WARSAW (Reuters) - A statue of a priest who was leading figure in the movement that toppled Communism in Poland was removed by protesters, who accused the Catholic Church of neglecting accusations that he sexually abused minors.
The statue of Henryk Jankowski in central Gdansk - the birthplace of the Solidarity movement - was lifted from its plinth overnight by three men who then handed themselves in to police, Gdansk police spokeswoman Karina Kaminska said on Thursday.
Their actions came hours before Pope Francis opened a meeting he convened in Rome to address sex abuse scandals that have ravaged the Church’s credibility in Poland and elsewhere over the last three decades.
Jankowski, who died in 2010 and was never convicted of any sexual crime, was a Solidarity chaplain in Gdansk.
He was defrocked in 2005 amid claims he had corrupted minors, a year after an investigation into accusations that he abused a 13-year-old boy was dropped.
In an article published by Gazeta Wyborcza in December, a woman who said she had been abused by him as a child told the newspaper there had also been other victims.
Gdansk Mayor Pawel Adamowicz, who was murdered last month, said having the statue in a public space was inappropriate, but city bishop Leszek Slawoj Glodz portrayed the accusations against Jankowski as attacks against the Church.
A series of accusations of sexual abuse against the clergy in Poland, where nearly 85 percent of the 38 million population are Catholic, have also divided the country.
A Polish rights group on Wednesday delivered a report to the pope that accuses some Polish bishops of failing to report paedophilia cases.
The activists who toppled Jankowski’s statue said Church representatives had failed to “react to the evil” he had committed, according to a statement published on news portal OKO.press.
Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; editing by John Stonestreet