other Polish bishops to do so (he has no formal means, other than the general ones issued by the Pope, to oblige them to do so). Moreover, he helped to create a St. Joseph’s Foundation, directed solely by Catholic laymen. The Foundation aims to help the victims. It’s leader – Marta Titaniec – does a splendid job! Unfortunately, many other bishops denounced the film as “an attack on the Church” and belittled the facts presented in it.
Because of it, a few weeks ago, a new film by the Sekielski brothers was published – “Zabawa w chowanego” (“Hide-and-seek”). It is slightly different than the previous one – it concentrates mostly on a case of one pedophile priest. Lots of convincing data and testimonies are presented in this film. A few priests and lay Catholic journalists helped Sekielskis in creating this new film, so it is now really hard to simply denounce it as a “liberal attack on the Church”. The film clearly indicates that the bishop Edward Janiak of Kalisz (Calisia) in Poland simply ignored the priest’s appalling behaviour for a few years and did literally nothing to stop him. By this, he violated almost every single Church procedure which should have been applied. This film also gained wide public attention and caused even greater outrage — it clearly shows that since the first film virtually nothing has changed.
The bishop of Kalisz went mad. He issued a pastoral letter in which he claims to be “attacked by the media” as a part of a wider godless offensive against the Church. Moreover, he demanded that in the diocese of Kalisz the priests signed a letter of support, in which they were expected to reject accusations aimed at their bishop. To a great positive surprise, the local clergy openly refused and asked the Vatican to start an investigation. It is a good sign of change — when Bishop Juliusz Paetz’s case appeared a few years ago, the mechanism was exactly the same, but the clergy obeyed the demands, signed the letter and remain silent till this day. Consequently, the Primate decided to act and issued a similar petition for an official church investigation to the Pope.
Because of this, the bishop of Kalisz issued a second pastoral letter. It shows that Bp Janiak is afraid of punishment and wants to create fear among other bishops that if he will be judged, others will follow. In a very crude way he criticises the primate for his decision to ask the Vatican for an investigation. He suggests that the St. Joseph’s Foundation operates without support of most of the bishops. Bp Janiak also states that he is innocent and the primate’s attack on him is pointless (he really publicly mouths off to the primate!). To Bp Janiak’s satisfaction, the Vatican appointed Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki from Poznań to lead the investigation (the diocese where Juliusz Paetz was earlier an ordinary). It is highly likely that Gądecki will intentionally lead the investigation in such a way that Bp Janiak will not be found guilty.
The Primate and most laymen are furious, but we cannot do anything. We feel helpless and humiliated. We only pray that God will help us. The Vatican does not seem to pay sufficient attention to what is happening here. The Church in Poland has always had a great autonomy in the Church’s structures, but it now turns out to have horrible side effects. We even started fundraising for a big advert in La Repubblica begging the Pope for real help, because the usual channels of communication have clearly failed. I do not know if this will help, but we are running out of rational, more ordinary ideas. Most of the Polish bishops silently support Janiak (or at least are not determined to investigate his case) and do not want any such further “attacks on the Church” to happen. A classical Irish-style scenario of an aggressive clergy-driven secularisation is happening now and the faithful cannot do anything to change it.
Man, if the West loses Poland to secularism, what’s left?