Polish Diocese Apologizes for Inquiring about Abuse Survivor’s Sexual Orientation

A Polish diocese has apologized for inquiring if a clergy sex abuse survivor was gay, with the aim of arguing that therefore he may have enjoyed the violence done to him as a minor.

Elsewhere in the country, a court has acquitted fully the artists being tried for their depiction of Mary with a rainbow halo.

Janusz Szymik is suing the Diocese of Bielsko-Zywiec over abuse he suffered as a child, to which the priest in question has confessed. Szymik is seeking monetary damages of about 3 million zlotys (US $760,000). But even with the confession, the Associated Press reported that the diocese had attempted to block the civil suit:

“The Onet news portal earlier this week disclosed the contents of documents it obtained that a lawyer for the church had submitted to the court. The documents show the church wanting an expert ‘to check the plaintiff’s sexual orientation’ and to determine whether he ‘showed satisfaction with maintaining an intimate relationship with Rev. Jan W.’ or derived any ‘material benefits’ from the sexual relationship with the cleric.”

But now, America reports:

“Following wide criticism, the Bielsko-Zywiec diocese said that its letter to the court should not have included questions about the victim’s sexuality or have suggested that he drew pleasure from contact with the priest. The diocese dispatched the letter in response to a lawsuit by the victim, Janusz Szymik.

“‘We apologize to Janusz and to all who have been scandalized’ by the questions, the diocese said in a statement, vowing to change the letter’s wording.”

The diocese’s behavior had been sharply condemned by the head of the Polish Episcopal Conference’s office for child protection, Fr. Piotr Studnicki, who said in a statement:

“‘The issue of sexual orientation or the way a child reacts emotionally to an offense of sexual abuse cannot constitute an argument against the injured person and diminish the responsibility of the perpetrator. . .It must be clear to everyone that a child never bears responsibility for violence experienced.'”

Szymik has suggested the diocese’s court documents signal a major shift on the part of Bishop Roman Pindel, who up to this point had been compassionate. Szymik commented:

“Previously, [Pindel] expressed pain and regret and asked for forgiveness, and now he wants to prove … that I am a homosexual person, that pedophilia gave me pleasure, that everything that happened was voluntary, that I benefited from it. . .'”

Catholic journalist Tomasz Terlikowski called the situation “scandalous” and suggested, according to AP,  that “such statements are harmful to victims and are ‘sad proof’ that the bishop does not even know the teaching of his own church.” More information about this situation can be found at the blog Notes from Poland.

Elsewhere in Poland, a court rejected government attempts to overturn the acquittal of three artists who had been tried for “offending religious beliefs” after depicting Our Lady of Czestochowa with a rainbow halo in a gesture of solidarity with the LGBTQ community, according to the Washington Blade.

The artists, three women known only as Elżbieta, Anna, and Joanna, were acquitted last year after being first arrested in 2019. Many human rights activists, including prominent Dutch Catholics who issued an open letter, have supported the artists in the intervening years, while at least one Polish diocese condemned them. Of this latest acquittal, Catrinal Motoc of Amnesty International, stated:

“‘This case is emblematic of a number of disturbing anti-human rights trends in Poland. . .Today’s decision comes as a huge relief but cannot disguise the fact that these three women should never have been put on trial in the first place. Distributing posters of the Virgin Mary wearing a rainbow halo should never be criminalised, so it is right that the appeal against their acquittal was rejected.'”

The diocese’s apology and retraction of its deeply offensive questions was a necessary step towards justice. But that this incident occurred at all reveals the lingering, troubling connections that some in the hierarchy make by erroneously connecting homosexuality with sex abuse. More importantly, it shows their outrageous presumption that anyone who is gay would welcome any kind of sexual activity, even if in an abusive relationship. Decades after revelations of such abuse came to light, such myths should have been long eradicated.  They are harmful to survivors, to LGBTQ people, and to the church generally. More than simply changing the wording in legal documents, the Diocese of Bielsko-Zywiec and Polish church leaders need to work actively against the anti-gay thinking so prevalent in their country right now that lead to such tragic situations as this one.

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, January 14, 2022

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