The report „Protection of minors and the vulnerable and the assistance to victims of sexual abuse in the Church in Poland” for 2022 – new projects, professionalization of the system, and initiatives for the benefit of the abused.

„At the centre of efforts to combat the crime of sexual abuse of minors and the vulnerable should always be the concern for the harmed person”, this excerpt from an announcement by Marta Titaniec and Fr. Piotr Studnicki opens this year’s annual report „Protection of minors and the vulnerable and the assistance to victims of sexual abuse in the Church in Poland”. It presents background information on the activities of the various units in the Church’s protection system over the past year, as well as the results of a query of reports received by dioceses and male congregations during 2022.

Listening to the abused

The past year has shown that the ecclesiastical system of sexual abuse response, victim assistance, and prevention in the Polish Church is becoming more efficient in terms of its basic mechanisms, namely responding to notifications. It is the task of the 179 male and female delegates for the protection of children and adolescents, who throughout the country receive those who report abuse and initiate the action and assistance prescribed by law. In addition to dioceses and male religious orders, the delegates have also employed female congregations (56 jurisdictions).

From January to the end of December 2022, dioceses and male religious jurisdictions received 84 reports of sexual abuse, an average of seven reports per month. These relate to acts between 1965 and 2022. 25% of these reports concerned the abuse of minors under the age of 15, which is criminalized in the Polish legal system.

In the first instance, it is the responsibility of the bishop or higher religious superior to provide assistance to a person abused in the Church, usually through the designated delegate for the protection of children and adolescents. Estimates based on a survey of St. Joseph’s Foundation coordinators show that dioceses and religious orders offered direct psychological, medical, or legal assistance to the wronged 307 times in the past year. In addition, St Joseph Foundation at the Polish Bishops’ Conference in 2022 allocated the amount of PLN 273,996.64 to fund 36 people’s direct medical (medication) help, psychiatric consultation, and educational, legal, and spiritual therapeutic assistance. This is almost twice as much as in 2021 and ten times as much as in 2020.

In cooperation with the dioceses, 5 consultation points operated: in Poznań, Gniezno, Kalisz, Ciechanów, and Gdańsk. Through them, people who had been abused could count on the support and assistance of specialists, mainly lay people, before starting to officially report their harm to the Church. The religious sisters continued the „Sisters for Sisters” helpline (52 on-call hours) and on-call hours for the wounded (conducted individually by 12 sisters), and the Saint Joseph Foundation continued the „Report harm” hotline (150 on-call hours).

Protection of minors and the vulnerable

Raising awareness of the problem of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable people is the subject of many prevention training courses for seminarians, priests, catechists, and Catholic school teachers. Child’s Protection Centre has launched the 6th edition of a postgraduate course on the prevention of sexual violence against children and adolescents. A project targeting parents, carers, and volunteers working with people with disabilities and an e-learning program for youth leaders of groups and communities, as well as the first phase of the Safe School project, were finalized in 2022. A working team at Child Protection Centre has also initiated work on the ‚Safe Parish’ project.

St. Joseph Foundation at Polish Bishops’ Conference finances the development and implementation of prevention projects and supports the professionalization of those involved in the Church’s system of protection and assistance to the victimized, including funding scholarships for studies and specialized courses. Last year, 88 people benefited from this opportunity (specialist studies, legal course at Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński’s University, and postgraduate studies at Papal John Paul II University). International cooperation is being developed, such as the Child’s Protection Centre’s work with the Global Safeguarding Alliance, and St. Joseph’s Foundation’s cooperation with the Centre for the Protection of the Dignity of the Child in Lviv, resulting in the translation into Ukrainian of the handbook ‚The Confessor Facing the Drama of Sexual Abuse’.

In total, in the year 2022, Saint Joseph Foundation of the Polish Bishops’ Conference provided 114 grants awarded, for a total amount of PLN 1 654 337, 22. for direct assistance to the abused, educational grants, prevention projects, training, and scientific work.

The report „The Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Persons and the Assistance to Victims of Sexual Abuse in the Church in Poland” was prepared by the Office of the Polish Bishops’ Conference Delegate for the Protection of Children and Young People and the Saint Joseph Foundation of the Polish Bishops’ Conference; the statistical part was prepared by the team of the Institute of Statistics of the Catholic Church SAC.

Office of the Delegate of Polish Bishops’ Conference /St. Joseph’s Foundation

Translation: Sr. Ewa Dobrzelecka / Office for Foreign Communication of the Polish Bishops’ Conference