Workers restore Polish priest's statue despite abuse claims

February 23, 2019 - 8:55 am

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Shipyard workers in northern Poland on Saturday put back into place the metal statue of a prominent Solidarity-era priest that protesters toppled amid allegations that he sexually abused minors.

Karol Guzikiewicz, head of the Solidarity union at the Gdansk shipyard, said the statue should stay up until the allegations against the late Monsignor Henryk Jankowski are clarified. The workers did not seek the city's permission to put the statue back near Jankowski's former parish in Gdansk.

The monument recognizes Jankowski's staunch support for the Solidarity pro-democracy movement in the 1980s, which was born out of the shipyard workers' protest.

An investigation into allegations that Jankowski sexually abused young boys was discontinued in 2003, but recently at least two other people have alleged to Polish media they were abused by Jankowski as minors.

Three men were charged with disrespecting a monument and causing material damage for pulling down the statue early Thursday to protest recognition for a priest suspected of abusing minors. The statue was not destroyed because they cushioned its fall with car tires.

The developments came as a Vatican summit convened by Pope Francis is debating ways to detect and prevent abuse of minors by the clergy.

A Polish foundation representing survivors of sex abuse has given Francis a report listing hundreds of such cases in Poland and over 80 cases in which priests were convicted and handed verdicts by regional courts. It alleges that 24 of Poland's bishops have ignored the cases and protected the perpetrators by moving them among parishes.

Priests in predominantly Catholic Poland have traditionally enjoyed great respect and authority. Critics say bishops are failing to react and are hiding the truth in an effort to protect their authority.

Gdansk Deputy Mayor Piotr Grzelak said the statue should be left alone while all sides open a dialogue and work to find out the truth about Jankowski.

Jankowski, who died in 2010, rose to prominence through his support for Solidarity movement and its leader, Lech Walesa, in their struggle against Poland's communist regime.

World leaders including President George H.W. Bush and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited Jankowski's St. Brygida Church in Gdansk in recognition of his anti-communist activity.