The Vatican is investigating a serving Polish bishop for the alleged sexual abuse of a then 15-year-old girl.
Driving the news
Jan Szkodoń, a bishop in the southern city of Kraków, confirmed in a statement February 10 the existence of a Roman investigation against him following a report by the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper that he molested the minor in 1998.
Szkodoń’s accuser, Monika – now in her thirties – said that the bishop became close to her and her family after a pilgrimage to the Vatican, as Notes from Poland reports.
That family friendship led to the bishop allegedly touching the young girl’s breasts, genital area and kissing her on the lips on occasions at Szkodoń’s home.
“God sent you to me. Through you he wants to teach me tenderness”, Monika denounced Szkodoń told her on one occasion, as he removed items of clothing and encouraged her to do the same.
Monika told Gazeta Wyborcza that as she grew up she was able to avoid the bishop’s advances, but that Szkodoń remained a family friend, eventually vetting her boyfriends, celebrating her wedding and baptising her and her siblings’ children.
However, Monika finally found the courage to report Szkodoń’s alleged abuse to the civil authorities in 2018, after watching the film Kler (“Clergy”), on the abuses of Polish priests.
Though Monika’s case was finally dismissed in December 2019 due to the expiration of the statute of limitations, prosecutors noted that the balance of the evidence was that the bishop had indeed abused the girl.
Why it matters
Szkodoń denied Monika’s allegations against him.
“Under oath I said that I did not molest Monika. Perhaps I stroked her hand or arm, perhaps I kissed her cheek, but that was not sexual”, the bishop told Gazeta Wyborcza, suggesting too that Monika’s accusations could be revenge for him not supporting her when her marriage – to the man Szkodoń had suggested for her – fell apart.
“The accusations presented to me are untrue, and harm my good name, which I intend to defend”, Szkodoń added, in reference to the investigation that has now been taken up by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in the Vatican, at the behest of the nuncio in Poland.
For his part, a representative of the Kraków archdiocese, Father Łukasz Michalczewski, confirmed that Szkodoń was currently on leave from pastoral duties in the archdiocese and living at an undisclosed location elsewhere in the country.
For the record
Priest and activist Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski told Wirtualna Polska that the investigation against Szkodoń is unprecedented in Poland.
“This is an accusation against a serving bishop”, Isakowicz-Zaleski said.
“There were no such cases before. Since Francis has been Pope, it has been clear that all accusations of paedophilia made towards diocese bishops are to be dealt with by a special cell at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”.
The Church in Poland has been living a difficult aftermath of the clergy sex abuse crisis which exploded in March last year, when ecclesiastical authorities released an official report confirming they had received allegations against 382 priests accused of having abused 625 children, just from 1990 to mid-2018.
The latest chapter of that aftermath unfolded last week, when a court ordered the dioceses in the cities of Wroclaw and Bydgoszcz to pay 300,000 zloty ($77,000) in damages to a former altar boy raped by a priest ten years ago.
Before that, in mid-January, Polish Bishops’ President and Archbishop of Poznań, Stanisław Gądecki, was accused of having covered up for and re-employed a pedophile suspended from the priesthood.