Polish Catholic Church leader under fire over bogus award

The leader of Poland’s Catholic Church, who has come under a wave of condemnation by appearing to suggest that children are partly to blame for being sexually abused by priests, is under new fire for falsely claiming he had been given a prestigious award from Cambridge University.

Archbishop Jozef Michalik, head of Poland’s influential Episcopate, claimed he had been granted a “Man of the Year” award by Cambridge University

His own website made the claim he won “Man of the Year — 1998-1999” from the International Biographic Centre at Cambridge University. However, a respected Catholic paper investigated and found he had been awarded the International Biographic Centre award, but it had no association with Cambridge University.

The centre that made the award is controversial itself. It compiles biographical dictionaries on people, but has been accused of taking money from clients who then have questionable honours bestowed on them.

Michalik earlier this week was widely condemned for comments he made suggesting children were partially to blame for paedophilia.

Commenting on revelations about Polish paedophile priests, Michalik told reporters that a child from a troubled family “seeks closeness with others and may get lost and may get the other person involved, too”.

The words triggered an immediate uproar — one that Michalik tried to stamp out the same day by apologising and saying he had been misunderstood. He had not, he said, meant to suggest that child victims were in any way responsible. But the damage was done.

Ordinary citizens joined prominent politicians in expressing outrage, and intense debate continues. The media pointed out that Michalik had supported a parish priest convicted in 2004 of child sex abuse, and one of the priest’s victims said she was horrified by Michalik’s latest remarks.

“Archbishop Michalik’s words make us feel fear and revulsion,” Ewa Orlowska said.

The archbishop’s comments forced the Episcopate’s spokesman, the Rev Jozef Kloch, to state that Poland’s Church has “zero tolerance” for paedophilia, but that it needs to learn how to approach and talk about the matter. The controversy has since led bishops under Michalik to apologise for “priests who have harmed children”.

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