Five years ago I met John Wojnowski on Day 121 of my Year of Giving. He’s an intriguing man. Every day he sits in front of the Vatican’s embassy here in Washington with signs condemning the Catholic Church. I wondered why, so one day I went to talk with him.
It turns out Wojnowski, who is Polish but moved as a child to Italy, says that when he was 15 he was sexually abused by a Catholic priest in Milan. Despite the Catholic Church settling hundreds (possibly thousands) of cases of sexual abuse in recent years, they have been reluctant to consider Mr. Wojnowski’s claims because, according to Wojnowski, the priest has since past away and the incident happened more than a half century ago.
I have no doubts about Wojnowski’s claims – only something that hurtful and disturbing would make you lead such a personal and vulnerable crusade for nearly 20 years. He claims that a financial settlement will resolve this for him. I’m not so sure about that, but if that is what he thinks will give him peace, I hope that he receives it.
I hope this letter finds you well. I’m writing to you with a suggestion.
I live in Washington, D.C. Many things change here. Republicans and Democrats come and go with the change of administration. But one thing that has remained constant since I have lived here is John Wojnowski.
Every day for the past 17 years Mr. Wojnowski has stood in front of the Vatican’s embassy at the corner of Massachusetts and 34th Street holding signs that condemn the Catholic Church. The signs say thing like, “My life was ruined by a Catholic pedophile priest” and “The Vatican hides pedophiles.”
I’ve met Mr. Wojnowski – he shared with me the story of his sexual abuse by a Catholic priest in Milan, Italy in 1958. He’s a very troubled man who seeks financial restitution from the Church.
In the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People it details that the Catholic Church has paid more than $2.2 billion to settle 500+ sexual abuse cases in the U.S. in the past 13 years.
If you took the time to meet Mr. Wojnowski you wouldn’t doubt his story for a minute. He’s a simple man – he travels an hour each day, taking two buses, to get to the Vatican’s nunciature.
My point is this. He’s killing your image – thousands of people drive by him every day. He’s been doing this for nearly 20 years, he’s not going to stop until he dies or gets restitution. It just seems that the right thing to do is to offer him settlement. He can then move on with his life and you will not have someone tarnishing your brand every day. What do you think?
I hope that you will consider looking into this.
P.S. I respect how you have led the Church these past two years. In a time when less people are identifying themselves as religious, you’re creating a renaissance, bringing younger Catholics back to the Church. And while I think there are still many reforms needed, it is inspiring to witness your leadership.