A serving Kraków bishop has been accused of molesting a 15-year-old girl. He denies the accusations and is currently at an undisclosed location outside the archdiocese while the Vatican assesses the case.
The accusations came to light in a report published by Gazeta Wyborcza yesterday. Monika, now in her thirties, says that Bishop Jan Szkodoń befriended her and her family when she was 15 years old after a pilgrimage to the Vatican, and later proceeded to touch her breasts and between her legs and to kiss her on her lips during private meetings at his home.
According to Marcin Wójcik’s report, the abuse began in 1998, when the bishop noticed Monika during the trip to Rome. The bishop asked the girl to visit him, and her parents invited him for dinner. Monika claims that he would telephone late in the evening, saying that he had “something important” for her to see.
In one period, she visited the bishop at his flat on Kanonicza Street in Kraków around once a month, sometimes on the pretext of helping him with his sermons. She alleges that he removed some of his clothing and encouraged her to do the same. Just a few months after the pilgrimage to the Vatican, he began to touch intimate parts of her body, Monika says.
“God sent you to me. Through you he wants to teach me tenderness,” Szkodoń is alleged to have said.
As she grew older, Monika says that she became more courageous and avoided the bishop’s advances. But in the meantime he had become a family friend, who officiated at Monika’s wedding and christened her and her siblings’ children. He also vetted her boyfriends, telling her to break up with one, an atheist, and giving his approval for the one who became her husband, a devout Catholic.
Monika’s husband later became abusive and violent to her and their son. Bishop Szkodoń urged Monika to forgive him, citing the Bible. “I told him I couldn’t cope any more, I had to leave my husband. I felt guilty about breaking the sacred marital knot. He replied that I could not leave, that I was responsible for my own and [my husband’s] salvation.” She says that she finally left her husband after he tried to have her exorcised.
The turning point for Monika came in 2018, when she watched the feature film Kler [Clergy], which covered various abuses and excesses of the church, including paedophilia. She sought help from a therapist afterwards, and realised that the abuse had left major psychological scars.
Monika reported the abuse to the prosecutor’s office, according to the Gazeta Wyborcza article. In December 2019, the case was dismissed owing to the statute of limitations, although the prosecutor wrote that the evidence suggested a high likelihood that the alleged crime was committed.
Monika then wrote to the pope via the apostolic nuncio in Poland, but is yet to receive a direct response.
Bishop Szkodoń denies the allegations. “Under oath I said that I did not molest Monika. Perhaps I stroked her hand or arm, perhaps I kissed her cheek, but that was not sexual,” he told Gazeta Wyborcza. He claims that Monika was seeking revenge for the bishop’s failure to back her as her marriage fell apart, possibly at her father’s bidding.
In a statement, he confirmed that he had been informed of the allegations by the apostolic nuncio in Poland, and insisted that “the accusations presented to me are untrue, and harm my good name, which I intend to defend.”
Speaking on behalf of the Kraków curia, Father Łukasz Michalczewski said that Bishop Szkodoń was currently excused from duties and residing elsewhere in Poland, reports Onet.pl. He added that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican is dealing with the case.
The Polish Catholic Church has been recently condemned for its failures to address allegations of paedophilia and sexual abuse within its ranks. The Nie lękajcie się Foundation reported in late 2018 since the release of Kler, it had been contacted by more victims than in the previous five years combined.
Since #Kler's release in September @fundacjaNLS, which supports victims of pedophile priests, has been contacted by 1000s of potential victims – more than in the last 5 years combined. The church also launched a study to examine extent of abuse by priests https://t.co/SiYQR0CWb3
— Notes from Poland ?? (@notesfrompoland) November 3, 2018
According to priest and activist Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski, the case of Bishop Szkodoń is unprecedented. “This is an accusation against a serving bishop, he told Wirtualna Polska. “There were no such cases before. Since Francis has been pope, it has been clear that all accusations of paedophilia made towards diocese bishops are to be dealt with by a special cell at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”
Last month, we reported that a former priest accused of molesting and raping an altar boy under his care was re-employed in the Poznań diocese. Local priests, including Archbishop of Poznań Stanisław Gądecki – who is also the head of the Polish Episcopal Conference, the central organ of the Catholic church in Poland – have also failed to assist the investigation into accusations.
The documentary Tylko nie mów nikomu [Tell No One], which has been watched more than 23 million times on YouTube since its premiere in May 2019, outlined a number of cases of alleged child sexual abuse by priests and the church’s attempts to cover them up.
The makers of the film, Tomasz and Marek Sekielski, have so far raised 600,000 zloty of the 1 million zloty target needed to make their third film about paedophilia in the Catholic church, the website Press reported today. The premiere of the second film, entitled Zabawa w chowanego [Hide and Seek], is due to take place later in February.
Main image credit: Flickr/Archidiecezja Krakowska
Ben Koschalka is a translator and the assistant editor at Notes from Poland. Originally from Britain, he has lived in Kraków since 2005.