In Warsaw, the capital of Poland, the leader of Poland’s Catholic Church was strongly condemned when he appeared and said that children are partially responsible for their being abused by the priest. Archbishop Jozef Michalik who is the head of the influential Episcopate of Poland had commented on the dissemination of pedophile priests this month. He told reporters that a child who belongs to a troubled family, looks for closeness and love and in this case got involved with others to the extent to become a victim of abuse.
His words triggered an immediate uproar, which he had to stamp out the same day by expressing regret and saying that he was misunderstood. Michalik said he had not meant to give any suggestion that child victims were responsible for abuse in any way.
Michalik also said that the burden of financial compensation to victims is not with the church but with the wrongdoer. In many countries including Canada, Australia and the US, the church has been paying compensations in millions for cases of sex abuse.
Ordinary citizens expressed outrage by joining prominent politicians, and intense debates began and continued for two weeks. The media started to point out that Michalik had also supported a parish priest convicted of child sex abuse in 2004. One of the victims of the priest said that she was shocked by the latest remarks of Michalik, asserting “Archbishop Michalik’s words make us feel fear and revulsion.”
The comments of the archbishop forced the spokesman of Episcopate, Rev. Jozef Kloch, to give a statement that there is zero tolerance in Poland’s church for pedophilia, but now there is a necessity for learning how to discuss and approach the subject. The controversy has led bishops practicing under Michalik to express regret to the victims for the priest’s actions.
It is being said that Poland’s church has been involved in sex abuse cases since 2001, going against the efforts of the Vatican to punish abusers. The church’s status is undermined in Poland by scrutiny of a political and moral leader — secured by Pope John Paul II who plays a critical role in this inspirational fight against communism. Defenders of the church ask why only priests have been targeted for condemnation when sports coaches and teachers have also been involved in child sexual abuse.
Pope John Paul II also had to face stern criticism when he showed reluctance regarding accusations against priests. On the other hand, the Vatican ordered bishops to submit alleged pedophilia cases to the review of the Holy See, the initiative of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. When the sex abuse scandal broke out in the United States in 2002, Ratzinger pressed the removal of abusers permanently from the church as quickly as possible.
When Ratzinger became Benedict XVI, the intensity of the crackdown against pedophile priests increased. Benedict gave instructions to bishops’ conferences throughout the world to submit their own guidelines to keep the molesters out of the priesthood in order to protect children. The episcopate of Poland has issued guidelines to punish the priests of the church and to provide the victims with support.