A few days ago the Apostolic nunciature in Poland issued a statement regarding the investigation into the accusations towards card. Henryk Gulbinowicz, a former metropolitan archbishop of Wrocław. The text is brief and includes disciplinary penalties for the prelate. The decision has caused a major commotion and evoked powerful emotions, especially among the inhabitants of Wrocław and the region, who have regarded the elderly cardinal as a positive, almost legendary, figure. Sadness and bitterness might mix with consternation, as we do not really know what card. Gulbinowicz was punished for: the nunciature did not provide any details and only the official website of the Vatican states that the investigation concerned homosexual acts, sexual harassment and collaboration with the Security Service of the Polish People’s Republic. That is it. No explanation the faithful deserve, especially in a situation regarding a man many believe to be iconic. Should the dark cases no one dares speak about not be clarified as thoroughly and honestly as possible, even if the truth could be painful or shocking?
What other impression can an ordinary believer have, reading media coverage and comments in Internet? The majority of the faithful have regarded the former metropolitan as a flawless hero, while only some of them have heard relatively harmless rumours about “auntie Henia” who liked to touch clerics’ knees. The game changer was an article of Prof. Rafał Łatka from the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) which served as an announcement of a book about the relationships of Fr. Gulbinowicz with the Security Service (SB). It included information that the SB had evidence of active homosexuality of the future cardinal. We don’t know if or to what extent the paper influenced the investigation. Is It possible that its swift pace was due to the fact that the aforementioned materials were the sole ground in the case or maybe they were the factor that broke the silence and revealed immoral conduct of the popular prelate, confirmed by numerous testimonies? Moreover, we still do not know if it was the case only of the earlier period of his life or maybe Fr. Gulbinowicz had been committing those scandalising acts for decades, exploiting the offices he had obtained.
The second accusation given by the Vatican concerns the contacts of the prelate with the services of the Polish People’s Republic, whose nature seems to have been more of a game rather than cooperation. According to the IPN researchers, the future metropolitan of Wrocław not only did not avoid but even strove to maintain regular contacts with the SB, using them to his own goals and securing for himself peace and possibility to pursue his Church career. We will have to wait until the publication of the book to assess how detrimental for the Church or individuals was information he gave to the Security Service or who was the major player in that setup. One could wonder why the SB did not use those materials later, after the prelate had ended the collaboration or when he was actively supporting the Solidarity movement, exploiting the connections he had obtained and helping some oppressed oppositionists. The question remains, still, if the actions of cardinal Gulbinowicz were consulted with cardinal Wyszyński or maybe they were Gulbinowicz’s own initiative, hidden away from the unaware Primate of Poland.
The final and most scandalising issue is molestation. Our knowledge is even more limited than in the case of the previous two accusations. As Prof. Łatka highlighted in one of interviews, the services of the PRL had kompromat of Fr. Gulbinowicz’s homosexuality but they did not possess any materials concerning molestation or paedophilia. Therefore, if this accusation is not grounded in the SB files, there must be some testimony to provide evidence. The public opinion knows only one such testimony concerning a situation from 30 years ago, when the then metropolitan of Wrocław allegedly touched for a couple of minutes the genitals of a 16-year-old student of the Minor Seminary in Legnica who was staying overnight in the curia. What the young man was doing there one can find reading interviews of the author of the accusation, Przemysław Kowalczyk (vel Karol Chum), although his person, as well as discrepancies in his depositions, make this already bizarre story even more uncertain. We do not want to elaborate on details, as an in-depth analysis would involve a lengthy article and it is not the most important issue here: the fact is we have here a “word against word” case and one should also remember that the cardinal’s proxies denied the accusations. Furthermore, there is no official information on whether anything has changed since the investigation, as the lawyers have not addressed its results. What was eventually proven? Single cases of touching intimate places of boys or young adults or rapes committed through years?
