Priests in Poland are rebelling against a sex abuse cover-up-accused bishop, refusing to sign letters of loyalty to him.
– Clerics want to wait for results of Vatican investigation before expressing support
The brave stand came from clerics in the central Kalisz diocese, where the local Church has been in a tumult ever since a mid-May documentary by film-makers Tomasz and Marek Sekielski, Hide and Seek, denounced that Bishop Edward Janiak covered up the abuse of two 7- and 13-year-old brothers by a priest in the 1990s.
The Sekielski brothers had previously uncovered dozens of abuse cover-ups in the Polish Church in their 2019 film Tell No One, including other cases of negligence in the Kalisz diocese.
But after Hide and Seek was released, the priests of the Kalisz presbyteral council – an advisory body to the bishop – were asked to sign letters of loyalty to Bishop Janiak.
Those priests, however, refused to back their superior, saying that they would prefer to wait to express their support for him until the conclusion of a Church investigation now in the hands of the Vatican.
– Expert: priests’ “great courage” a “rarity” in institution
The Kalisz priests’ actions in refusing to back their bishop for the moment could be decisive in the Holy See’s decision whether or not to remove him from office, Polish theologian and ex-Jesuit Stanislaw Obirek told DW.
Obirek, now a journalist and professor at Warsaw University, explained that “these priests have shown great courage, which is a rarity in the hierarchical church structure”.
The ex-Jesuit – who left the order in 2005, he says, because of the objections of the hierarchy to his criticisms of Pope John Paul II – heralded the Kalisz clerics’ resistance as a sign that perhaps the Polish Church, long criticised for its hermetic attitude, is now finally starting to change course.
“I hope that Poland is starting to go down the path toward normality and will start to throw light on pedophile acts committed by clergy”, Obirek said.
– “Concrete cracking” in “monolith” shored up by clericalism, hand-washing and under-reporting
Obirek pointed to a series of obstacles in the Polish Church that are hindering its attempts to root out the scourge of clerical pedophilia and cover-ups, ranging from an exaggerated clericalism among the faithful – where priests are regarded as “equal to Christ” – to the Church’s past policy of regarding guilt and compensation in abuse crimes as the responsibility of individual clerics.
On that last point, Obirek said that such institutional hand-washing is unconscionable, since the pedophilia problem is structural.
“Priests should not be regarded in the same way as any other private person, because it is as priests that they commit these acts”, he said, explaining that “it is only because they are priests that they get so much access to young people”.
On the other hand, Obirek – who was also abused by a priest as a child, but has not yet decided to take his aggressor to court – said that clerical abuse crimes in Poland are still under-reported, and that official Church figures from 2019 – which acknowledged that 328 priests abused 625 children since 1990 – are just the tip of the iceberg.
Still, in the expert’s opinion, the fact that the Kalisz priests are standing up to their bishop “shows that the church is no longer a monolith. The concrete is cracking”.
– Majority of Poles want government to force Church to accountability: survey
Another sign that “the concrete is cracking” around Church sex abuse in Poland were the results of a survey carried out mid-May by the onet.pl web portal that revealed that 71% of Poles believe that government attempts so far to force the Church to accountability around pedophilia are “insufficient” or “completely insufficient”.
Last year, the Polish parliament voted to establish a commission of inquiry into cases of abuse in religious communities, as well as in the educational, cultural, recreational and sports sectors.