Polish advocate for church victims resigns in scandal

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The founder and head of a Polish organization dedicated to helping victims of clerical sex abuse has resigned after allegations surfaced that he extorted money from a victim and demanded money from the producers of a documentary about clerical abuse.

The foundation “Have No Fear” said the head of its board, Marek Lisinski, resigned and that it has opened an internal audit into the allegations reported Thursday by the Gazeta Wyborcza daily.

In a post on Facebook, Lisinski denied the extortion allegation and insisted that he only borrowed money and intended to return it in December.

“The good of the survivors has always been the supreme goal for me,” Lisinski wrote.

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Lisinski, who says he was abused by a priest when he was 13, played a key role in forcing the public in predominantly Catholic Poland to confront the problem of clerical abuse by forming the foundation five years ago.

Pope Francis kissed Lisinski’s hand during a landmark meeting with abuse victims in February at the Vatican. Lisinski was part of a group that gave Francis a report on child sex abuse by priests in Poland.

The release of a documentary this month with the testimony of clerical abuse victims, “Tell No One,” has triggered unprecedented soul searching about the problem in one of Europe’s most Roman Catholic societies, as well as vows from the country’s bishops to fight the problem.

The film’s director, Tomasz Sekielski, told Gazeta Wyborcza that Lisinski was the only victim to demand money — 50,000 zlotys ($13,000) — to agree to tell his abuse story on camera. Sekielski did not pay and Lisinski is not in the documentary.

Gazeta Wyborcza also quoted a victim of a priest who said she offered Lisinski 10,000 zlotys ($2,600) as a gift and lent him 20,000 zlotys ($5,200) after he said he had pancreatic cancer and asked for support. She told the newspaper that she has seen no proof of his sickness or medication.

The woman, identified only as Katarzyna, 29, was abducted and abused by a priest when she was 13. A Polish court found the priest guilty last year and ordered the Catholic order that he belonged to pay her 1 million zlotys ($260,000) in damages. The order has appealed.

A statement on the website of “Have No Fear” said its audit will check whether Lisinski’s actions as a private person had any influence on the foundation’s finances and work.

It vowed to keep working on behalf of victims.

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