Polish state agency raids three houses run by religious congregation

5 mins read
The Archipelago -- Islands Free from Violence, seen in an undated photo, is under construction in Warsaw, Poland. Led by Father Michal Olszewski, a member of the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus congregation, the Archipelago is a project to provide a safe haven and shelter for victims of abuse in families, the church and other institutions. On March 26, 2024, as part of an ongoing government investigation, a Polish state agency raided three houses run by the congregation and arrested Father Olszewski. (OSV News photo/courtesy Profeto Foundation)

WARSAW, Poland (OSV News) — The Polish state Internal Security Agency March 26 raided three houses run by the the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as part of an ongoing investigation by Poland’s new government into funding the congregation received from the previous government for its ministry for victims of abuse.

Sacred Heart Father Michal Olszewski, who leads the ministry, was arrested on March 26, along with three former employees of the Ministry of Justice, and connected to the Justice Fund under the former Polish Law and Justice government.

The congregation has been in the middle of a political storm since early this year because of a Justice Fund investigation.

Accused of having “no experience” in the field, the congregation’s foundation didn’t receive the last batch of the funding — $7.5 million. Creators of the ministry told OSV News the funding is “indispensable to finish construction and start helping those abused both in society and in the Church.”

The Archipelago — Islands Free from Violence project, as the ministry is called, is meant to be a safe haven and shelter for victims of abuse — those abused in families, institutions and in the Church.

Father Olszewski and the Sacred Heart priests’ foundation, Profeto, won the bid in the state-run Justice Fund for $10 million in the spring of 2020 to build a place in Warsaw’s Wilanów district where “all the victims, no matter their background, no matter whether they’re Catholic or not, no matter who they voted for, will find refuge,” Father Olszewski told OSV News Feb. 8.

The so-called Justice Fund of the Polish Ministry of Justice was established in 1997, but in 2017 its tasks were decisively expanded by Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro of the Law and Justice Party’s conservative government that lost power to the Civic Coalition government, which campaigned on a more liberal agenda, on Oct. 15, 2023.

The Justice Fund aimed to assist crime victims and those closest to them, especially in the medical, psychological, legal and material spheres.

“The Justice Fund disposes of money that courts order from offenders. These funds — which come from the pockets of people who have caused harm to others — are supposed to do good. They are supposed to assist victims of crimes and accidents. They are supposed to prevent them. They are supposed to save people. And this is already happening!” says the fund’s official government website.


Prime Minister Donald Tusk, sworn in on Dec. 13, 2023, and his government — specifically new Minister of Justice Adam Bodnar — questioned the way Ziobro granted the funds and asked the prosecutor’s office to check whether the money was handled legitimately.

Prosecutors conducting the investigation were checking “what were these foundations” that got the funds, “when were they established, how did they work,” Przemyslaw Nowak, spokesman for the National Prosecutor’s Office, told the “19:30” newscast of Polish public television TVP Jan. 31.

Since Feb. 19, prosecutors were investigating whether “we were dealing with a situation where it was mainly about extracting money.”

The new Polish government is especially keen to check throughout the audit the money that went to foundations of Christian origin such as those with a pro-life mission but also foundations that simply “disappeared” once the money was transferred to them.

The allegation that the money from the Justice Fund could be spent in ways contrary to the fund’s mission was raised as early as 2021, when the Law and Justice Party, or PiS, was still in power and when the state-run Supreme Audit Office said that $69 million from the Justice Fund was “spent unintentionally.”

A safe haven

However, Father Olszewski told OSV News Feb. 8 the donation received by Archipelago precisely followed the mission of the fund with his congregation wanting to use the money to build a safe haven for victims of abuse and violence.

The construction of the building is advanced, with the outside almost complete and ready for work on the inside of the building to start. The Profeto foundation also put $2.5 million of its own money into the project by buying the land prior to making a bid for the Justice Fund money.

In the first months of 2024, the Archipelago was under media scrutiny, with most mainstream media writing about his project every day. “This level of social debate frightens me,” Father Olszewski told OSV News, “but we as those that benefited from the Justice Fund have nothing to do with this storm, for the reason that in this center we will help everyone in need, and political affiliations are out of our interest.”

Bishop Artur Wazny, head of the New Evangelization Team of the Polish bishops’ conference, said in a Feb. 9 statement that “these attacks not only grossly misjudge their activities, without really delving into the essence of the work they have undertaken, but also exacerbate the suffering of those who are waiting for support and hope” — meaning victims of abuse.


One of the controversies around the project is that the Profeto foundation’s donation from the Justice Fund was increased to almost $24 million, including a provision added to the agreement with the fund that was signed after the PiS government lost the elections.

But the priest explained that the project was first planned before the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. “Now everyone knows that with those issues and the galloping inflation, it is impossible to build under prices given before the pandemic and the war in the region, which affected the price of wood and other materials,” he said.

His congregation’s foundation also is accused of having no experience in the field of helping victims of abuse, but that, Father Olszewski said, is a “completely unfounded allegation.”

“The Priests of Sacred Heart were running dozens of initiatives for children from poor neighborhoods for years,” the priest said. “We helped victims of the war in Ukraine and many anonymous victims of abuse in the church, but we didn’t run around in the media to say, ‘Look, these are the victims we helped,’ because this is simply not the model for how it should be done in this area.”

He also rebuffed the allegation that what Profeto is building in Warsaw is not a place for victims but is modern studios, where the foundation wants to move its radio station that is now located in southern Poland.

“We already have modern studios in Warsaw, we don’t need new ones,” Father Olszewski said.

“The modern rooms for music therapy and a theatrical stage planned in Archipelago are aimed to help young people in their trauma therapy,” he explained. “The problem of the media tracking us is that they would like the Church to do everything with very little money, and somewhere at the back of the parish building. That’s not the way we want to do it, we want to help people according to modern standards,” the priest explained.

Bishop Wazny said in his statement that the Archipelago “is intended to be a place that gives a sense of security and support to those affected by violence and crimes,” and allowing them, “after undergoing adequate therapies and workshops, to start an independent and creative life again,” he wrote.

“It is a center that is thoughtfully modern and innovative, unique and original on a national scale,” the bishop added.

Survivor’s commitment

Father Olszewski’s right hand in building the project is Ewelina Zamojska, a lay Catholic journalist, who, in face of the media storm around the project, decided to reveal she is “fighting hard for Archipelago,” as she is a survivor herself.

“I am a victim of abuse,” she told Polish public television TVP program’s “Balans Bieli” (“The White Balance”) Feb. 5.

“I am a victim of abuse in the Church and for years I have fought for both myself and others but the fight is very difficult — because it is a difficult subject,” Zamojska said.

“But because I am a victim of abuse in the Church, I can also say loudly and with all responsibility that in the Church, I also found rescue,” she added. “Someone may say, it all doesn’t hold together. For me, it does hold because what was so badly broken and robbed (from me) was also taken care of in my case.”

Zamojska said that being a victim is not sufficient to run such a big project, but she said she doesn’t aim to work there. “Professionals will be working in Archipelago, psychologists, trauma therapy specialists,” she said.

“This project is badly needed,” Father Olszewski added. “We know it from experience and we hope that the project will not be further blocked,” the priest stressed.

According to the information obtained by OSV News, the audit commissioned by the government did not disclose irregularities in running the Archipelago project. There is no further information on why the priest was arrested and there are no charges publicly disclosed.

Paulina Guzik

Paulina Guzik is international editor for OSV News. Follow her on Twitter @Guzik_Paulina.