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Polish activists pull down priest’s statue in abuse protest

Updated February 22, 2019

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Gdansk (Poland): Activists pull down a statue of a prominent deceased priest, Father Henryk Jankowski, who faced charges of abusing minors.—AP
Gdansk (Poland): Activists pull down a statue of a prominent deceased priest, Father Henryk Jankowski, who faced charges of abusing minors.—AP

WARSAW: Activists in Poland toppled a statue of a prominent Solidarity-era priest early on Thursday amid allegations that he sexually abused minors, a protest against what they called a failure by the Catholic Church and society to resolve the problem of clergy sex abuse.

The protest came only hours before Pope Francis gathered Catholic leaders from around the world for a landmark summit at the Vatican to address the church’s sex abuse crisis.

Video footage showed three men attaching a rope around the statue of the late Monsignor Henryk Jankowski in the northern city of Gdansk and then pulling it down to the ground in the dark. The activists then placed children’s underwear in one of the statue’s hands and a small white lace church vestment worn by altar boys on the statue’s body to symbolise the suffering of the young people he allegedly molested.

It was a striking act in a country where more than 90 per cent of the population identifies as Roman Catholic and where the church still enjoys significant authority in public life. That position appears to be changing, however, as secularisation grows along with a developing economy.

Church leaders have also alienated some Poles with their close ties to the conservative ruling party, which has been accused of eroding Poland’s democratic culture and institutions.

Police detained the three men and opened an investigation into whether they committed the crime of “insulting a monument.” Jankowski, who died in 2010, rose to prominence in the 1980s through his support for the pro-democracy 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 his St. Brygida church in recognition of his anti-communist activity.

Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2019