Polish court acquits men in toppling of priest statue

Nov 6, 2022, 8:16 PM | Updated: Nov 7, 2022, 12:57 pm
FILE - Activists in Poland pull down a statue of a prominent deceased priest, Father Henryk Jankows...

FILE - Activists in Poland pull down a statue of a prominent deceased priest, Father Henryk Jankowski, who allegedly abused minors sexually, in Gdansk, Poland, Feb. 21, 2019. The Gdansk district court on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022, acquitted three men who in 2019 toppled a statue of a late priest suspected of sexually abusing minors, a symbolically dramatic moment in the traditionally Catholic country's reckoning with clerical abuse. (AP Photo/Bartek Sabela/Gazeta Wyborcza)

(AP Photo/Bartek Sabela/Gazeta Wyborcza)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The Gdansk district court on Monday acquitted three men who in 2019 toppled a statue of a late priest suspected of sexually abusing minors, a symbolic moment in the traditionally Catholic country’s reckoning with clerical abuse.

The priest, Henryk 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.

As evidence mounted after his death about his alleged abuse of boys and girls, officials at first refused to take down a statue honoring him, so the three activists decided to act.

The three — Konrad Korzeniowski, Rafal Suszek and Michal Wojcieszczuk — pulled it down one night in February 2019. They then called the police to report themselves, and also issued a manifesto explaining they had acted for the good of the community.

They accused the church of “systemic complicity in the evil done to people by Henryk Jankowski” and they accused public officials of looking away from the problem.

Shipyard workers re-erected the statue before city councilors voted to remove it and strip his name from the square where it stood.

Last year a lower court found the three activists guilty of insulting and destroying the monument, but chose not to impose a penalty due to the “low social harmfulness” of the act. On Monday a higher ruled on appeal to acquit the three and the ruling is final.

One of the men, Wojcieszczuk, said he welcomed the end of the proceedings and the fact that the statue is gone — meaning that the priest’s victims will ever have to walk by it again.

But he did not consider the result a full success, because the trial, with no witnesses allowed to testify, did not spark the wide public reckoning over clerical abuse that he and the other two men had sought.

He contrasted the lack of wider debate in Poland to the reaction in England to the toppling in 2020 of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston, an event greeted with joy and debates about the legacy of racism.

“This debate took place in England and did not take place in Poland,” he told The Associated Press. “It’s a little step forward but it didn’t change the world to what it should be.”

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Polish court acquits men in toppling of priest statue