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Clerical abuse scandal divides parishes and politics in Poland

by admin   |   Posted on Monday, January 7th, 2019

Exterior of Church in the village of Kalinowka, Poland | Reuters

A former Catholic priest from the Polish village of Kalinowka is serving three years in jail for molesting five schoolgirls. But Jolanta Zych, a mother whose testimony helped convict him, says the priest’s victims and their parents are the ones made to feel guilty by the village’s local residents.

“People think that the priest is innocent and that an innocent man is in prison because of me,” she said.

Zych, whose nine-year-old daughter was among those molested, said neighbours spurned the family. “I am the kind of person that says hello to everyone but people turn their backs on me and do not reply,” she said.

Another mother Reuters spoke to, Marta Zezula, said her daughter began refusing food after the court case.

During mass, Zezula said, people shrank away or refused to shake hands during a ritual greeting known as the sign of peace. She said she no longer goes to church.

Home to about 170 people, Kalinowka is a short drive from a main road, but feels more remote. The Holy Cross church, built in 1880, sits on a hill overlooking rolling farmland and forests full of deer.

One parishioner, standing outside the church after leaving mass on a chilly November evening, said the accusations against the jailed priest were “all lies, all false, not true at all.”

“The priest was great, we will never have one like him, such a pity,” another parishioner said.

Reuters spoke to seven parishioners who were sticking by the convicted priest.

The priest, who cannot be named under Polish law, is now on trial again, charged with molesting another child. His lawyer, Marek Tokarczyk, said he denies the allegations.

Similar scandals have shaken the Catholic church and split communities in the United States, Ireland, Australia and elsewhere.

But the divisions are particularly stark in Poland said Marek Lisinski, the director of “Have no fear”, a group that advocates for victims of clerical abuse.

Poland is one of Europe’s most devout nations and, says Lisinski, parishioners often side with priests and ostracise victims and their families.

In October, “Have no fear” published a map that revealed the scale of the issue. It used black crosses to mark places where 60 priests had been convicted of abuses dating back to 1956.

Afterwards, said Lisinski, people called in to report another 300 cases of suspected abuse by priests which they had not raised with the church or police for fear they would be doubted or shunned.

In October, a Polish court of appeal upheld a landmark ruling which granted a million zloty ($260,000) in compensation to a woman abused by a priest as a child.

In a November statement, Poland’s bishops asked victims of clerical abuse for forgiveness and said the Church had begun collecting data to “identify the causes of these deeds and assess their scale”.

Archbishop Wojciech Polak, the primate of Poland, told Reuters the Church will publish its findings within six months.

Polak encouraged victims of clerical abuse to talk to their bishops and said clerical abuse “will never be swept under the carpet.”

He said he was aware the issue had caused rifts in some communities. “Uncovering evil, acting against evil leads to redemption, serves to purify,” he said.

Senior bishops from around the world will meet Pope Francis at a conference in the Vatican in February to discuss protection of minors. Conference organisers have said everyone must be held accountable or the Church risks losing credibility worldwide.

The issue could also have political ramifications in Poland, observers say. The country is due to elect a new parliament by December 2019.

The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party won power in 2015 with a blend of patriotism and piety that echoed the religious nationalism of the Church. In October, a former PiS minister, Antoni Macierewicz, credited the Polish clergy with helping the party win local elections that month.

Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus, an MP for a small opposition party called Now, is seeking an independent inquiry into child abuse by priests because she says the Church cannot be relied upon to investigate itself. She says the idea has received no support from PiS or other big parties.

A PiS spokesperson did not respond to several requests asking if it did not support the idea of an inquiry. Ryszard Czarnecki, a PiS MP for the European Parliament, responded to Reuters by asking why the Church should be singled out.

Most Poles are Catholic, and more than a quarter of the population regularly attends Mass, according to a survey by Warsaw-based research centre, the Institute for Catholic Church Statistics, which showed a slight decline from 2015 to 2016.

Most children attend religious classes, but their numbers are dropping, too. In Lodz, Poland’s third-largest city, the numbers fell from 80 percent in 2015 to fewer than 50 percent now, according to local government data quoted by the daily Dziennik Lodzki. — Reuters

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Sexual harassment, abuse tied to real health effects

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Monday, October 8th, 2018

A woman holds her head in a file photo. REUTERS/File

(Reuters Health) – Sexual harassment and sexual abuse occur frequently and can harm physical and mental health, according to two studies from the U.S. and Europe published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

In one study, roughly 1 in 5 Pittsburgh-area women said they had been sexually harassed or sexually assaulted. These women were two to three times more likely to have high blood pressure, high triglycerides, poor sleep, depression or anxiety.

In the other study, 70 percent of male and female physicians in Berlin, Germany, said they had experienced sexual harassment or misconduct at work.

“Experiences of sexual harassment and sexual abuse, unfortunately, are not uncommon,” said Rebecca Thurston, director of the women’s behavioral health laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “And these experiences have implications for not only job performance and quality of life, but also for mental and physical health.”

Among the 304 women aged 40 to 60 who participated in Thurston’s study, 19 percent said they had been sexually harassed at work and 23 percent said they had been sexually assaulted.

