Sunday, May 19, 2024

Leading Polish prelate accused of negligence in addressing abuse

The head of Poland’s Catholic episcopate, Tadusz Wojda, has been accused of negligence in dealing with reports of sexual abuse carried out by one of his subordinates. 

In one case, he allegedly argued that no abuse had taken place because “it was just groping”.

In response to the claims, the spokesman for Wojda’s

The claims were made last week in a lengthy article by

He noted that details of Wojda’s alleged negligence had in fact first been published in February 2022 in Tygodnik Powszechny, another Catholic news magazine, but had gone largely unnoticed because they were published at the time of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Wojda is accused of failing to properly respond to reports made in 2021 by two women who said they had been sexually abused as teenagers by a priest working in the Gdańsk archdiocese

In one case, the priest is accused of masturbating in front of the woman when she was aged 13. State prosecutors investigated the case but were unable to proceed due to the statute of limitations having expired.

In the other case, the priest is accused of sexually abusive behaviour towards the second woman when she was aged 18 (and therefore legally an adult but who, according to , should have been regarded under church rules as a “vulnerable adult” with special protections).

Both women – who, along with the accused priest, have not been named by  – outline a consistent pattern of the Gdańsk archdiocese failing to properly respond to their official complaints.

They say Wojda failed to replying to letters they sent him regarding the accusations. The woman abused as an adult and her lawyer say that, during a meeting in person, the archbishop said the case did not involve sexual abuse because “it was just groping” and “there was no full intercourse”.

“[I am] not responsible for what adults do,” Wojda then reportedly said, though the lawyer says the archbishop later apologised for the wording he had used.

The priest who was accused of abuse continued to work in the Gdańsk archdiocese, and last year was made deputy chaplain in a psychiatric hospital, “giving him the opportunity to have unrestricted contact with people in deep mental crisis, including minors”, writes .

However, he has now left that position and has been banned from contact with children and other young people.

Meanwhile, the church official who took the two women’s testimony is accused of inaccurately reporting what they said. He was later appointed by Wojda as rector of Gdańsk Theological Seminary despite the archbishop knowing of the complaints against him.

The Gdańsk archdiocese also reportedly did not provide support to the women who had accused the church officials of sexual abuse, as is required under Vatican rules.

In response to

“It should be emphasised that the canonical process is still ongoing,” added the statement. “Taking into account the good of all parties, especially the injured parties, and maintaining the ecclesiastical legal order, the archdiocese is making every effort to ensure the process is objective and ends in reaching the truth.”

The Catholic church in Poland has in recent years been hit by a series of revelations of cases of sex abuse by members of the clergy and of negligence in dealing with them by hierarchs, a number of whom have been punished by the Vatican as a result.

When Wojda was appointed as the new head of the episcopate in March this year, a leading Catholic commentator, Tomasz Terlikowski, called him “one of the worst possible choices”.

Terlikowski said that Wojda “does not handle sex abuse cases properly” and that Gdańsk “is one of the most problematic dioceses in this matter”.

“An archbishop who helps perpetrators, not victims, has become the new chairman of the [episcopate],” tweeted Terlikowski at the time, saying that the decision shows “what the episcopate thinks about victims and the protection of minors”.