Photo by Janusz Wójtowicz
One could easily notice uncertainties in the article but they stem from a simple reason – except for the contacts of Fr. Gulbinowicz with the Security Service we do not have any information regarding the scale of the alleged acts, how long they had been being committed, on what grounds the sentence was given, if the cardinal was interrogated and if he confessed. This silence is puzzling, as it had to occur to someone that those action shatter the image of a person liked and respected by many. In addition, taking into consideration the fact that the investigation was opened right after the accusations formed by Przemysław Kowalczyk, a year seems to be not enough to analyse charges in three questions presented above. This would involve a thorough research of the long and rich life of the nonagenarian prelate. Can we not assume that the sentence was given based on only two premises: new research of the IPN (and we must hope that the Holy See did not limit their actions to reading only one article or even the unpublished book) and a single accusation of an emotionally unstable homosexual with a past (which may be deduced from the history of his life which he himself described)? It is also worth reminding that, to our knowledge, no one has been punished so severely only for cooperation with the services of the ancien régime. Hence, can we not suspect that the unusual acceleration of the Vatican’s actions was mostly aimed at a media effect: they wanted to show that even old crimes of people from the highest ranks of the Church are punishable? It was especially easy, as it seems that the elderly Prince of the Church is not fully aware of reality and cannot defend himself; thus he is a perfect aim of such actions.
To be clear, it is not our aim to defend cardinal Gulbinowicz at all cost. There are no perfect people and even those held in esteem and appreciated can make bigger or smaller mistakes, committing ethically doubtful acts or even crimes, cynically lying to everyone around and leading a double life of unspeakable evil. In this case there might be a difference of opinion regarding the contacts of the accused with the Security Service of the Polish People’s Republic, but his immoral, homosexual behaviour, even if happening only in his early priestly years, must be absolutely condemned. Even more so is molesting, as the filthiness of such acts is undisputable; the question is whether such cases were confirmed during the investigation. In this context one should pay attention to the punishment the cardinal received which was rather symbolical: the most painful for him must have been the ban on the funeral in his old cathedral. There are no obligatory apologies or satisfaction for specific people; he wasn’t stripped of his cardinal’s hat, let alone dismissed from the clerical state.
Does this sentence reflect the gravity of the proven deeds or maybe we should expect to hear an explanation of all the charges in the future, in a report which is still to be written and which will present results of a more thorough examination, as it was the case with card. Theodor McCarrick? We should hope for it, as it seems necessary not only because of the doubts presented earlier but also due to other, more serious charges regarding card. Gulbinowicz and his students who are said to have created a network of connections within the Polish Church. This network is, to a certain extent, equated with, so called, lavender mafia, whose members are believed to cover for one another and to help with suppressing of sexual scandals, including especially paedophilia in a broad sense. We should also consider that these charges involve not only former auxiliary bishops of Wrocław, already dismissed bp. Edward Janiak and bp. Jan Tyrawa, but also abp. Sławoj Leszek Głódź and a key person in this setup – abp. Józef Kowalczyk, who for many years fulfilled the office of the Apostolic nuncio in Poland. Only a full analysis of this informal accusation could present who, in fact, was Gulbinowicz and maybe it would cause a real earthquake in the Polish Church, vital for any future reform, above all a mental one.
The case of cardinal Henryk Gulbinowicz is painful and sad on every level, as it concerns all the burning issues of the Church in Poland and in the world which for decades have not been addressed by the hierarchy, let alone solved. These are, e.g. lack of vetting of the prelates, passiveness towards homosexual mafias, covering up of all kinds of scandals, an almost complete conspiracy of silence among the clergy, no empathy towards the victims, blatant lying to the faithful or taking action as a last resort when one is cornered, usually as a result of the actions of the media; of course not the Catholic ones, as these are absolutely dependent on bishops. All of these strike those who are the least guilty, the laypeople. They live in the world where it’s harder and harder to give testimony of one’s faith and often face even hatred towards the Church, while the majority of the clergy is encapsulated safely in their reality which ordinary people have little or no access to. As long as the mentality of the clergy remains unchanged, as long as the corporation-mafia setup stemming from the Vatican has not been shattered, there is no hope for purification and rebirth of the Catholic Church.