Child protection agency urges Polish church to confront clerical abuse claims
The head of Poland’s largest child protection agency has urged the Roman Catholic church to respond to growing complaints of sexual abuse by its priests.
“It’s not the scale of this phenomenon which is worrying, but the church’s attitude. So far, the Bishops Conference has said nothing,” said Jakub Spiewak, director of the independent Warsaw-based Kidprotect Foundation, which runs a hotline for abuse victims and seven separate child protection programs.
“The Catholic church occupies a special position here, but could begin to lose it if it fails to address problems like this,” said Spiewak, speaking in the wake of the publication of a book of interviews with Polish Bishop’s Conference president Archbishop Jozef Michalik, who says Polish church leaders are doing everything possible to counter “inappropriate behavior” among Catholic priests.
Kidprotect has launched a campaign, “Silence is Not Golden,” to encourage victims to come forward. However, Spiewak said police and civic officials were sometimes afraid to challenge priests suspected of abuse in small towns and villages, where they were “often the most powerful people.”
Leading Roman Catholics, including Poland’s Children’s Rights Spokesmen, have urged clear church procedures for handling abuse claims since 2002, when the archbishop of Poznan, Juliusz Paetz, resigned after media reports he had molested local seminarians.
A movement of priest’s victims, recently formed with U.S. backing, says several dozen Polish priests convicted for molestation have received only light suspended jail terms, while most are still serving in parishes, often working with children.
Many cases were not reported by the Polish church’s Catholic information agency, KAI, which has covered abuse scandals in other countries extensively.
Sexual abuse claims against priests have severely affected the Roman Catholic church in several countries over the past two years, including Ireland, Germany, Austria, and the United States.
In May, the Vatican instructed all Bishop’s Conferences to have abuse guidelines in place by May 2012, and to introduce child protection programs, exchange information about clergy transferring between dioceses and ensure “spiritual and psychological assistance” for victims.
However, in a recent special issue, a Catholic monthly called “The Link” said the Polish church lacked psychological checks for its clergy and “transparent norms” for vetting employees, and had no “information policy” or “norms of conduct” for handling abuse accusations. It also cited a “lack of co-operation between church and state” on abuse issues.
Spiewak says the Catholic journal’s warnings have been ignored, adding that most bishops were showing “extraordinary laxity.”
“There’s growing frustration here; any criticism of a priest, even by loyal Catholics, is treated as a frontal attack on the church and faith,” Spiewak said.
“If the church doesn’t uphold the law and stop sheltering its priests from canonical and criminal responsibility, it will face the same crisis as the church in other countries. But its leaders seem to think they can simply avoid the issue.”