Pope Francis has ordered that the Bishop of Kalisz, Edward Janiak, be relieved of his duties while the Vatican investigates claims that he covered up child sex abuse in the church. The Archbishop of Łódź, Grzegorz Ryś, has been temporarily appointed to take over Janiak’s duties.
Janiak has faced a number of controversies in recent weeks. Last month, Hide and Seek, a documentary on clerical paedophilia – and alleged attempts by Poland’s Catholic church to cover it up – accused Janiak of failing to respond to accusations of abuse.
While Janiak denies the claims – saying that he is the victim of a “media witch hunt” – the Primate of Poland, Archbishop Wojciech Polak, called for a Vatican investigation.
The apostolic nunciature in Poland has now announced the pope’s decision that Archbishop Ryś will temporarily take over Janiak’s duties in the diocese of Kalisz. Although Janiak will nominally remain in the role, he has been ordered to leave the diocese while an investigation into negligence allegations against him takes place.
“This means that he could not be physically in the diocese or interfere with the management of the diocese,” explained the nunciature, quoted by TVN24. It is unknown for how long Ryś will manage the diocese.
The new appointment has already been met with some optimism. Tomasz Terlikowski, a prominent Catholic commentator, yesterday tweeted that “something is moving forward” with the removal of Janiak. He also asked for prayers for Ryś so he could “work in the divided and wounded Kalisz diocese”.
In further remarks today, Terlikowski expressed hope that the decision to replace Janiak will be “the first of many”, acting as a “model” for other dioceses. Only the “end of the clerical mentality” can lead to the reforms necessary to “protect children and youths”, he warned.
Decyzja w sprawie bp. Janiaka to pierwsza z wielu decyzji, które będą zapadały. Ochrona dzieci, młodzieży pociągnie za sobą reformę modelu duszpasterstwa, formacji seminaryjnej, a także stylu życia kapłańskiego. Bez końca mentalności klerykalnej nic się nie zmieni.
— Tomasz Terlikowski (@tterlikowski) June 26, 2020
Terlikowski appeared in Hide and Seek, warning that the Catholic church in Poland is in danger of heading in the same direction as its counterparts in Ireland and the United States. He called for church officials to stop covering up abuse cases and for the state to stop protecting the church.
The documentary – which is the second on the subject by filmmakers Marek and Tomasz Sekielski, following last year’s award-winning Tell No One – 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. Janiak was named as one member of the church hierarchy who covered up the scandal, with accusations that he had refused to speak to the family of a victim, despite being aware of the claims of sex abuse.
The documentary suggests that Janiak in fact knew for years of alleged abuse by Hajdasz, but did not take action. Speaking in May 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”.
Earlier this week, Catholic magazine Więź reported that complaints to the Warsaw nunciature against Janiak’s response to sex abuse had in fact been made as early as February 2018.
After seeing the film, Archishop Polak announced that he would be “appealing through the apostolic nunciature for the Vatican to open a case…concerning the failure to undertake actions required by law”. The Vatican approved the investigation at the start of June.
Janiak responded by penning a strongly worded letter addressed to bishops in Poland, which blamed Polak for discrediting the image of the church, reports Onet. The letter also claimed that Polak had visited the Sekielski brothers – whom Janiak labelled enemies of the church – the day before Hide and Seek was released.
Janiak’s deputy, Bishop Łukasz Buzun, summoned a meeting of the priestly council of the Kalisz diocese to sign a letter of support for Janiak, reports OKO.press. The letter was intended to be used to defend him during the Vatican investigation, but council members refused to sign it.
As a result of the investigation, Janiak also wrote a letter appealing for the support of congregations in the Kalisz diocese at the start of June, according to RMF24. The letter asked for their prayers and alleged he was the victim of a media campaign.
In recent days, it has also been reported that, when Janiak was taken to hospital with a suspected stroke at the beginning of June, he was actually discovered to be extremely drunk. “If this is confirmed, such a situation should never happen,” said Poland’s Catholic Episcopate in a statement.
This morning, in an interview with RMF FM, Mirosław Milewski, the auxiliary bishop of Plock, said that he “would like to apologise for the silence of the bishops” regarding “what was happening in the Kalisz diocese, these serious scandals”.
The EU is the most trusted institution in Poland, and the government the least, finds an @IBRiS_PL poll.
The church has recorded the biggest decline in trust among all institutions https://t.co/8zWZ34DZWA
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) January 30, 2020
The Catholic church in Poland has faced a number of challenges in recent years, especially in regard to criticism over its handling of child sex abuse by priests. In January, a poll revealed that the church church had recorded the largest decline in trust among various Polish institutions
“We are dealing with erosion of trust in the church,” said Marcin Duma, the head of pollster IBRiS. “This is associated with the crisis of the church in general, but certainly also with paedophilia scandals: citizens would like a quick and strong reaction, and [instead] they get a long and too placid process.”
In response, the church has made efforts to show that it is taking the issue of clerical paedophilia seriously. Its latest effort, launched last month, is a promotional campaign for a helpline to support those affected by sexual abuse.
Juliette Bretan is a freelance journalist covering Polish and Eastern European current affairs and culture. Her work has featured on the BBC World Service, and in CityMetric, The Independent, Ozy, New Eastern Europe and Culture.pl.