The funeral service for Juliusz Paetz, the former Archbishop of Poznań who was accused of molesting seminary students and young priests, took place this morning.

Following public criticism and a letter opposing plans to bury Paetz in the city’s cathedral, his body was laid to rest at a district parish cemetery.

After Paetz’s death on Friday at the age of 84, the Poznań archdiocese initially announced that the former archbishop would be buried at the cathedral. However, the plans led to outrage among a wide range of public figures.

A letter – whose signatories included Catholic commentator Tomasz Terlikowski, the deputy mayor of Poznań, and a number of priests – expressed “indignation at the situation” and appealed for the archbishop to be buried elsewhere.

The authors noted that “since the issue of sexual abuses by Archbishop Juliusz Paetz was revealed in 2002, the church authorities have never officially informed of their decision” in the matter, which “has remained hidden, permanently poisoning our church, detracting from its credibility and trust, and sowing uncertainty and division among the faithful and the clergy”.

They argued that laying the former archbishop to rest at the cathedral would be a “profanation of the memory” of important church figures buried there and of such an important site, believed to have been Poland’s first Christian temple, where the baptism of the country took place.

“We interpret this place of rest as the rehabilitation and exculpation of the archbishop”, the signatories wrote.

Separately, Marcin Bosacki, a senator representing Poznań, said that burying Paetz in the cathedral “would be a disgrace that would dishonour not only the Polish church but also the state – the cathedral being a symbol of its beginnings”. It would also “once again hurt the victims” of Paetz, said Bosacki.

Paetz, who was bishop of the town of Łomża from 1982 until being appointed Archbishop of Poznań in 1996, was publicly accused in February 2002 of having molested seminary students. Prior to this, the local church authorities had spent two years attempting to deal with the accusations behind closed doors.

The archbishop denied the accusations, but offered his resignation, which was accepted by Pope John Paul II. As archbishop emeritus, he caused controversy by continuing to participate in various church ceremonies and celebrations. None of the allegations against him ever led to a prosecution.

The funeral service for the cleric took place as planned at the cathedral this morning amid tight security, but his body was taken to be buried at his family’s parish cemetery in the district of Starołęka.

The current Archbishop of Poznań, Stanisław Gądecki – who is also the head of the Polish Episcopal Conference, the central organ of the Catholic church in Poland – issued a brief statement at the burial service,  but refused to answer questions.

“I am certain that the situation in which we found ourselves today will help to cleanse the Poznań church,” said Gądecki.

The Polish Catholic church has recently come under fire for its alleged failures in dealing with paedophiles in its ranks. The documentary film “Tell No One”, released in May this year, outlined a number of cases of alleged child sexual abuse by priests and of attempts by the church to cover them up.

In response, the church has introduced measures – including a new Child Protection Office – to address past failings. Gądecki said he had “watched [the documentary] with sadness” and “apologised to all those who were harmed”.

Main image credit: FanFotografii/Wikimedia Commons (under CC BY 3.0)

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