THERE are two things that the Catholic Church is pretty good at: blaming victims for the abuse they suffered at the hands of priests, and treating the abusers as if they are somehow the ones being persecuted.
Polish-American journalist Filip Mazurczak, above, a doctoral student in history at Kraków’s Jagiellonian University, said after the recent release of a documentary film entitled Tell No One, which has had over almost 22 million views and more than 71,000 comments on YouTube:
For years, whenever the topic of priestly sexual abuse came up in the Polish media … the Polish bishops responded by saying something along the lines that sexual abuse is a problem in many milieus, not only among the Catholic Church.
Many Catholic bishops – and many priests and rank-and-file lay Catholics as well – felt that they were being unfairly attacked.
Mazurczak pointed out that when the Church addressed the question of abuse in March of this year, Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski of Kraków made a particularly terrible error when he asked for mercy for the abusers. The student called his appeal a “disaster.”
According to this report, the Church and its priests enjoy a revered status and wields “serious influence” in Poland, where more than 90 percent of the country’s population is registered as Catholic.
It has long held powerful ties to politics; together with the late Polish Pope John Paul II, it is widely hailed for its opposition to the Communist regime that collapsed in 1989.
Marcin Zaborowski, political analyst at Visegrad Insight said Church has been “fundamental” to Polish society.
The Church is part and parcel of Polish politics. The current government will find it difficult to distance itself from the Catholic Church.
Only a week before the film was released earlier this month, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the conservative ruling Law and Justice Party, said:
Anyone who raises his hand against the Church, wants to destroy it, raises his hand against Poland.
After seeing the documentary, he clarified his remarks at a rally, saying:
That does not mean that we support or tolerate pathology in the Church.
After the documentary – in which an elderly retired priest tells a victim he abused that the “Devil made him do it” – was released, Polish bishops issued a grovelling apology for not doing more to prevent abuse. In a statement they said:
We admit that as shepherds of the Church we have not done everything to prevent these harms. For many believers, especially for young people sincerely seeking God, sexual scandals involving clergy become a hard test of faith and a reason for great scandal.
Disappointment and indignation are all the bigger and more painful that children, instead of caring love and accompaniment in seeking the nearness of Jesus, experienced violence and brutal [diminishment] of the dignity of the child.
Within hours of seeing the film the Polish primate and Archbishop of Gniezno, Wojciech Polak, above, released a filmed apology.
I am deeply disturbed by what I saw in Mr. Tomasz Sekielski’s film … Thank you to everyone who had the courage to tell of their suffering. I apologise for every wound caused by people in the Church.
The head of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, was similarly humble in his response to the film. After thanking the director, he apologised to victims for all the Polish bishops:
On behalf of the entire Episcopate Conference, I would like to apologise most deeply to all those who were hurt. I realize that nothing can compensate them for the wrongs they have suffered.
Gądecki predicted that the film would:
Contribute to an even more severe condemnation of pedophilia, for which there can be no place in the Church.
Yeah, yeah, but will the documentary wake Poles up to the fact that they have a canker in their midst that need eliminating, just as Ireland has succeeded in doing?
Sadly it would appear no.
The history student Mazurczak said that after Tell No One was released on YouTube, it was the most talked about subject in the Polish media. However, as far as he and his friends could tell, it made no negative impact on Church attendance the following Sunday.
I was nervous when going to Mass because I knew about how sexual abuse had emptied parishes in Ireland during the 1990s. When I went to Mass at the Franciscan church, attendance was the same as it always is. My friends I’ve talked to told me the same thing: when they went to Mass, attendance was more or less the same as always. Nobody saw a major decline.
Sunday evening, I coincidentally stumbled upon the Vincentian church near the technical university. It was almost eight o’clock, and the Mass for university students was starting. I peeked into the church; it was bursting at the seams with young people, and more people kept filing in as I was leaving.