Fr. Grzegorz Strzelczyk speaks at the Warsaw conference Fr. Grzegorz Strzelczyk speaks at the Warsaw conference 

‘Sexual abuse in the Church has deep theological implications’

As a safeguarding conference in Warsaw wraps up its third day of deliberations, Church leaders from across Central and Eastern Europe examine how the suffering caused by clerical sexual abuse impacts the lives of survivors.

By Devin Watkins

Participants in the 4-day conference continued their work on Tuesday, seeking to better understand the impact that sexual abuse by members of the clergy has on survivors and how the Church can move forward in protecting her most vulnerable members.

The event is being held in the Polish capital of Warsaw on 19-22 September, and sees around 80 representatives from nearly 20 nations in Central and Eastern Europe taking part.

Theological impact of sexual abuse of minors

Tuesday morning’s session began with a keynote by Fr. Grzegorz Strzelczyk, a Polish professor of dogmatic theology and member of the Saint Joseph Foundation, which has helped organize the event.

His speech focused on the “theological dimension of the consequences of sexual abuse of minors”.

Fr. Strzelczyk admitted that much of the Church’s response to abuse cases centers on the legal, psychological, and spiritual aspects, while theological reflection gets pushed to the background.

However, he added, theology must enter into the discussion in order to fully understand the scourge of clerical sexual abuse.

The act of faith, along with its transmission, said Fr. Strzelczyk, has a direct impact on the spiritual and psychological effects experienced by those who have been hurt.

“We remember the times when the priest would interrupt whatever he was doing, even having lunch, because there was someone knocking at the front door. This was what we'd come to expect and what we knew. The abuse crisis shows that we the Church have lost this sense of service.”

“Faith, since it is mediated,” he added, “is dragged into crisis by the collapse of the credibility of the witness. Scandal leads to distrust.”

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Conversion and transformation

At the same time, theology plays another important role, said Fr. Strzelczyk, since abuse implies the presence of unhealthy elements of theology, especially regarding the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

Bishops who covered up abuse by priests served only to aggravate the pain of abuse survivors and wound the Church’s credibility.

“If the failure of a pastor's personal witness could have been somewhat filled by institutional or community witness,” said the Polish priest, “the collapse of institutional authority left only a desert.”

Fr. Strzelczyk concluded his keynote address with a reminder that the Church—by her very nature—is a community journeying along a path of conversion.

An essential element of that path, he said, is the proper celebration of penitence in order to effect an authentic transformation in the Church’s ministers and structures.

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21 September 2021, 18:06