Officials in Gdansk have ordered the removal of a monument to a Catholic priest linked to the Solidarity movement amid accusations that he was a paedophile, as the country’s bishops take new steps to combat clerical abuse.
“We’ll probably never know the truth, since this key figure is no longer alive,” explained Aleksandra Dulkiewicz, Gdansk’s newly elected mayor.
“While I value the presumption of innocence principle, there can only be one decision, given the current level of emotions.”
The mayor spoke as the city council voted to demolish the statue of Fr Henryk Jankowski (1936-2010), an associate of Lech Walesa and other Solidarity leaders, who was rector of Gdansk’s St Brygida parish during the 1980’s strikes at the nearby shipyards.
The vote, also stripping the priest of his honorary citizenship, was boycotted by officials from Poland’s governing Law and Justice party (PiS) and criticised by Solidarity members, who said the accusations against Fr Jankowski were unproven.
Besides celebrating shipyard Masses during the Solidarity protests, Fr Jankowski organised aid for families of imprisoned union activists, but provoked complaints from Jewish organisations for controversial sermons after the 1989 collapse of communist rule.
He was finally dismissed as St Brygida’s rector by Archbishop Tadeusz Goclowski, who told clergy in a 2004 letter that Fr Jankowski had created “an unChristian climate”, while stoking “alarming media suspicions” by “receiving boys in his presbytery”
However, the priest told supporters he would not give in to “lies, hypocrisy and infamy”, and continued living in his parish house until his diabetes-related death aged 74.
The statue of Fr Jankowski, erected in a square named after him by a civic committee in 2012 [he died in 2010 – Ed], was toppled overnight in late February by a group complaining that it represented “a presence of evil in the public sphere”. This took place two months after abuse accusations were detailed against Fr Jankowski in the Gazeta Wyborcza.
Although the statue was restored to its plinth under Solidarity protection, Gdansk council noted during its meeting that legal investigations into the priest’s alleged crimes would be impossible in the current atmosphere, and ordered its removal and the renaming of the square.
The move came as Poland’s 157-member bishops’ conference launched an abuse report at its plenary assembly, attended by the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and bishops from 11 other countries.
The report listed 382 cases of sexual abuse between 1990 and 2018, and said canonical procedures had been followed by the Church in 95% of instances, with three-quarters brought to completion.
However, it conceded that there had been “a certain ignorance” of Church rules on abuse, and there were “differences of reliability” between Polish dioceses and orders, in responding to enquiries.
“Moral, legal and common sense appears to have deserted the Church of England. The Presumption of Innocence has been described as ‘the golden thread that runs through British justice’. That thread was broken by the October Statement, and replaced with the Presumption of Guilt. The Media – including the BBC – assumed Bishop Bell’s guilt on the basis of the Church’s Statement, and their subsequent headlines reflected that assumption. No attempt was made by the Church, immediately after the headlines, to correct the media interpretation of the Statement. This would strongly suggest a Presumption of Guilt on the Church’s part towards Bishop Bell” – Richard W. Symonds
“In this case, the scrutiny of the allegation has been thorough, objective, and undertaken by people who command the respect of all parties….” – Bishop of Chichester Martin Warner
“Was this not the process that created the Bishop George Bell debacle? The Church of England leadership will still not follow the plain and increasingly irritated advice of its independent investigator Lord Carlile, who said: “The Church should now accept that my recommendations should be accepted in full, and that after due process, however delayed, George Bell should be declared by the Church to be innocent of the allegations made against him….
“If witnesses accounts and denials of knowledge (if appropriate) are not captured in a timely way, may not their reputations be placed “under a cloud” of complicity in the cover-up by some future archbishop without evidence, just as Justin Welby has tainted the memory of Bishop George Bell? Justice requires due process to victims and those under suspicion alike. We are woefully failing many in this case”
“The church in trying to preserve its reputation has all but lost it. Kicking allegations ‘into the long grass’ and then throwing long dead Bishops ‘under the bus’ has all added to the loss of credibility of the church and its hierarchy…“