Poland’s Catholic church accused of failing to take action against paedophile priest for 25 years
By Maria Wilczek
Notes from Poland
February 16, 2021
The Catholic church in Poland has been accused of failing to take decisive action against an accused paedophile priest for 25 years after first being made aware of the allegations.
The claims, broadcast in a new television report on Monday, are the latest revelations regarding the church’s alleged failure to properly investigate child sex abuse by clergy. In some instances, the institution has been accused of deliberately covering cases up and protecting perpetrators.
The priest at the centre of the latest case, Andrzej Dymer, was last week dismissed by the church from his role as director of a church medical institute. This morning, it was announced that he had died, after suffering from a longstanding illness.
Yesterday, private broadcaster TVN aired a report entitled “The Church’s Longest Proceedings”. It traced how the Catholic hierarchy had known about allegations against Dymer since the mid-1990s but failed to take conclusive action against him.
“This is one of those stories that very well shows the problem of the church,” Paweł Gużyński, a Dominican priest, told the TV station. He explained that often priests cannot speak up against superiors, with “every voice of criticism interpreted as an attack on the church”.
The report outlined how Dymer had become a respected figure in local church circles and was the founder of a Catholic secondary school in the city of Szczecin, as well as director of a retirement home.
However, claims that Dymer was sexually abusing minors had been known to bishops in Szczecin as early as 1995. A number of Dymer’s alleged victims spoke to TVN, telling of the abuse they had faced, including one who said the priest had forced him to engage in oral sex.
In 2008, following a journalistic investigation, a church tribunal convicted the priest of sexually harassing his pupils. But the judgement remained secret (even from the priest’s victims) until it was revealed by Catholic magazine Więź in November last year.
Dymer reportedly appealed against the ruling, and no final judgement had been issued to date. Appeal proceedings were only officially called in December 2017 by the Archdiocese of Gdańsk, which was overseeing the case.
In the meantime, Dymer continued to be employed as the director of the John Paul II Medical Institute in Szczecin, a church body, for 11 years until he was dismissed by Archbishop Andrzej Dzięga last week, according to Więź.
In the 1990s, after his archdiocese learnt of accusations against Dymer, it still appointed him to oversee its network of schools, reports OKO.press. Dymer did not faced prosecution in Poland’s secular justice system because his alleged crimes were beyond the statute of limitations, according to Gazeta.pl.
“Dymer is a ruthless, sexual predator who abused boys in a systemic way,” Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus, a left-wing MP who has campaigned for tougher action against clerical sex abuse, told TOK FM. She accused the church of “doing almost nothing” to hold Dymer to account.
On Monday, Archbishop Wojciech Polak, the Primate of Poland, admitted to the Polish Press Agency in a statement that the “unprecedented length of the church procedures” and “lack of proper treatment of people harmed” had “no justification”. He said he had met with two of Dymer’s victims in June 2019 and offered support.
This morning, the Catholic Information Agency (KAI) announced that Dymer had died at the age of 59 after struggling with illness. The news was later confirmed by the Archdiocese of Szczecin-Kamień.
The Polish Catholic church has in recent years come under fire for its alleged failures in dealing with sex abuse by clergy. It has responded by introducing measures including a new Child Protection Office to address past failings.
Following the release of a documentary revealing cases of abuse and alleged cover-ups, the government promised to create a state commission on paedophilia. It has, however, since been criticised for slow progress, amid accusations that the conservative ruling party wants to avoid tough action against the church.
The Vatican has also taken action, including permanently removing the bishop of Kalisz, Edward Janiak, who was alleged to have covered up abuse, and taking disciplinary action against Cardinal Henryk Gulbinowicz, who was himself accused of abuse.
It also ordered an investigation into the former archbishop of Gdańsk, Sławoj Leszek Głódź, over claims he failed to respond to reports of abuse by priests under his authority.