Updated: June 18, 2021 10:14 AM GMT
Pope Francis meets with Polish bishops at Wawel royal castle's cathedral in Krakow on July 27, 2016. (Photo: AFP)
Poland’s Catholic bishops are gearing up for their ad limina visit to Rome in October when their moral authority will be examined because of allegations of clerical sex abuse and a culture of covering them up.
The Vatican had ordered a series of probes against Polish bishops under the norms of the motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi, issued by Pope Francis in 2019.
Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish bishops’ conference, came under investigation.
The 71-year-old prelate, also head of the European bishops’ forum, was exonerated on June 8 from all charges after a three-year inquiry.
The latest blow to the Polish Church came in May when the Vatican issued sanctions against retired Bishop Tadeusz Rakoczy for his failure to handle clerical sexual abuse.
After a victim's claims were made public, the Vatican on May 28 banned Bishop Rakoczy from public appearances and asked him to lead "a life of penance and prayer."
The Vatican accepted the resignation of Bishop Jan Tyrawa of Bydgoszcz after he faced allegations of covering up sexual abuse
The 83-year-old Bishop Rakoczy was accused of covering up reports of clerical abuse in the 1990s and 2000s.
He was also asked to cough up an "appropriate amount" as compensation to the St. Joseph Foundation, set up in 2019 to help clerical abuse victims in the Polish Church.
A fortnight earlier, on May 12, the Vatican accepted the resignation of Bishop Jan Tyrawa of Bydgoszcz after he faced allegations of covering up sexual abuse.
In March, the apostolic nunciature in Poland issued sanctions against two Polish bishops after concluding canonical inquiries. They were also accused of negligence in handling cases of sexual abuse of minors by clergy.
The Vatican office told Archbishop Sławoj Leszek Głódź of Gdansk and Bishop Edward Janiak of Kalisz to live outside their former dioceses, and they were barred from participating in public liturgies.
The bishops were also asked to shell out “an appropriate sum” from their personal funds to the St. Joseph Foundation.
In a rare incident, the pope accepted the resignation of Archbishop Głódź on the same day he turned 75, the canonical age limit for a bishop to retire.
Last November, retired Cardinal Henryk Gulbinowicz was banned from using episcopal insignia and denied a cathedral burial after being involved in an abuse case.
The 97-year-old Gulbinowicz died two weeks after the ban came into force.
Several other prelates are in the line of fire, including retired Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who acted as secretary to Pope St. John Paul II for 39 years.
In their report, abuse survivors named two dozen current and retired Polish prelates who were accused of shielding predator priests.
The report was submitted to Pope Francis during the global abuse prevention summit at the Vatican in 2019.
In 2019, the Polish bishops’ conference published a report which stated that nearly 382 clerical abuses took place between 1990 and 2018, involving a total of 624 victims.
With Pope Francis effecting a major change in canon law on June 1 to explicitly criminalize sexual abuse of adults by priests, life began to change for those prelates and priests accused of sexual abuse and negligence in handling abuse.
The continuing exposure has dented the Polish Church's authority and credibility, which once stood tall in Europe for its highest moral authority.
As a remedial measure, the Polish Church gave more powers to the St. Joseph Foundation and set up in 2019 a lay Catholic helpline, known as “Wounded in the Church,” to back up the Church’s official abuse reporting system in Europe's most Catholic country.
The cardinal will be beatified along with Mother Elżbieta Rosa Czacka, a nun who served the blind
Another worrying trend is the dwindling church attendances in Poland, known for having the highest percentage of Catholics in Europe.
The number of people attending Sunday Mass in Poland has recorded a fall. The Polish bishops’ conference said 36.9 percent of Catholics attended Sunday Masses in 2019, compared with 38.2 percent in 2018.
Some positive elements can boost the morale of Polish bishops ahead of their visit to Rome.
The beatification of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, Poland’s “Primate of the Millennium,” who was the flag-bearer of the Church’s resistance to communism in Poland, will take place in September.
The cardinal will be beatified along with Mother Elżbieta Rosa Czacka, a nun who served the blind and died in 1961, in Poland on Sept. 12.
Abortion is another issue where the bishops are on safe ground as Poland is one of the European Union nations where there is a de facto ban on the right to abortion.
The Polish bishops' Rome visit is set to begin on Oct. 4. Some of them are expected to be in Rome around Oct. 22, the feast day of the Polish pope St. John Paul II.
The Polish bishops conducted their last ad limina visit in 2014.