Cardinal Gulbinowicz Dies 10 Days After Vatican Sanctions

A Polish cardinal recently sanctioned by the Vatican for sexual abuse has died at the age of 97.

Cardinal Henryk Gulbinowicz, left, who died Nov. 16, was sanctioned by the Vatican for sexual abuse.
Cardinal Henryk Gulbinowicz, left, who died Nov. 16, was sanctioned by the Vatican for sexual abuse. (photo: Piotr Drabik via Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

A Polish cardinal recently sanctioned by the Vatican for sexual abuse has died at the age of 97.

Cardinal Henryk Gulbinowicz died Monday morning, the Polish bishops’ conference announced Nov. 16.

Earlier this month, the apostolic nunciature in Poland announced disciplinary measures against the cardinal on Nov. 6, as the result of an investigation into “the accusations against Cardinal Henryk Gulbinowicz and … other accusations concerning the past of the cardinal.”

The cardinal had been accused of sexually abusing a seminarian in the 1980s and of covering up abuse in another case. Cardinal Gulbinowicz served as archbishop of Wrocław, in southwest Poland, from 1976 to 2004.

Among the disciplinary measures, he was forbidden to have his funeral service at the city’s Cathedral of St. John the Baptist or to be buried in the cathedral.

The cardinal was also required to donate an “appropriate” sum of money to the St. Joseph Foundation, established by the Polish bishops in October 2019 to support abuse victims and promote safeguarding.

Gulbinowicz was born in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Oct. 17, 1923, when the city was known as Wilno and was part of Poland. After his ordination in 1950, Father Gulbinowicz obtained a doctorate in moral theology and became a university chaplain in Bialystok in northeast Poland and taught at a seminary outside of Warsaw.

In 1970 Pope Paul VI appointed him to be an apostolic administrator of the Polish section of the Archdiocese of Vilnius, and the following month he was ordained a bishop by Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński. He was appointed a cardinal in 1985 by Pope John Paul II.

He was a notable supporter of the trade union Solidarity, which played a critical role in the collapse of communism in Poland.

John Paul II accepted his resignation as archbishop of Wrocław on April 3, 2004, when he was 80 years old.

Days after the nunciature’s announcement that Cardinal Gulbinowicz would be prohibited from attending any celebrations or public meetings, Polish media reported that the cardinal had been admitted to the hospital in serious condition.

The spokesman from the Archdiocese of Wroclaw, Father Rafał Kowalski, responded to the nunciature’s announcement by saying that the news is painful “because it shows that in the past some people were seriously hurt by the clergyman who led our diocese.”

“These people deserve the words ‘I'm sorry.’ … We express our respect for them and declare our readiness to support and help,” Father Kowalski said.

The Catholic Church in Poland is in the midst of a protracted scandal related to clerical abuse. In 2019, the Polish bishops’ conference issued a report that concluded that 382 clergy sexually abused a total of 624 victims between 1990 and 2018.

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