Catholic diocese in Poland ordered to pay compensation to victim of child sex abuse by priest

Notes from Poland [Kraków, Poland]

May 23, 2022

By Daniel Tilles

The Catholic diocese of Kalisz has been ordered by a court to pay 300,000 zloty (€65,000) to a man who was abused as a child by one of its priests.

The case is one of a number relating to sexual abuse in Poland’s Catholic church that have come to light in recent years. It has drawn particular attention because the victim, Bartłomiej Pankowiak, and his brother Jakub, who was also abused, confronted the priest in a documentary film broadcast in 2020 (pictured above).

“Jakub and Bartłomiej Pankowiak will forever remain synonymous with the fight for their own and other people’s dignity, as well as for being the initiators of systemic changes within the church…[regarding] sexual abuse against children,” said judge Arleta Konieczna, quoted by the Polish Press Agency (PAP).

In her ruling today at Kalisz district court on a civil action brought by Bartłomiej, she ordered the diocese to pay him the compensation. The ruling is not yet legally binding and can be appealed.

The legal representatives of the diocese said that they will wait until they receive the full written justification before deciding on an appeal. During the proceedings, they had argued that the diocese should not be held responsible for the actions of a parish priest, reports TVN24.

Konieczna noted that the abuse began when Bartłomiej, now 33, was 10 years old and his brother was 13. It then continued with “many acts, spread over time”, that had permanent psychological effects on the victims, who did not tell anyone about what had happened to them for years.

The priest in question – who can be named only as Arkadiusz H. under Polish privacy law – often visited the boys’ home, as their father was a church organist. He would lock himself in a room with the boys, turn off the lights, then abuse them.

The crimes came to light when Bartłomiej and Jakub confronted Arkadiusz H. on camera in the documentary, Hide and Seek, and sought to bring him to justice.

As they chased leads, they discover more of his victims, yet were met with a lack of compassion from the church officials they dealt with. They also sought to bring to account those in the church hierarchy who were responsible for moving the priest from parish to parish whenever his abusive behaviour came to light.

In 2020, Edward Janiak, the bishop of Kalisz, was removed from his position by the Vatican due to his negligence in dealing with cases of abuse.

Meanwhile, Arkadiusz H. was suspended from the priesthood and then later sentenced to three years in prison by a criminal court. However, that sentence was last year quashed on appeal after the judge found that the statute of limitations for the crime had expired.

The judge expressed regret at having to make that ruling on a technicality, noting that Arkadiusz H. had confessed his guilt. He criticised the church for “hiding such matters under the rug” by “transferring the priest to another parish” rather than taking action against him, reports TVN24.

Hide and Seek – as well as another documentary, Tell No One, by the same filmmakers on the same subject a year earlier – prompted outrage and debate in Poland, a country where 90% of the population is officially classified as Catholic and the church enjoys an influential role in public life.

Subsequently, a large number of further cases of abuse have come to light. In a report published last year, the church itself noted that between July 2018 and the end of 2020 it received as many reports of alleged abuse by clergy as it had in the previous 28 years combined.

The Vatican has punished a number of other Polish bishops, in addition to Janiak, for their negligence in dealing with abuse. However, last month it cleared Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz – a former secretary to Polish Pope John Paul II – of the same offence.