Sexual abuse data from the Polish Catholic Church is too late
Last Monday, the Polish Catholic Church Released It has received new figures for the number of complaints alleging sexual abuse by its clergy.
Between 2018 and 2020, a total of 368 complaints were lodged with the church, involving more than 290 priests and other religious figures suspected of abuse. These cases date back to 1958, and 173 of them involved children under 15 years of age, which is the age of consent in Poland.
After these figures were released, the head of the Polish Catholic Church, Archbishop Wojciech Pollack, apologized to the survivors and asked for forgiveness. Although some survivors will appreciate this, it does not forgive the fact that the Polish church has been decades late on this issue.
This is only the second time that the Polish Catholic Church has released such data.When it first did so in 2019 disclose 382 clergy were accused of sexually abusing 625 children between 1990 and 2018. The church stated that there are 42 priests on both lists.
Although this move is a positive sign that the Polish church has finally acknowledged the problem, there are several problems with these numbers, and it took decades for the church to put them first.
On the one hand, it is useful for the Polish Church to make these figures public because it provides some data on this issue, although it is generally believed that the exposed cases of abuse are just the tip of the iceberg.
On average, it takes 24 years for survivors to report the abuse they suffered as a child. The reasons include the victim’s shame, not admitting that what happened to them is abuse or fear of not being believed.
The only public statistics on the abuse of clergy in Poland is map Created by activists, there are currently more than 580 media reports or cases that ended in court judgments. But even those who arrive in court are only a few cases, usually because survivors do not want to relive the trauma in a formal judicial environment, where they may have to face the abuser again.
However, in addition to the figures of the church itself, the latest data are limited. The church did not publicly disclose the names of the 292 priests accused of sexual abuse, even when it considered “credible”.
This seems to be a policy supported by the Pope himself to protect the “good reputation” of the priest. However, many dioceses in other countries have voluntarily released this information.
In most Polish cases, the church stated that it took “temporary measures” while investigating the complaint, including temporarily canceling the defendant’s services and preventing them from contacting children. But we know from other countries that these priests are often unsupervised.
The church also failed to explain how it handled the 42 clergy that appeared on the 2019 and this week’s list, who appear to be repeat offenders.
The concealment of the identities of the alleged perpetrators and the details of the actions taken by the church against them-which appears to be a global church policy-indicates that the Polish church is still shielding their identities to protect the alleged abusers.
In Poland, this lack of transparency also extends to how the church investigates complaints of abuse. Of the 368 claims, 39 were deemed “unreliable” and were therefore rejected. But how are these decisions reached?
Of the 173 cases involving children under the age of 15, the church stated that 148 of them had been reported to the police. The other 25 people were not reported, either because the defendant had died, or because the allegations were deemed unfounded or still under investigation. But at what stage does the church forward the complaint to state law enforcement? Should action be taken immediately after being aware of suspected abuse?
In addition, what happened in cases of abuse of 15 to 17 year olds? For unknown reasons, although the church’s report in 2019 gave some statistics on this age group, the latest data only divides the survivors into two age groups: under 15 years old and over 15 years old.
Of the 174 cases in the latter group, 80% did not report to the police. One factor may be that adult survivors (yet) do not want to file a complaint with the police, which is a frequent occurrence. But for teenagers between 15 and 17 years of age, the top priority should be to notify the authorities.
Why does the church not encourage abuse survivors to report their cases to the civil authorities from the beginning? Instead, more and more churches are setting up committees around the world to receive complaints from survivors, despite accusations that they are systematically biased and lack transparency.
For those survivors who came forward, complaining to the church meant entrusting the pursuit of justice to the same institution where the abuse occurred, and that institution either failed to stop it or actively covered it up.
In the case of the Polish church, an institution continued to disclose only limited information about the abuses that occurred within it, proving that it was untrustworthy.After all, this is the same institution that currently refuses to investigate child sexual abuse as the Polish state, which has already Difficulty in obtaining information From the Polish church.
The church only started publishing statistics in 2019 because it was forced to do so as the public’s awareness of the issue increased.
This is largely due to the 2018 film “Kler” (Kler) on the dark side of the church, including child abuse, which broke the box office record and became the best-selling film in Polish history.
Then came the documentary Don’t tell anyone (Tylko nie mów nikomu) In 2019, it contains first-hand accounts of survivor abuse. It details how the abuser moved from the diocese to the diocese and continued to contact children, and how the bishop prevented survivors and their families from filing claims. To date, this documentary has been viewed more than 24 million times.
After the documentary was released, a poll showed that nearly 90% of respondents agreed that the authority of the church has been cut back, And 67% believe that the church’s response to the scandal was insufficient.
The lack of real initiative on the part of the church only strengthens the view that the Polish church is too late on this issue to maintain its legitimacy. The two batches of data cannot make up for the PR strategy of an organization that has long been waiting for the scandal to become too big to be ignored.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.