Petition calls for better handling of sexual abuse cases in Czechia’s Catholic Church

Petition calls for the resignation of the head of the church in the country, Prague Archbishop Jan Graubner.

Victims of sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church in Czechia have written a petition calling for the resignation of the head of the church in the country, Prague Archbishop Jan Graubner. They say he knew about priests, and specifically one – František Merta – who was abusing children, and failed to take appropriate action. I spoke with one of the petition’s writers, Ladislav Koubek, who himself is a survivor of abuse, about the initiative.

Just for our listeners who may not be aware of this petition, could you please explain it?

“We were inspired by the recent events in Hungary, where the president of the country stepped down because she pardoned a person who covered sexual abuse. In the Czech Republic, there is the case of Archbishop Jan Graubner, who did something even worse. He knew about a priest who was sexually abusing children. Archbishop Graubner moved him from various parishes, and at each one, the priest sexually abused altar boys.”

Was this priest ever brought to justice?

“Yes, he was condemned and he was in jail, but now he is out. Archbishop Graubner promised that he would not be a priest in active duty – but this is not the case. This priest still holds masses in Olomouc, where Graubner used to be archbishop before he came to Prague.”

Can you tell me about who is behind this petition?

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“The first idea came from me, and I connected with a few other victims of sexual abuse. But really, the impulse came from Hungary. On Saturday, the Hungarian President stepped down, and for us this was an inspiration – someone was taking responsibility. It’s the same thing that we’re asking Archbishop Graubner to do.”

So this happened on Saturday in Hungary, and very quickly you turned this around and sprang into action.

“Yes. Many of us who are behind this petition are active in promoting the discussion of these issues already. Sometimes we aren’t successful in contacting the Archbishop of the church. But there is one example I would like to mention, and that is the Bishop from Brno, Pavel Konzbul. His approach to sexual abuse, and the way he contacts victims, can serve as a positive example. I don’t want to only be critical, because even in the Czech Republic, there are positive signs that something might change within the Catholic Church.”

Is abuse still something that is ongoing within the Catholic Church? Czechia is a fairly atheist country, is this a problem that is still persisting?

“When you take the numbers, a couple hundred thousand people still go to church. I was raised in southern Moravia, and that is a fairly religious part of the country. In my family alone, we are three victims of two abusers, just within our family.”

How has the public reception been to this petition? Has it been met with support or controversy?

“I would say that the majority of people are quite supportive. But there is an issue with some Catholics, because they think we want to attack the church, and they want to protect the institution and don’t think about the victims. But I don’t want to generalize, because even from the Catholic Church we are getting a lot of support.”