A sad scandal connected with the suspicions of paedophilia that fell recently on Polish clergymen has been decisively addressed by Bishop Wojciech Polak. The Secretary General of the Polish Episcopal Conference has assured the public that the Church will react decisively in paedophilia-related cases. An apology has been offered.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that the Polish Catholic Church is facing huge challenges. After all, the scandals from the Dominican Republic are just some of many. Other widely discussed events – in the Diocese of Warszawa-Praga and in the Diocese of Koszalin-Kołobrzeg – have also caused the public unease. Shortly, a Polish court will hear the first case for injury damages brought by one of the victims. A claim for several hundred thousand zlotys will definitely attract media attention, though even now the entire country – ranging from serious opinion-forming magazines to the tabloids – is engaged in a discussion on the state of the Polish clergy, the limits of solidarity among clergymen and the degree of trust that the faithful have for the Church representatives. Is this debate justified?
After similar scandals which in 2010 and 2011 swept through, inter alia, Germany, the German Catholic Church had to face consequences comparable to the aftermath of the World Trade Centre Attack. Suffice it to say that at that time, Pope Benedict XVI arranged a pilgrimage to his country and child sexual abuse was one of its key themes. While in Germany, Joseph Ratzinger met with a number of people including priests accused of paedophilia.
This year, Pope Francis not only dismissed Archbishop Wesołowski but also defrocked the Peruvian bishop earlier found guilty of child sexual abuse.
In Poland, however, the child abuse scandal involving clergymen carries special implications. Given the widespread concept of Polish identity based on Catholicism and the special role that the Church played in the 20th century, the Catholic Church is confronted with entirely new problems. And even in this challenging situation, recent events – apart from Pope Francis’s gestures and Bishop Wojciech Polak’s comments – gave rise to deplorable statements by several clergymen, which only confirms the assumptions that these problems will be extremely hard to fix.
Shaped by such personalities as John Paul II, Cardinal Wyszyński and Reverend Tischner, the Polish Church has gained exceptional authority among the faithful. Under the Communist regime, the Church was perceived as a space for freedom. No wonder then that the expectations are high. After all, it religious institutions that are meant to take care of the weak and the innocent. When vulnerable individuals such as children are threatened by Church representatives, it comes as a shock to both believers and non-believers.
Perhaps, in this whole affair we should devote more attention to the victims. A heated debate on cases of child abuse in the Church obviously raises questions of how to wisely handle parent-child conversations about corporality, infringements of privacy, should any occur, and respect for other people’s intimacy. In many cases, it is only after many years that child abuse crimes come to light because children are too scared or unable to speak about their harm. What can we do to change this state of affairs?
Therefore, today we are asking our Authors: How, in their opinion, will the current events affect Polish identity and the Church itself? Is the Polish Church mature enough to deal with the problem of paedophilia? What could be the consequences of the case that casts a shadow on all the other worthwhile projects involving the Catholic Church?
Stanisław Obirek believes that the current problems of the Catholic Church have resulted from its groundless conviction about its own infallibility, born at the beginning of John Paul II’s pontificate. “With new scandals erupting around us, this extremely irritating rhetoric, regarded as such by both agnostics and a number of Catholics, is losing its raison d’être” claims Obirek.
Critical of the hierarchs’ negligence, Marcin Król considers the problem from the viewpoint of the victims and describes the consequences they must face, especially in the stifling atmosphere of small, hermetic communities.
Łukasz Jasina stresses that the present crisis should stimulate an open discussion on the problems of the Catholic Church. Otherwise, the Church will gradually lose its authority, being “weak with the weakest and most difficult of human attributes: sexuality.”
Katarzyna Kazimierowska also argues that faced with critical situations, the Church must react more decisively, and criticises the hierarchs and commentators who refuse to enter into a discussion, viewing it as an attack on the institution.
This is precisely this inability to engage in a meaningful dialogue that draws our attention in the final article, written by Łukasz Pawłowski. “It is not the first time we see that the institution which for decades used to be one of the rare spaces for free dialogue in the old People’s Republic of Poland is losing its ability to communicate with the world around it”.
Moreover, the Special Commentary column will shortly feature articles by Michał Łuczewski and Magdalena Ogórek.