CZESTOCHOWA, Poland — The bishops of Poland published Monday a statement on the sexual abuse of minors by some clerics, asking forgiveness of the victims and calling for action, prayer and penance.
When sexual abuse “appears among the clergy, it becomes the source of a particular scandal,” the bishops said in their Nov. 19 statement, prepared during their plenary assembly at Jasna Gora.
“The disillusionment and the outrage are all the more painful because children, instead of receiving caring love and accompaniment as they seek the closeness of Jesus, experience violence and the brutal detachment from their dignity as children.”
The bishops made frequent reference in their statement to the words of Popes Francis and Benedict XVI, as well as of Pope St. John Paul II.
“For many believers, especially for young people who are sincerely looking for God, sexual scandals involving clergy are becoming a hard test of faith and a reason for great scandal,” they said.
“The Church in Poland wants to be increasingly effective so that the safety of children and young people, according to the will of the Lord, will become a priority for all communities and families,” they added.
The bishops said they have begun collecting data on sexual abuse of minors by clerics in Poland and said that such an act is “an extremely grave sin.”
“We ask God, the victims of abuse, their families and the Church community for forgiveness for all the harm done to children and young people and their relatives by clerics, consecrated persons and lay workers in the Church. We ask the Lord to give us light, strength and courage to resolutely combat the moral and spiritual corruption that is the main source of sexual abuse against minors. We ask the Lord to make our efforts to create an open and child-friendly environment in the Church effective.”
They said they have acted for many years to eliminate such crimes from among the clergy: “Any sign of possible criminal acts leads to a preliminary investigation, and if the probability is confirmed, the Holy See and the prosecutor’s office are informed. We ask those who have been harmed by the clergy to report the damage suffered to ecclesiastical superiors and to the appropriate state authorities.”
The bishops noted that each dioceses has a delegate to receive reports of abuse, who will “help the victim to get psychological, legal and pastoral support,” so as “to help the victims take the steps necessary to overcome the consequences of the damage suffered.”
The bishops’ conference has, for five years, appointed a child-protection coordinator who “organizes many formation meetings for the diocesan and religious clergy that are slowly but effectively changing attitudes and raising awareness. We are also preparing in dioceses, orders and religious congregations a prevention system to help to protect children and adolescents from potential sexual abuse. We want ecclesial communities to be a safe place for children and young people and to make their safety a priority for the whole society. On this occasion, we appeal to all those who take this to heart to effectively combat threats against children and young people, especially in the sphere of the internet.”
“We are also more attentive to the human and spiritual formation in the seminaries and to priestly formation. For this purpose, for several years, formation is given to educators in the seminaries so that they may work competently on the formation of future priests and avoid admitting immature people, unable to faithfully pronounce their vows and promises, to become members of the clergy.”
They urged prayer and penance to “open our hearts to the spirit of authentic conversion; let us live in harmony and love with all people of goodwill and fight against all abuses of power, sexuality and conscience, in all environments, especially in the Church communities where children live and grow.”
The bishops urged perpetrators to repentance: “Openly acknowledge your guilt; submit yourselves to the demands of justice, but do not despair of God’s mercy.”
“May Mary, the Mother of Beautiful Love, ask her Son to give us his grace so that we may express our sincere sorrow and act with determination in a courageous struggle against every kind of danger, coming from some clerics, inflicted on children and young people,” the Polish bishops concluded.
“Let us not forget to ask for conversion for the perpetrators of these wrongs. Let us also ask for the entire Church, both clergy and laity, the spirit of unity and Christian love of our neighbor. Let us be strengthened by the example and intercession of martyr priests who gave their lives in defense of human dignity.”