Sanctions against Polish bishops cautiously welcomed by abuse survivors
KRAKÓW, Poland – After the Vatican sanctioned two retired bishops in Poland, abuse victims say it’s a good start, but may be too little, too late.
On Tuesday, the Vatican imposed sanctions on emeritus Bishop Edward Janiak of Kalisz and Archbishop Sławoj Leszek Głódź of Gdańsk. The two had been featured in the ground-breaking documentaries “Hide and Seek” (2020) and “Tell No One” (2019) by the Sekielski Brothers.
The filmmakers documented how, for years the bishops ignored sexual abuse by the clergy in their dioceses, refusing to help victims or even properly investigate accusations.
Both retired prelates have now been ordered to live outside their former dioceses and are forbidden to participate in public religious celebrations or lay meetings.
They are also required to pay an “appropriate amount from personal funds” to the St. Joseph Foundation, an institute established by the Polish Church to help victims of ecclesial sexual abuse.
“It is a very good sign,” said Archbishop Wojciech Polak, the Primate of Poland and delegate for child protection at the Polish Bishops Conference.
“It is a sign that accountability of the bishops is not an empty slogan,” he told Crux.
“When the cases of sexual abuse in the dioceses are not properly investigated, it has consequences and Pope Francis is applying those consequences just now,” he said.
The two bishops were sanctioned under Vos Estis Lux Mundi, the Vatican law on clerical sexual abuse Francis promulgated in 2019.
For Polak, these particular sanctions ought to be a lesson for every bishop.
“I take it very personally,” the archbishop said. “I read it that way: Taking care of those hurt by the clergy, hearing their reports of abuse, and furthermore applying justice is a part of the mission of mercy that every bishop carries.”
Kalisz – a testing ground for Vos Estis Lux Mundi
It was the film “Hide and Seek” that documented a dramatic case of abuse of power by Bishop Edward Janiak of Kalisz in central Poland.
In 2016, when a family visited him to report the abuse of their son by their parish priest, Janiak threw them out of his office and didn’t report the case to the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, as Church law required.
The documentary was released on May 16, and on the same day Polak reported the case to the Holy See using the procedure outlined in Vos Estis Lux Mundi, making it the first time the law was used in Poland.
However, Jakub Pankowiak, who along with his brother Bartek was abused in Kalisz, said he was disappointed by the sanctions.
“It wasn’t a bishop stumbling once,” he told Crux. “It was a bishop imposing systemic wrongdoing for years, topped with calling the victims deceivers.”
The Pankowiak brothers’ story was featured in “Hide and Seek.” He said he wanted the bishops to lose their episcopal insignia and all privileges that go with their office.
Pankowiak also thinks that Vatican investigations should be run by external experts from the Vatican, not bishops from the same country: In the Janiak case, the investigation was entrusted to Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki of Poznan.
“I really don’t know what information overall landed on Vatican desks,” Pankowiak told Crux.
“Certainly, it lacked my testimony, as well as my brother’s, and many other people, including priests, who would have a lot to tell,” he added.
The investigators had asked the Pankowiak brothers for a statement – Jakub refused to testify since he would not be allowed to have a support person in the room, and Bartek was unable to testify because he was in the hospital.
Pankowiak also called for the Vatican in the future to specifically name the delict for which the bishops are being punished.
“It is a matter of transparency,” he said. “For us, victims of child sexual abuse, sometimes more important than the penalty itself is the fact that the abuser admits to the crime.”
He told Crux he did not expect the sanctioned bishops to do this, but at least the Vatican could publicly admit what went wrong.
Lack of transparency in Gdańsk
Ecclesiastically speaking, Kalisz is a bit of a backwater. That’s not the case for Gdańsk, where the archdiocese has power, money, and political influence.
Gdańsk was the place where the seeds were planted for the fall of the Soviet Empire. The city made history when the trade union Solidarność – better known in English as Solidarity – was founded in its shipyard in 1980.
In 2008, Głódź took over the archdiocese, and five years later Father Adam Świeżyński sounded the alarm about the archbishop’s abuse of power and alcohol. Świeżyński also noted the toxic atmosphere in the diocesan offices, including the constant use of vulgar language, as reported in the Wprost weekly and Więź, a Catholic quarterly.
In 2019, a series of accusations of sexual abuse coverup also hit the archdiocese.
Głódź was already under scrutiny when the documentary “Tell No One” depicted him being indifferent to victims while organizing a grandiose funeral for Father Franciszka Cybula — a known sexual abuser.
