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

Notes from Poland [Kraków, Poland]

October 10, 2022

The Catholic diocese of Toruń has been ordered by a court to pay 600,000 złoty (€123,000) compensation to a man who was sexually abused by a priest for almost a decade when he served as an altar boy.

“I am glad, though no compensation could be adequate for what happened to me,” the victim, who was nine years old when the abuse began, told news service Onet. In a statement issued by the diocese, it said that “the bishop of Toruń respects the ruling of the court”.

The decision marks the end of a longrunning legal battle by the victim, whom the church initially treated as an “accomplice in the sin of adultery” during an ecclesiastical trial that found the priest not guilty. The priest was, however, eventually sentenced by a state court.

The abuse in question was carried out between the years 2000 and 2009 by Jarosław Pestka, a priest in the village of Ostrowite, where Mariusz Milewski, now aged 31, was serving as an altar boy. Milewski initially reported the crime to another priest in 2012.

However, the bishop of Toruń did not notify prosecutors and instead initiated ecclesiastical proceedings in which, as well as investigating Pestka’s alleged abuse of a minor, Milewski was treated as a potential “accomplice in sin against the sixth commandment [adultery]”, reported Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

In the resulting church trial, the priest was found not guilty. He was then moved to another parish. Milewski subsequently told local newspaper Dziennik Toruński that he “had a feeling that [during the church trial] they were trying very hard to catch me on some inconsistency”.

Milewski noted that in the church trial he was represented by a priest chosen by curia. “I was under the impression that instead of supporting me, he was focused on undermining my statements.”

There then followed a trial in a state court, which in 2016 found Pestka guilty of sexual molestation and sentenced him to three years in prison. An appeals court and later the Supreme Court rejected appeals by the priest, who in 2019 was expelled from the clergy and who recently died, reports TVN24.

Two years ago, Milewski sued Toruń diocese for one million złoty in compensation. The diocese rejected the claim, arguing that it does not bear responsibility for the actions of an individual priest.

The trial took place behind closed doors and last week it was confirmed that the diocese has been ordered to pay the victim 600,000 zloty (plus 130,000 zloty in interest). The written justification for the ruling has not yet been made public. Neither side has expressed their wish to appeal.

“The road was very winding and bumpy. Ten years taken out of life. First of all, admitting to yourself what happened, then telling it all and fighting for justice. If I had to go this way again, I suspect that mentally I would not be able to cope. It is a very hard, traumatic road,” said Milewski before the court proceedings.

Recent years have seen a growing number of cases of child sex abuse in Poland’s Catholic church come to light, as well as evidence of negligence in dealing with the issue by bishops, a number of whom have been punished by the Vatican as a result.

In 2020, in a landmark decision, the Supreme Court upheld a ruling ordering a Catholic religious order to pay one million zloty in compensation to a woman who was repeatedly abused by a member of the order.

In May this year, the diocese of Kalisz was ordered to pay 300,000 zloty to a man who was abused as a child and who later confronted the priest in a documentary film.