The Polish Catholic church has sustained a double blow in recent days: fresh clerical sex allegations – and new census figures showing a growing walkout of believers.
Last weekend Bishop Grzegorz Kaszak of southern Poland’s Sosnowiec diocese issued a pastoral letter apologising for “painful events” in the town of Dąbrowa Górnicza.
Though the bishop declined to go into details, several media reports suggest the “painful events” involved several of his priests at a party to which a male prostitute was also invited.
The gathering was “purely sexual in nature”, according to a source with knowledge of the event, to the Gazeta Wyborcza daily.
“Its participants took potency enhancement drugs,” the source added, “the party got out of control and the male prostitute lost consciousness.”
An ambulance was called but paramedics, when they were refused entry on arrival, had to call the police to force entry. Two investigations are now under way, involving a church commission and state prosecutors. Failure to assist someone in a medical emergency can result in a three-year prison sentence.
Days after the incident in Dąbrowa Górnicza police arrested a man on suspicion of setting fire to the door of the local parish church, Blessed Virgin Mary of the Angels.
Bishop Kaszak has apologised to all “affected, saddened or even scandalised by the situation”.
“I would like to emphasise – emphatically – that there is no consent to moral evil,” he wrote in a pastoral letter, suggesting prayer and fasting “for the conversion of our brother who has committed a scandalous act”.
The local priest and alleged host of the party, identified only as Fr Thomas Z, has been removed from duty pending investigation. Gazeta Wyborcza said on Friday the priest is now on leave in Turkey from where he sent them a statement from his personal email, attacking reporting of the incident as exaggerated and an “attack on the church”.
“If something similar had happened to a person who was little known and had a different profession, was not a clergyman, it would not be an issue at all,” according to the statement printed in Gazeta Wyborcza.
Last March in the same diocese a 26-year-old deacon was stabbed to death and, hours later, a 45-year-old priest died in what local media reported was a crime of passion murder-suicide.
Another priest took his own life last month in northern Poland after it was revealed that he had been fined for an indecent act on a public beach.
In March, a new book and television documentary claimed Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005, had covered up priest child abusers during his time as archbishop of communist-era Krakow.
Defenders of the late pope, still highly revered in his homeland, have dismissed the allegations. Coming after years of sleaze revelations about senior bishops, a steady stream of sex abuse allegations and controversy over abortion restrictions, new census figures suggest ordinary Poles are voting with their feet.
The proportion of Poles who identify as Roman Catholic has dropped to 71 per cent, down from 88 per cent a decade earlier. In total 6.6 million Poles no longer identify as Catholic; the proportion say they belong to no faith has tripled to nearly 7 per cent; the number who refused to answer the question also tripled, to 20.5 per cent.
A recent poll showed the number of regularly practising Catholics has dropped to 43 per cent, down to 23 per cent among young people.
Also struggling is Switzerland’s Catholic church: it published a study this month revealing 1,000 documented cases of clerical sexual abuse since 1950.
Bishop Felix Gmür of Basel, the Swiss primate, has apologised after failing to report two clerical sexual abuse cases to Rome, in line with church rules. Ahead of a synod in Rome next week, which will discuss reform, he suggested the “time is right to abolish the celibacy obligation” for priests.
“I have absolutely no problem with imagining married priests,” he said. “I am in favour of women’s ordination, which will be a theme in the synod. The subordination of women in the Catholic Church is incomprehensible to me. It needs to change.”
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