The film, Hide and Seek, is the second on this subject by filmmaker brothers Marek and Tomasz Sekielski. A year ago, they released Tell No One, in which a number of victims revealed the abuse they had faced as children and were filmed confronting their former abusers. It also showed how such cases had been swept under the carpet by the church.
The revelations provoked shock, anger and debate in Poland, a country where 90% of the population identify as Catholic and the church remains an influential institution. It also prompted an apology to victims from the head of the country’s Catholic episcopate, as well as promises from the church and politicians to tackle the problem more seriously.
Both films were financed entirely through crowdfunding, with the Sekielskis saying that this allowed them to exercise full editorial independence. They were first published on YouTube, with Tell No One being viewed there over 23 million times, as well as later being broadcast on television.
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The new documentary, Hide and Seek, presents the story of two brothers, now young adults, who are seeking to confront a priest, Arkadiusz Hajdasz, who abused them in their childhood and to bring him to justice. As they chase leads, they discover more of his victims, yet meet with a lack of compassion or understanding from the church officials they deal with.
They also aim to bring to account those in the church hierarchy who were responsible for moving the priest from parish to parish whenever his abusive behaviour received too much attention in one place (an alleged tactic the church has often been accused of).
In one scene, it is shown that already in 2016 the parents of another victim confronted the priest and informed him that they were going to report the issue to Edward Janiak, the bishop of Kalisz. In response, Hajdasz assured them that the bishop was already aware of the situation. Yet Janiak refused to speak to the family at all.
The documentary suggests that Janiak knew for years of alleged abuse by Hajdasz without taking action. Speaking today to broadcaster TVN24, a priest, Kazimierz Sowa, said that “if the evidence disclosed in the film is confirmed, it should end with [Janiak’s] resignation”.
The Sekielskis also demonstrate structural similarities between the actions concerning Hajdak and those taken in the case of Paweł Kania, a priest who was allowed to continue serving in the church – including having contact with children – even after police arrested him for offering money to children for sexual services and found child pornography on his computer.
Even after his conviction, Kania was simply moved between parishes and continued to work as a priest. Only after a second sentence was he removed from the priesthood. Kania’s case was one of those that featured in Tell No One.
In the new documentary, the legal representative of one of Kania’s victims says that children have become not only “victim[s] of the priest that physically raped [them] but of the whole system that allowed for moving a paedophile priest from one place to another”.
The Sekielski brothers stress that their aim is not to target the Catholic church, but the criminals who happen to be wearing cassocks. They also aim to draw attention to the fact that there has been little action by the state to tackle the issue, even after the release of their first documentary last year.
“The film is an accusation against the whole political class in Poland,” Tomask Sekielski told Gazeta Wyborcza. “A state commission on paedophilia [promised last year by politicians] still hasn’t been formed.”
Last year, politicians from across the spectrum declared their determination to support and defend the victims of pedophilia, though the ruling conservative government said that any measures taken should tackle child abuse as a whole, not just in the church.
The head of Poland’s episcopate, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, “apologised to all those who were harmed” and established a new church body and fund to support victims. Many, however, felt that the church – including Gądecki himself – had not done enough to deal with the issue. A recent poll found that trust in the church has fallen faster than for any other institution over the last two years.
The new documentary also includes remarks from Tomasz Terlikowski, a prominent Polish Catholic commentator, who warns that the Catholic church in Poland is in danger of heading in the same direction as those in Ireland and the United States. Terlikowski calls for church officials to stop covering up cases and for the state to stop protecting the church.
“I want my kids to know that I took the side of the victims in this case and I believe that by speaking up and revealing the evil and structural sins we can change something,” wrote Terlikowski on Facebook ahead of the film’s release. “Church institutions have already shown that they will not do a thing on their own.”
Within hours of being published on YouTube this morning, the film already triggered a response from Archbishop Wojciech Polak, the Primate of Poland. In a video of his own, he said that, having watched the documentary, he would be “appealing through the Apostolic Nunciature for the Vatican to open a case…concerning the failure to undertake actions required by law”.
Polak reminded members of the clergy that “anyone who has knowledge of the sexual abuse of a minor…is obliged in conscience – and by law – to make a notification” to the authorities. “Priests, nuns, parents and educators [should] not follow the false logic of caring for the church…[by] concealing the perpetrators of sexual offences”.
The Sekielski brothers have already announced that they are planning a third documentary that will focus on the role of the Vatican, and in which they will try to determine to what extent the late Polish Pope John Paul II had knowledge of the problem of paedophilia in the Catholic church.
Main image credit: Zabawa w chowanego/YouTube
Agnieszka Wądołowska is managing editor of Notes from Poland. She has previously worked for Gazeta.pl and Tokfm.pl and contributed to Gazeta Wyborcza, Wysokie Obcasy, Duży Format, Midrasz and Kultura Liberalna