Asked for a comment on the documentary, Głódź told the Polish TV news program Fakty: “I don’t watch any old thing.”
Yet probably the most striking case of negligence came with the case of Father Andrzej Dymer of Szczecin.
Dymer’s story began in the Archdiocese of Szczecin-Kamień in northwestern Poland.
In 1995, a group of teachers at the Brother Albert shelter in Szczecin accused Dymer, the shelter’s director, of sexually abusing boys. They were ignored by the archdiocese. Over the years, two Dominican provincials, a consecrated woman and several prominent politicians unsuccessfully asked three different archbishops of Szczecin-Kamień to remove Dymer from educational posts.
In 2007, the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith began an investigation of Dymer, and the next year the Szczecin-Kamień tribunal found the priest guilty of sexual abuse.
Dymer appealed the case, and the Vatican asked the Archdiocese of Gdańsk, under Głódź, to begin a new investigation of the priest, who continues to be a prominent figure in Szczecin while his appeal is ongoing.
However, Głódź never begins the case. It takes five years before the Vatican sends him a reminder in 2013. Still, nothing is done. A second reminder is sent in 2017, and finally Głódź appoints judges for the case, nine years after the first request was made.
Yet the case takes a strange turn.
One of Dymer’s accusers is Franciscan Father Tarsycjusz Krasucki. In 2019, Dymer sues Krasucki for defamation, based on documents leaked to him by the Gdańsk tribunal.
The development profoundly affected the Franciscan.
“If I didn’t feel that God is with me all that time, I think I would quit the order and start a family. But I physically heard that Jesus is calling me, and this was a voice that cannot be forgotten” Krasucki told Crux.
“I always wanted to work with the homeless, prisoners … people who know how much it takes to earn your loaf of bread – they don’t,” the Franciscan said.
“I can separate in the Church what is Godly and what is human and structural. And I can see in our ranks the entanglement in evil, control and influence,” he said.
Krasucki noted that he watched for years how Archbishop Andrzej Dzięga of Szczecin-Kamień backed an abusive priest because Dymer was a slick fundraiser.
“There is no place for God in it, only for the devil,” he said.
The long trial of Dymer, who died on February 16, 2021, was extensively covered by Więź.
The quarterly compared the case of Głódź to that of legendary mobster Al Capone, where the wrongdoing was far greater than the crime for which he was actually convicted.
“The Chicago Mafia boss was jailed for ‘mere’ non-payment of taxes. But no one remembers it now – because it was important that he was finally jailed, which he deserved for a long time,” wrote editor Zbigniew Nosowski.
Więź noted that Dzięga and Głódź are close friends, and claims at least four complaints against the Szczecin-Kamień archbishop have also been sent to the Vatican.
“While the sanctions are very light for the retired bishop, who can now go to his summer house in another diocese, they would be powerful for the bishop that is still in office,” Krasucki told Crux.
The Franciscan is still waiting for the publication of the verdict against Dymer, which was decided on Feb. 12, just four days before the priest died.
Krasucki has asked both Gdańsk tribunal and the Szczecin-Kamień curia to release the verdict, but they have refused. In the coming days, the general minister of the Franciscans, Father Michael Perry, is set to forward Krasucki’s request directly to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Signs of a change of heart
On March 27, Bishop Damian Bryl made his formal “ingress” at the Kalisz cathedral, six weeks after taking over the diocese. The next day, Archbishop Tadeusz Wojda did the same in Gdańsk.
Already, the new prelates are working to change perceptions.
“It’s hard to call child sexual abuse a sin. It is a crime, it is unacceptable, it is a perversion we need to fight hard,” Wojda told Polish Television before his installation.
Bryl also tackled the issue in a letter to the faithful written in mid-February.
“I would like to be close to those who have been abused by some clergymen and those who have been scandalized by these facts as well as not always adequate response of their superiors,” the bishop wrote.
For Polak, the most important mission for the new bishops is “being pastors in accordance to Jesus’s heart.”
“They need to love their flock, and to love is to put first those who were the least, to put first those hurt by clergy on the first place, because at this moment they desperately need their assistance and care,” the Polish primate told Crux.
Pankowiak also expressed hope that change is coming to the Church in Poland.
“It’s a whole new era now compared to the place where we’ve been when I first recorded my testimony for the Sekielski brothers back in 2019,” he said.
“I can tell I have a group of people supporting me in the Church, that I am not alone.”
At the same time, he doesn’t think the Polish bishops will resolve the crisis of sexual abuse without pressure from the laity.
“We the faithful need to act from down to top; this is the only effective way,” he said.