President of bishops' conference asked Vatican to investigate allegations

Poland: Difficult rapprochement between bishops and those affected by abuse

Warsaw - The church in Poland has also been rocked by abuse scandals. Now the new chairman of the Bishops' Conference, Archbishop Tadeusz Wojda, is also being criticised. Is his suspension imminent?

Published  on 09.07.2024 at 00:01  – by Oliver Hinz (KNA)

In Poland, those affected by sexual abuse in the church continue to insist that the chairman of the Polish Bishops' Conference be suspended. They welcome the fact that Archbishop Tadeusz Wojda has asked the Holy See to investigate the allegations made against him. "At the same time, however, we would like to emphasise that we are convinced that he should be suspended from his function as chairman precisely for the time of the investigation of these allegations or resign from it himself, which we continue to demand," it says in a recently published letter from more than 40 people affected by abuse. Wojda is accused of not responding to letters from two women who had reported a priest when he was Archbishop of Gdansk. The archdiocese's child protection officer allegedly falsified and manipulated some of the women's statements.

The women concerned joined forces a few months ago and sent a highly publicised letter with eight demands to more than a dozen members of the Permanent Council of the Bishops' Conference in May. The current letter is the reaction to the response. The signs are pointing towards dialogue. In November, bishops want to meet with representatives of those affected by abuse on the fringes of their plenary assembly in Czestochowa. It has not yet been decided who exactly will take part in the dialogue. If the victims have their way, Wojda should not be there. However, they do not want to back down if Wojda insists on attending the meeting. "The meeting is not in danger," Jakub Pankowiak, one of the three initiators of the letter to the Permanent Council of the Bishops' Conference, told the Catholic weekly "Tygodnik Powszechny". He hopes that the meeting will be successful: "We have found that a direct, personal meeting changes much more than demands, letters and articles. Each of us has spoken to bishops, not all of whom were convinced from the outset that it was worth trusting us and working for us." But then they were willing to do so. Now these bishops are "allies". "There are only a few of them, but they are trying to understand our situation and change it with us," says Pankowiak.

No "recognition benefits" like in Germany

Another co-initiator of the letter, Robert Fidura, told KNA that his local bishop had met with him twice at his express request. In his case, the perpetrator was a religious who has since died. Fidura criticised the fact that he still knew nothing about a decision by the general of the order. He did not receive a "line of recognition" similar to the church in Germany. "When I needed psychotherapy, I asked the diocese to reimburse the costs and received them," he says. "Half of it was covered by the diocese, the other half by the St Jozef Foundation." The foundation was established by the bishops in 2019. The Vatican has already ordered around a dozen bishops, most of whom were emeritus, to pay money to the foundation for misconduct.

Bild: ©picture alliance / NurPhoto | Michal Fludra

Archbishop Tadeusz Wojda of Gdansk is chairman of the Polish Bishops' Conference.

Several of those affected have already successfully sued dioceses and religious orders for compensation in civil courts. This has not yet led to a rethink on the part of the bishops. Probably also because the Church has less money than Germany's Church, for example. However, there is movement in the investigation of the abuse cases. In November, the Bishops' Conference says it will appoint a "commission of independent experts", which it had already announced in spring 2023. Many questions remain unanswered. Will the commission work independently of the Bishops' Conference? Will it have free access to all archives? Will the commission also include victims? So far, everything is dragging on.

New bishop of scandalous diocese acts quickly

Meanwhile, the new bishop of the scandalous diocese of Sosnowiec acted relatively quickly. In April, Pope Francis appointed the former auxiliary bishop in Tarnow, Artur Wazny (57), as the successor to Bishop Grzegorz Kaszak (59), who resigned in October. In June, Wazny announced two commissions. One is headed by a retired public prosecutor and is to investigate cases "that have occurred in the diocese of Sosnowiec and have recently aroused public opinion". The second commission is to deal with pastoral, financial, legal, administrative and personnel issues. Outcome open.

According to media reports, several trainee priests accused the rector of the local seminary of sexually abusing them in 2010. The seminary was later closed. In September 2023, a call boy is said to have fainted after taking sexual enhancers at an alleged sex party organised by a homosexual priest. According to the media, the clergyman allegedly refused to allow the paramedics to enter his flat, whereupon they called the police. Critics spoke of a moral decline in the diocese, which they also blamed on the bishop. Fidura praises the fact that the new Bishop Wazny has appointed a nun and a laywoman as contact persons for those affected by abuse: "That's a good approach. It gives victims the opportunity to choose a person they can talk to more easily."

by Oliver Hinz (KNA)