BISHOPS MADE A DECISION TO ESTABLISH A FOUNDATION TO SUPPORT CREATING AN EFFECTIVE AID SYSTEM FOR THE VICTIMS AND PREVENTION SYSTEM IN THE CHURCH
The Polish Bishops’ Conference adopted the statute of the Saint Joseph Foundation, which is to be a work of help and support for people who have been sexually abused in their childhood or youth in the Church’s community. The foundation will be financed by all dioceses in proportion to the number of clergy. The bishops hope that it will start its activity at the beginning of next year.
Solidarity with the victims
– The establishment of the foundation is an expression of solidarity of the Church in Poland with the victims – comments Archbishop Wojciech Polak, Delegate of the Polish Bishops’ Conference for the protection of children and youth. The Primate of Poland led a team that prepared the statute of the Foundation. – The faithful, as well as the whole society, expect unequivocal commitment and specific action on the part of the Church in the fight against the drama of sexual abuse. It is necessary to continue existing and take new systematic actions for the benefit of persons hurt in the Church’s community, both by some clerics and other perpetrators related to the educational and pastoral activity of the Church – emphasizes Archbishop Polak.
The foundation’s activities are to be nationwide. The Foundation will provide a variety of help to victims in cooperation with a specific diocese and with existing works and initiatives, like Child Protection Center or “Hurt in the Church”. A coordinator will be appointed in each diocese responsible for contact with the foundation. In the near future the bishops will also enter into talks with male and female religious orders on the involvement in the foundation’s activities and common responsibility for its shape.
– The perpetrator of the crime of sexual abuse is obliged to compensate for the harm caused, however, in the Church community we all must feel responsible for joint and several support for victims and protection of minors – says Archbishop Wojciech Polak.
The Saint Joseph Foundation will support existing and initiate new projects and activities aimed at helping victims. One of them is to be the development of an already existing “helpline”, thanks to which people hurt in the Church will be able to get the necessary information and real support more easily. Another step is to further develop and expand the existing „network of experts” – prepared psychologists, educators, lawyers and priests – competent in providing professional help to those hurt by sexual abuse so that in the future specialized “help centers” can be established. The Foundation will also be able to provide educational scholarships for victims who need help in graduating from school or university. The foundation’s tasks will also include supporting multiple preventive activities in order to protect children and young people.
Dimension and extent of provided support
According to the document of Pope Francis “Vos estis lux mundi”, responsibility for granting help for those hurt by clergy rests with every diocesan bishop. The Saint Joseph Foundation, although it does not remove this responsibility from Church superiors, it creates however the conditions for dioceses or metropolises to be able to create and develop professional tools in the field of providing the necessary pedagogical, psychological and therapeutic, legal and spiritual help.
Child or youth victims in a state of disability or helplessness will be able to count on support through various activities of the foundation, when perpetrators of sexual abuse were clergy or other persons involved in pedagogic, educational and pastoral activity of the Church. The purpose of the foundation is not to meet the financial claims of some victims, nor is it in any way a compensation fund. It is, however, a work which is established to offer in various ways and in cooperation with existing initiatives an organized and real help, which the victims need very much.
As far as possible, the foundation also intends to support people sexually abused by persons not related institutionally to the Catholic Church. This support can exist now, e.g. developing an anonymous helpline and by helping to implement prevention programs that inspire many institutions outside of the Church or educational organizations.
Financing and structure of the foundation
Such activities need stable financing. The foundation will be financed primarily by funds provided by individual dioceses. The financial participation of the diocese will be proportional to the number of bishops and priests belonging to it.
– The decision to finance the foundation is an expression of solidarity between bishops and priests and victims of criminal sexual abuse committed by some clergy – says Delegate of the Polish Bishops’ Conference for the protection of children and youth. – Of course, the foundation’s activities can be supported by anyone who cares for the good of victims in the Church. In the future, contributions to the foundation will also come from penalties imposed on perpetrators as part of canonical criminal processes. The demand of imposing financial penalties on perpetrators is increasingly being raised as a requirement of justice and undertaken by canonists dealing with such processes – emphasizes Archbishop Polak.
The Saint Joseph Foundation will be run by Marta Titaniec, who has many years of experience in the sector of non-governmental organizations, co-initiator of the “Hurt in the Church” initiative, and Fr. Tadeusz Michalik, PhD, from the diocese of Tarnów, involved for years in education, and in recent years also prevention of sexual abuse. The Foundation’s Board will include people working for protection of minors: Fr. Adam Żak SJ – coordinator of the Polish Bishops’ Conference for the protection of children and youth and director of the Child Protection Center in Cracow; Małgorzata Skórzewska-Amberg, PhD – expert in criminal law of child protection in cyberspace, participating in the work of the Diocesan Support Team with the Bishop of Płock “Towards healing and renewal”; Fr. Prof. Piotr Majer – an outstanding canon lawyer and a member of the Scientific Council of the Child Protection Center. As a representative of persons hurt by clergy will be in the Foundation’s Board Wiktor Porycki. The Secretary General of the Polish Bishops’ Conference Bishop Artur Miziński will also be in the Foundation’s Board, while the Board will be headed by the Primate of Poland Archbishop Wojciech Polak as a delegate of the Polish Bishops’ Conference for the protection of children and youth.
Saint Joseph, guardian and custodian of the Holy Family, will be the patron saint of the foundation that helps victims of the Church. – The Church is to defend all the faithful, especially the weak and defenceless, against harm and scandal, just like Saint Joseph protected the Child Jesus and His Mother – explains Archbishop Polak.
The statute of the Foundation, adopted by the bishops during the 384th Plenary Assembly of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, which took place in Warsaw on October 8-9 this year, will be submitted to the National Court Register. The bishops hope that the Foundation providing help to the victims will be able to start its activity on January 1, 2020.
Press Office of the Polish Bishops’ Conference