Catholic church held accountable in revolutionary abuse case

For the first time in history, a Polish court has ruled that the Catholic Church -- and not only a particular priest -- will be held responsible for abuse. The victim will receive 230,000 euros in compensation and a life-long pension.

Ada Petriczko
Ada Petriczko NewsMavens, Poland
Catholic church held accountable in revolutionary abuse case - NewsMavens
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Why this story matters:

This sentence is a game changer in the Polish legal system. Until now, pedophile priests were rarely named and sentenced -- and when they were, they usually walked free after a short incarceration. This reflected two harmful assumptions that permeate Polish public life -- that priests are above other citizens and that children are less trustworthy than adults.

For the first time, a court approached the Church like an ordinary employer and a priest -- like its employee. And according to the Polish Civil Code, if an employee causes harm to someone else while doing a job he was hired for, then the employer bears the civil responsibility.

Justice Anna Łosik had no doubt that this was true in the case of Father Roman B. and his victim Katarzyna:

“If he had not taught religion at school, if he had not been a priest, he would never have met his victim. If he had not used his position as a priest to win over her trust, there would be no damage,” the crucial fragment of the sentence reads.

This sentence is part of a wider discussion on pedophilia in the Catholic Church that has consumed Polish media over the past weeks, giving hope for change. However, it is also a testimony to the power of journalism. The story of Katarzyna first reached a broader audience after one of Poland’s top reporters, Justyna Kopińska, published an arresting report exposing the indolence of the justice system and the impunity of the Church. Only then did the Catholic hierarchy react to the crime in a way that acknowledged its gravity.

This case is unique in one more regard -- Katarzyna declined the offer of a settlement with the Church and decided to fight for justice in front of a civil court. Thus, she has forged the legal path for other victims of pedophile priests.

Details from the story:

  • The woman known to the media as “Katarzyna” was 13 years old when Father Roman B. took her from her parents home and moved to another region of Poland, under the excuse that she would be happier in a boarding school than with her alcoholic parents. The “boarding school” soon turned out to be a rented apartment where the priest raped and abused her for over a year.
  • During this time, she went to school and he took her to local parishes. However, no one notified the authorities that the child could be a victim of abuse -- neither Katarzyna’s teacher (to whom she confessed), nor the other priests (who let Roman sleep in one room with a girl when they came to visit) and not even a gynecologist whom the priest paid to perform an abortion on a 14-year old girl.
  • After over a year, Roman B. brought Katarzyna back to her hometown. There she confessed to another teacher, who finally passed the case on to the police.
  • In 2009, Roman B. was first sentenced -- to eight years in prison. However, he walked out free only four years later. His convent, the Society of Christ, not only did not expel the pedophile priest, but also paid for his lawyer. After Roman served his sentence, he went back to work at a parish in another town.
  • Katarzyna tried to commit suicide four times.
  • Following the report by Justyna Kopińska, readers gathered enough money to put Katarzyna through therapy for a year. According to the “Nie lękajcie się” (“Do not be afraid”) foundation -- an NGO helping victims of pedophile priests -- the case also empowered other victims to reach out to them.
  • The court ruling by Justice Anna Łosik decided on the civil responsibility of the Church nine months ago, but the sentence was kept secret and was only announced this Monday. The Church appealed. On Thursday, Sep 20, the appeals process will take place. If the court stands by its verdict, Katarzyna will receive 230,000 euros of compensation and a life-long pension of 200 euros a month.
  • On Tuesday, a day after the sentence was made public, one of the front-end misogynists of the Polish public sphere, the right-wing politician Janusz Korwin-Mikke, tweeted that the justice’s decision “will make teenagers jump en masse into the beds of priests by force or deceit.” As if 230,000 euros was worth a lost childhood, a lost education and months spent in psychiatric hospitals.
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