WARSAW, Poland (CNS) — The Polish bishops’ conference defended its handling of sexual abuse by clergy after a former priest was jailed in connection with the case of Jozef Wesolowski, the laicized former nuncio to the Dominican Republic.
“The Catholic Church is the only entity in Poland to have adopted guidelines on pedophilia,” Father Jozef Kloch, conference spokesman, told Catholic News Service.
“Since this problem affects other organizations as well, from schools to sports clubs, we’d have expected them to issue similar instructions on the care of children,” he said. “But only the church has taken action in this way.”
The priest’s comments came after the ex-priest, Wojciech Gil, 36, was sentenced March 25 to seven years in jail after being convicted of sexually abusing children in Poland and the Dominican Republic.
Gil was arrested in February 2014 during a home-visit to Krakow. The arrest came as authorities were investigating allegations that Wesolowski also sexually abused children. Wesolowski, who was an archbishop, was dismissed from the priesthood in June after a Vatican investigation. He faces criminal charges in Rome for abusing children in the Caribbean country.
A Warsaw court spokesman, Przemyslaw Nowak, confirmed to KAI, Poland’s Catholic information agency, that the case against Gil was linked to investigations into crimes by Wesolowski while he served as nuncio until August 2013. Gil spent a decade as a parish priest in the Dominican Republic.
Nowak said the 10 charges against Gil followed testimony from more than 100 witnesses and covered sexual offenses over 12 years as well as counts of child pornography and illegal possession of ammunition.
Gil’s lawyer, Michal Szreniawa, said his client planned no appeal of the conviction or sentence. The court also ordered Gil to pay $42,000 in compensation to his victims.
Poland’s bishops’ conference said in 2012 that it had adopted guidelines on handling abuse allegations in line with Vatican instructions, but would not offer financial compensation or “cooperate with the judicial process” when confessional secrets were involved.
In 2013, the church apologized for abuse by clergy and named Jesuit Father Adam Zak as its child protection officer. The church in October announced plans for a network of counselling centers for victims, but again rejected calls for “material damages.”
However, the Koszalin-Kolobrzeg Diocese March 20 became the first in Poland to agree to compensation for a man who was abused by a priest as a 12-year-old.
KAI said the agreed sum, reported by Polish media as $39,000, should not be viewed as a “payment for damages,” but as “financial help in the spirit of Christian solidarity.”
The bishops’ spokesman, Father Kloch, told CNS he doubted the latest cases would “start an avalanche” of similar compensation claims against the Polish church.
“The bishops’ conference is doing all it can when clergy are suspected pedophilia,” he said.
“If the problem of abuse is taken seriously, then every organization and milieu should be acting similarly to protect children.”