These percentages are lower than what’s been reported nationally, possibly because some women in the study did not work outside the home, Thurston said. The women were originally recruited for a study of hot flashes and atherosclerosis.

Thurston’s team found that compared to women who had not been sexually harassed, women who had were 2.36 times more likely to have high blood pressure and 89 percent more likely to have poor sleep. In newer findings presented this week at the annual meeting of the North American Menopause Society in San Diego, Thurston and colleagues reported that the likelihood of having high triglycerides was three times higher in sexually harassed women.

Thurston suspects that being harassed kicks off changes in stress hormone levels, which ultimately impact blood pressure, triglycerides and sleep patterns.

Similar results were seen among women who said they’d been sexually assaulted. They were 2.86 times more likely to have clinical depression, 2.26 times more likely to have clinical anxiety and 2.15 times more likely to have poor sleep.

Dr. Mayumi Okuda, a psychiatrist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City, isn’t surprised by the findings. Research in children “shows that adverse childhood experiences are connected to so many things, such as high blood pressure, cancer, obesity,” said Okuda. “This shows that even adults will experience negative health consequences.”

The German survey of 737 physicians found 62 percent of men and 76 percent of women had experienced some sort of sexual harassment in the workplace. While the idea of men being harassed may be surprising, certain types of conversations can make men very uncomfortable, said senior researcher Dr. Sabine Oertelt-Prigione, a professor and chair of Gender in Primary and Transmural Care at Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

For men, “the vulgar talk has to be specifically addressed towards you or an immediate bystander,” Oertelt-Prigione said in an email. “The question in the questionnaire explicitly addressed this directionality. We are not talking about somebody telling a general vulgar joke to a group of colleagues.”

Sexual harassment “is an issue for anyone in the workplace,” Oertelt-Prigione said. It flourishes in workplaces where there is a strong formal hierarchy, “where orders are generally given top-down with little opportunity for participation from employees,” Oertelt-Prigione explained.

Lori Post, who wasn’t involved in either study, suspects that if the questionnaire had been worded differently, Oertelt-Prigione’s study would have found an even higher prevalence of sexual harassment. “I believe the rate is closer to 100 percent,” said Post, who is director of the Buehler Center for Health Policy and Economics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “The difference is in how often and how bad it is.”

Post also believes Thurston’s harassment numbers might have been higher if the Pittsburgh team had not excluded women with heart disease from the study, since heart disease could be correlated with harassment.

The solution to health problems related to harassment and abuse is to prevent these behaviors from happening in the first place, Okuda said. “There has to be a cultural shift away from condoning this kind of behavior.”

SOURCE: bit.ly/2xYHM9Q and bit.ly/2y6KQA6 JAMA Internal Medicine, online October 3, 2018.

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Pope orders investigation of bishop as U.S. Church leaders meet on abuse crisis

by admin   |   Posted on Friday, September 14th, 2018

FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi


Pope Francis has ordered an investigation of an American bishop accused of sexual misconduct with adults and accepted his resignation, the Vatican and U.S. Church officials said on Thursday (September 13).

The announcement was made as the pope was meeting U.S. Catholic Church leaders to discuss the fallout from a scandal involving a former American cardinal and demands from an archbishop that the pontiff to step down.

Reuters correspondent Philip Pullella said, “it seems that every day there is a new surprise.”

The bishop who resigned is Michael J. Bransfield, 75, of the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia. The Vatican said the pope had appointed Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore to run the diocese until a new bishop is appointed.

The Catholic Church worldwide is reeling from crises involving sexual abuse of minors. Surveys show plummeting confidence in the Church in the United States, Chile, Australia, and Ireland where the scandal has hit hardest, as well as in other countries. — Reuters

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Pope says will not respond to allegations of abuse cover-up

by admin   |   Posted on Monday, August 27th, 2018

Pope Francis. Gregorio Borgia/Pool via REUTERS

Pope Francis said on Sunday (August 26) he would not respond to explosive accusations by a former top Vatican official that the pontiff had covered up sexual abuse, saying dismissively that the document containing the allegations “speaks for itself”.

Francis, talking to reporters aboard the plane returning to Rome from Dublin, said he would “not say one word” on the 11-page document, in which the former official says Francis should resign. The pontiff said journalists should read the document carefully and decide for themselves about its credibility.

The official accused the Pope of having known of allegations of sex abuse by a prominent U.S. cardinal for years. The document by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former Vatican ambassador to Washington, was an unprecedented broadside against the pope by a Church insider.

“I read that statement this morning. I read it and I will say sincerely that I must say this, to you [the reporter] and all of you who are interested: read the document carefully and judge it for yourselves,” he said.

“I will not say one word on this. I think the statement speaks for itself and you have sufficient journalistic capacity to reach your own conclusions,” he said.

Vigano gave the bombshell statement to conservative Roman Catholic media outlets during the pope’s visit to Ireland, which was dominated by the Church’s sexual abuse in that country and others around the world.

He accused a long list of current and past Vatican and U.S. Church officials of covering up the case of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington D.C.

McCarrick, 88, resigned last month in disgrace and was stripped of his title after allegations that he had abused a minor nearly 50 years ago and also forced adult male seminarians to share his bed. — Reuters

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