Polish diocese apologizes for asking if abuse victim is gay

Associated Press [New York NY]

January 13, 2022

By Vanessa Gera

A Catholic diocese in Poland apologized on Thursday for having asked a court to determine whether a man who was sexually abused as a child by a priest is gay, and whether the sexual contact may have consequently been pleasurable for him.

Following wide criticism, the Bielsko-Zywiec diocese said that its letter to the court should not have included questions about the victim’s sexuality or have suggested that he drew pleasure from contact with the priest. The diocese dispatched the letter in response to a lawsuit by the victim, Janusz Szymik.

“We apologize to Janusz and to all who have been scandalized” by the questions, the diocese said in a statement, vowing to change the letter’s wording.

Poland’s Catholic bishops had already strongly criticized the southern Polish diocese.

Szymik, who is now 48, was an altar boy when the abuse began in the 1980s. He sued the diocese in a civil court last year.

The priest, who has been identified only as Rev. Jan W., admitted to the abuse and in 2015 was convicted by the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.

Szymik is now seeking 3 million zlotys ($760,000) in compensation from the diocese.

The Onet news portal earlier this week disclosed the contents of documents it obtained which a lawyer for the church had submitted to the court. The documents show the church wanting an expert “to check the plaintiff’s sexual orientation” and to determine whether he “showed satisfaction with maintaining an intimate relationship with Rev. Jan W.” or derived any “material benefits” from the sexual relationship with the cleric.

Rev. Piotr Studnicki, the director of a special office for the protection of children within the Polish Bishops’ Conference, said in a statement issued on Wednesday that “reliable knowledge and human sensitivity” are necessary to any legal procedure.

“The issue of sexual orientation or the way a child reacts emotionally to an offense of sexual abuse cannot constitute an argument against the injured person and diminish the responsibility of the perpetrator,” Studnicki said. “It must be clear to everyone that a child never bears responsibility for violence experienced.”

Szymik expressed surprise about how the case has turned, noting that Bishop Roman Pindel of Bielsko-Zywiec had previously shown compassion toward him for the abuse he suffered as a child.

“Previously, he expressed pain and regret and asked for forgiveness, and now he wants to prove … that I am a homosexual person, that pedophilia gave me pleasure, that everything that happened was voluntary, that I benefited from it,” Szymik said in an interview on the all-news station TVN24.

The development comes as Pope Francis has been trying to clean up a culture of abuse and cover-ups in the Polish church.

The Catholic Church was long the highest moral authority in Poland, having played an inspirational role during occupation and foreign rule and supporting the anti-communist Solidarity movement in the 1980s.

But the recent reckoning of abuse has damaged its credibility. Even Poland’s most famous Catholic, St. John Paul II, now has his legacy tarnished by his own failure to tackle abuse when he was pope.

One of the country’s top church leaders, Archbishop Wojciech Polak, the primate of Poland, said recently that the church is seeing a “devastating” decline in religious practice among young Poles, arguing that the church hierarchy’s failure to deal with clerical abuse is one reason for that.