Michał WybieralskiPoznan as one choir
translated by Marek Kazmierski
People knew, yet kept quiet – that is the heart of the matter.
For many, many years, the conductor of the Poznan choir “Polskie Słowiki” (“The Polish Nightingales”) Wojciech Krolopp molested and raped young choir boys. His paedophile tendencies and practices were talked about since the 1960s, but the crimes went on until his arrest in 2003. After he was detained, it turned out he was HIV positive, meaning he could have infected his victims. Forty years of molesting children was possible only because the matter was silenced, and Krolopp had friends in the city elites. Poznan of those days was famous for its choirs – The Poznan Nightingales and their main competitor The Polish Nightingales, which is where Krolopp worked his evil ways.
The inspiration for this show was the book Maestro, written by Marcin Kącki, a journalist from Gazeta Wyborcza. Published in 2013, the book exposes the whole affair from several perspectives. It shows Krolopp as masterful at manipulating parents and choir boys, who allow themselves to compete for the conductor’s good graces. Kącki also shows that at least some of the parents must have suspected something, but back in the days of Communist Poland a choir which travelled out to Western Europe was an additional source of income for families and opened gates to an otherwise inaccessible world. By sending their sons to sing in the choir, parents would satisfy their personal ambitions. Maestro is therefore a tale of how parents prostituted their own children. The book shows the terrible chains of abuse – fathers molested by Krolopp when they were little, who then send their own sons to sing in the choir and also become victims of the paedophile.
Most importantly, the history of The Polish Nightingales shows how evil can be born, grow and last for decades, protected by a veil of silence. One of the more shocking fragments of Kącki’s book relates to the session of the Poznan council in 1994. The discussion about the city giving an honorary prize to the founder of the Polish Nightingales Jerzy Kurczewski, whose deputy, and then eventually successor was Krolopp himself. One of the councillors talks about “unwanted tendencies” among the choir’s leadership, while another councillor adds: “The mother of one of the boys in the professor’s choir came to me, asking me to intervene and do something about the boy being forced to perform sexual acts”. Councillors decide to make the session secret, award the prizes and go home. In silence. The media keep quiet too
The legal process against Krolopp, which went on from January to July 2004, related to abuse of minors between 1994 and ’98, a period after the council had held its meeting. Krolopp was sentenced to eight years of prison, for sexually abusing three boys. The charges included numerous instances of oral and anal sex and molestation of each of the victims at least several times. Those three lads were not Krolopp’s sole victims. There were dozens of them.
Krolopp’s case was not the only Poznan scandal with sexual undertones which was known to city authorities. For more than two years, the Catholic community – both high ranking priests in the seminary hierarchy and the UAM Theological Department, as well as lay Catholics, including politicians – tried behind the scenes to suppress the activities of a certain Poznan archbishop, Julisz Paetz, who molested clerics. Public opinion learnt of this via local media in February of 2002, and a month later Paetz, in spite of his protestations, resigned as archbishop, a decision which was accepted by the Pope himself. The Vatican forbade Paetz from serving mass, giving sermons and performing public ceremonies, but did not strip him of his chaplain’s robes. Paetz did not face any legal proceedings – molestation is not pursued by civil authorities, and none of the victims reported the crime to the police. Paetz, as a retired archbishop, still lives in a luxury villa in the Ostrow Tumski district of Poznan, near the cathedral and the residence of the serving bishop. To this day, he takes part in public and religious events, even in holiday processions which pass through the centre of the city, co-serving mass on the anniversary of the Poznan June ’56, and even appearing at the funeral of the president Lech Kaczynski at Wawel Castle. After the revelations of molestation and abuse of clerics, a letter defending Paetz was signed by various serving rectors and vice-rectors of all the educational centres in Poznan, the director of the choir Poznan Nightingales Prof. Stefan Stuligrosz and the wealthiest residents of the city, the businessman Jan Kulczyk and Piotr Voelkel.
It was the priests who intervened at the episcopate and at the Vatican in the case of Paetz that suffered all sorts of harassment. In the end, one of them, the remarkable theologian Prof. Tomasz Węcławski, left the Church and changed his name, while his textbooks were quietly withdrawn from theological departments in state colleges and seminaries. In 2009, Węcławski was not invited along to celebrate the anniversary of The Theological Department of the Adam Mickiewicz University, where he was head deacon. It was instead Paetz who was selected guest of honour.
A year after the Paetz affair, Krolopp is arrested.
Both cases are considered to be “uncomfortable” subjects within Poznan social circles, the general public mood suggesting that it is better not talk about them, and best to forget – why make a bad situation worse? Both media coverage and Marcin Kącki’s book have not purged the city in any way, nor provided the city with any sort of catharsis, nor even symbolic punishment, if only by ostracism, of those who knew and kept silent. The process of trying to “declassify” the secret protocols from the Poznan city council meeting, regarding accusations against Krolopp, is also significant. A request for the protocols to be made public was lodged by a group of young councillors from a range of political parties, who had learnt about the case from the media. During another council hearing, which voted to reveal the secret files (though the protocol had already been published by Kącki and Gazeta Wyborcza), the long-standing councillor Andrzej Bielerzewski, who had also been a member of that secret hearing, said: “We talked about people who had achieved great things and, much like anyone, also made mistakes. Often, in the heat of discussions, certain things are over-emphasised. If we make this protocol public, the people named in them will not be able to defend themselves, seeing as they are no longer alive”. 26 councillors voted in favour of the protocols being made public, only two voted against – Bielerzewski and Jan Chudobiecki, who 20 years prior had been made privy to accusations of “forced sexual practices”, and said that “in the face of existing controversies (…), he will not make judgements as to whether prizes should be awarded to the choir”. Asked by journalists as to why they had done nothing in the matter, both men replied that “the city council is not a court of law” and that they were “the only councillors of the opposition”. The protocol names 40 councillors as taking part in the vote to keep proceedings secret. All of them had enough information to take responsibility for the case and to inform the appropriate authorities, which could have stopped the abuse which went on for another decade. None of them did so. Some of those 40 are now dead, though most still hold positions of power within the city – as high-ranking officials, academics, architects and politicians.
Decent, ordinary Poznan residents kept silent too. During one Sunday lunch, after the Krolopp affair had been made public, my parents said that friends had waned them against sending their son to sing with The Polish Nightingales, because boys were violated there. How many such warnings had been sounded in homes around Poznan? Does this weigh heavy on the consciences of ordinary Poznan residents today?
In 2004, during a football match between Lech Poznan and Legia Warszawa, the visiting supporters unfurled a massive banner meant to infuriate the local Poznan fans. It was a portrait of the conductor with the words: “Poznan as one choir!”