Polish church seeks victims of deceased paedophile priest to offer support

Notes from Poland [Kraków, Poland]

November 30, 2022

The Catholic church in Poland has offered support to victims of a now-deceased priest who was convicted of child sex abuse but, according to a new report, continued to abuse children while working in the church after his release from prison.

The priest in question, Eugeniusz Surgent, who died in 2008, was the subject of an investigation published last week by Rzeczpospolita, a leading daily.

In the 1970s, Surgent was sentenced to three years in prison for sexually abusing six boys. However, he subsequently remained in the priesthood and had contact with children – including teaching Catholic catechism classes – notes the newspaper, which found that he continued to abuse more victims through the 1980s.

Rzeczpospolita chose not to publish the names of victims found in the files, or to try to contact them, so as not to deepen their trauma. It also “omitted detailed descriptions of how the boys were abused [because] they are too drastic”.

No further criminal proceedings were ever initiated against Surgent, who died on 31 January 2008 at the age of 77.

In response to Rzeczpospolita’s findings, Piotr Studnicki, the head of the Polish episcopate’s office for the protection of children and youth, published a letter in which he signalled the church’s “readiness to listen to and acknowledge their [victims’] suffering” and to “help people who seek and need support”.

“The extent of the harm inflicted by Father Eugeniusz Surgent is shocking and frightening,” wrote Studnicki. “The perpetrator is no longer alive, no criminal trial can be held, but those wronged by him carry the painful consequences of his crimes to this day. They should be helped.”

Last Sunday, a message was read out as part of announcements in parishes where Surgent had worked in the past, including in the Bielsko-Biała-Żywiec, Koszalin-Kołobrzeg and Pelplin dioceses, asking people who had been wronged by the priest or who had knowledge of such crimes to reach out.

“This sends a clear signal of a willingness to listen to and acknowledge their hurt,” said Studnicki. “[We] are in contact with the dioceses, ready to help those who come forward and need support.”

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.