A documentary film with testimony by victims of clerical abuse in Poland is so harrowing that it has forced an unprecedented reckoning with the problem in one of Europe’s most deeply Catholic societies. In December, Borowiecka, 62, told Polish media about being abused when she was 11 by Henryk Jankowski, a prominent prelate in Lech Walesa’s anti-communist Solidarity movement in Gdansk, where a monument of him stood. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — One victim spoke out, and then another, and another. A statue of a pedophile priest was toppled in Gdansk, put back by his supporters, and finally dismantled for good. A feature film about clerical abuse was a box office hit.
Poland thought it had started confronting the problem of clerical abuse and its cover-up by church authorities. Then a bombshell came: A documentary with victim testimony so harrowing it has forced an unprecedented reckoning with pedophile priests in one of Europe’s most deeply Catholic societies.
ROME – Over the years, the Vatican has demonstrated a fairly remarkable capacity from a PR point of view to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory – striving to offer the world good news about the pope and the Church, only to find a way to step on that story and turn it into something else.
One thinks, for instance, about a wave of sexual abuse scandals that swept Ireland and then much of Europe in 2009 and 2010, which actually triggered real reform in Catholicism and revealed Pope Benedict XVI as an honest-to-God change agent.
Nevertheless, that storyline was basically hijacked when Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican’s former Secretary of State and Dean of the College of Cardinals, called the complaints of abuse survivors “petty gossip” during an Easter Sunday homily.
It’s still early in the game, but there have already been hints during this week’s high-profile summit on clerical sexual abuse that the Vatican may find ways to take our eyes off the prize this time too.
Francis celebrated a Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, opening a busy week for the pope that includes a Christmas Day message and blessing, a Dec. 26 prayer, New Year’s Eve vespers and a Jan. 1 Mass.
During his homily Monday, Francis lamented that many people find their life’s meaning in possessions when the biblical story of Christ’s birth emphasizes that God appeared to people who were poor when it came to earthly possessions, but faithful.
“Standing before the manger, we understand that the food of life is not material riches but love, not gluttony but charity, not ostentation but simplicity,” Francis said, dressed in simple white vestments.
“An insatiable greed marks all human history, even today, when paradoxically a few dine luxuriantly while all too many go without the daily bread needed to survive,” he said.
Francis has focused on the world’s poor and downtrodden, its refugees and marginalized, during his five-year papacy. The Catholic Church’s first pope from Latin American instructed the Vatican to better care for the homeless around Rome, opening a barber shop, shower and medical clinic for them in the embracing colonnade of St. Peter’s Square.
To extend his outreach this Christmas, Francis sent his trusted secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, to Iraq to celebrate with the country’s long-suffering Christians.
Catholics are among the religious minorities targeted for Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS)-inspired violence that has driven tens of thousands from their homes.
Parolin met Monday in Baghdad with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi. He is scheduled in the coming days to travel to northern Iraq to meet with Kurdish leaders in Irbil and to celebrate Mass in Qaraqosh in the Nineveh plains, near Mosul, according to the Vatican.
The Vatican has for years expressed concern about the exodus of Christians from communities that have existed since the time of Jesus, and urged them to return when security conditions permit.