Czech cardinal Dominik Duka agrees to meet victims of sexual abuse by priests

Dominik Duka, photo: Filip Jandourek / Czech Radio

Pope Francis this month publicly acknowledged the scandal of priests and bishops sexually abusing nuns and has vowed to do more to fight the problem. The issue came to the fore amid the Catholic Church’s overall reckoning with the sexual abuse of minors. Here in the Czech Republic, Cardinal Dominik Duka – who in the past has characterized such scandals as attacks on the church – has now agreed under pressure to meet some of the victims face to face.

Dominik Duka,  photo: Filip Jandourek / Czech Radio
Unlike elsewhere in Europe, the Catholic Church in the Czech Republic has faced relatively few scandals involving the sexual abuse of minors or nuns by priests. But as is common worldwide, many cases are never reported or become public knowledge.

Petra Panská, a former nun, is among seventeen people, including victims, who have signed on to a letter to Cardinal Dominik Duka asking him to meet in person with those abused by clergymen. After years of silence, she told Czech Radio, she began speaking out about her own repeated abuse by a Catholic priest, since convicted of multiple counts of rape.

“In my case, I experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, and a multiple personality disorder and depressive disorder also developed. Again and again in my mind I intensively re-live these traumatic events.”

Cardinal Duka has tended to downplay the problem, claiming that only 10 percent of accusations against priests are proven – which does not mean they did not occur. In 2010, when still Archbishop of Prague, he spoke of sexual abuse by the clergy as “abominable” but also said it was over-reported, part of a wider “media campaign” against the Catholic Church and the Pope.

It was for such a stance on the issue that the US-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, includes Cardinal Duka on its “Dirty Dozen” list of papabiles deemed unfit to ever become Pope. This due to his role, according to SNAP, in protecting paedophile priests and making public statements offensive to their victims.

Illustrative photo: Vít Pohanka / Czech Radio
The letter challenging Cardinal Duka to meet face to face with victims was initiated by documentary filmmaker Michal Štingl. He says it stems from the frustration of signatories – all practising Catholics – with the Church’s reluctance to address the issue in open discussion.

“I have repeatedly tried to meet both with the Archbishopric and with the heads of the dioceses where cases have occurred. There was virtually no reaction anywhere. The vast majority are simply not willing to talk about it.”

Stanislav Zeman, spokesman for the Prague Archbishopric, said Cardinal Duka has received the letter and already met in person with some victims and their families. But upon the advice of psychologists, he has done so discretely. Mr Zeman says that since 1990 there have been ten recorded cases of abuse by a priest or church official.