The dark house of Caritas
The director of the children’s home in Giżycko bullied the children calling them names, hitting them and insulting them. He avoided punishment because the statue of limitations on the case has run out. Today he teaches music and religion in a public school.
Daniel, aged 13, a child in the Orphanage of St. Faustina "Great Heart " in Giżycko, to the prosecutor:
- I will not confess why I left the director’s office all in tears. Somebody hurt me in that office. It happened at the weekend. Mr Marek W. used to come to the orphanage at the weekend to feed the fish.
Dawid, aged 17: - Joining the group, I heard when Mr Marek shouted at Mateusz. Mateusz answered him back and the other slapped him in the face with an open hand. Mateusz ran back to the room and Mr W. followed him. He said, "Beware of me, you snot. I am unpredictable and I carry a weapon in my trunk."
Paweł (Daniel’s brother), aged 15: - He didn’t use force against older children because he was afraid they would hit him back. He called me a “son of a bitch” and he threatened me with a reform school. I saw him hit my brother a few times on the back of the head and my brother stood there bent over, and cried. He hit my brother like that from one side. Another time, I saw him shouting at my brother and kicking him a few times. He behaved as if he could do anything. He thought he was cat’s whiskers. Once he told me that he was a big fish and I would get a sentence. Even in the dormitory, he used to show me what he would do if I said something bad about him.
Recording from the phone
A clumsy handwritten letter from Piotr L., the father of a 13 year-old Marika, was submitted to Family and Children’s Division of the District Court in Giżycko :
"On the 6th of May 2010, the director Marek W. used offensive language towards my daughter and he physically harassed a minor. Such situations very often occur in this institution. The director harasses not only our children but also other children in care of the institution. Your honour, these are children which need love and support whereas some of them are treated as if they were in a penitentiary unit ."
Marek W. is a well-know figure in the town. A graduate of Theology and a post-graduate of Music and Plastic Arts, he is a representative of Caritas1 in the Diocese of Elk in the district of Giżycko. He supervises the therapy center run by Caritas, a hospice and a canteen under the patronage of father Pio, among other things. Moreover, he is also a councilor, a religion and music teacher, an organist and the administration manager of this Children’s Home of St. Faustina " Great Heart".
In 2006, Caritas took over the house and the forty children in care from the local authorities. The majority of them were social orphans who were taken away from their parents because of alcohol problems, neglect and poverty.
Marika, aged 13: - The director grabbed me by my jacket and threw onto the chair. He read offensive words from the notes of the carer (she quoted my behaviour). Some words he read from notes, other he blathered. He shouldn't behave like that towards me.
Marika and her three sisters end up in the orphanage when their father travels to Germany for work and their mother starts to drink and neglect the home. Hyperactive, sensitive and sometimes vulgar. A tomboy. Once she ran away from the institution and came back with a shaved head. Never accepted the children's home. She recorded the behaviour of the director with her cell phone.
The father of Marika: - My older daughter brought me the phone crying. I could hear struggle and shouting. I went that day to the institution but the director did not allow me to visit.
Nose smashed with a knee
In May 2010, upon the father’s report, the police begun the so-called “security screening process” concerning Marek W.’s physical and mental abuse of Marika and other charges of the children’s home. They tried to establish whether the girl and other charges of the children’s home actually became the victims of violence. Court proceedings were supervised by Urszula Bolik from the District Prosecutor’s Office in Giżycko who also received the notification from Marika’s father.
The hearing of children took place in a cosy room in the presence of a psychologist:
Paweł, aged 15: - He calls us whores. He told me that if I went to a training and education center, they would fuck me in the ass. He talks like that to everybody. He threatened me that he would sort it out because he knows Mr Jaworowski (Marek Jaworowski – the judge of the District Court in Giżycko, the Chair of the Family and Children’s Division).
Daniel, aged 13: - The manager would like to remove everybody from the institution because they are naughty. Only Bartek is well-behaved but he is four.
Dawid, aged 17: - Daniel came back after having escaped for four days and went to Mr Marek's office to have a conversation. He ran out crying with a swollen nose. He said that Mr Marek bent him down and kicked his head and nose with a knee. He grabbed Damian's hood and pushed him from the landing so that Damian fell down. When he used to call me to his office he would tell me: "You motherfucker, you prick! You will go to a juvenile detention and they will fuck you in the ass there”. I was a little afraid of that but the school saved me. I had a good opinion from the school and from the chief education officer.
The manager feels like God
The police instituted an inquiry concerning Marek. W’s abuse of charges. Children were also heard for a few months (very often without legal custodians) by the Presiding Officer of II Criminal Division of the District Court in Giżycko, the judge Bogdan Wałachowski who will rule on this case.
- Children were already more stressed at that time- recollected the prosecutor Urszula Bolik.
Two carers and a pedagogue wrote to the prosecutor's office in Giżycko in November:
"We kindly inquire to initiate proceedings concerning the case of Marek W’s way of running the Children's Home of St. Faustina. We aren't the employees of the institution any more but according to our observations, Marek W.’s practices cause numerous irregularies which harm children."
The pedagogue Paulina S. got from the director an application that had given up her job. She signed it because otherwise the director "will be onto her and will damage the content of her certificate of employment."
After many years she said: - My greatest guilt was that I stood up for children.
Officially, Marek W. was supervised by a director for a few years (four of them appeared during that time) because we should remember that he was only an administrative-organisational manager. It wasn't until 2009 that he became the director of the children’s home.
Urszula Bolik, a prosecutor: - He didn’t have qualifications to work with children that is why he completed post-graduate studies.
Danuta B., the carer, testified in the prosecutor’s office: - Mr W. brought terror to the Children’s Home of St. Faustina, nobody questioned his power.
Marek T. (one of the directors): - I do not know if W. had the right to take decisions concerning the upbringing of children. According to legal regulations, he didn’t have it but I didn’t see his job description duties. It happened that Marek W. issued orders to other employees which were inconsistent with mines during my absence in the institution. It happened that he lead conversations with children during which he threatened them with various consequences, e.g. reducing pocket money or taking them away to a juvenile detention. It happened at my presence and when I was absent. It happened that Marek W. enclosed himself with the children in care in the office. I didn’t witness physical abuse but I know that children were afraid of him.
Dawid, a charge: - There was nobody during these conversations. There was nobody to see it. There would be more recordings but he forbade having cell phones.
Elżbieta W., the mother of six children (Janusz, Karol and Martyna in the children’s home) sends an official letter to the prosecutor at the end of September 2010:
"It is not a children’s home but a juvenile detention center. Human right are not respected. Children are treated without dignity. Law is not obeyed in this children’s home and the man feels like a God. He abuses children psychologically. I plead to do everything to help these children."
Elżbieta W. has lived in England for a few years. She fought at that time to get back her children.
- When I visited them in July 2010, the director threatened me that if I caused him any problems then he would make it impossible to get my children back. He didn’t let me see them that day. The next day I saw them for an hour. They told me that they were afraid of the director and were afraid to testify against him.
During the police investigation which started in June, the prosecutor did not suspend Marek W. from the duties of the director of the children’s home.
- There was no legal basis to do it – explained the Director of Public Prosecutions, Grzegorz Ryński.
The prosecutor’s office proceeded with it on the 8th of December and started its own investigation. The indictment stating physical and mental abuse of eleven children by the director was submitted to the court on the 31st of December.
He didn’t stop working in the schools until that time either. He still had the influence on the fate of the children.
Paulina S., a pedagogue, recollects today: - When the director learnt that boys had testified in the court, they were given some rewards. Paweł got shoes and Kamil a bike.
Danuta B., a carer, testifies: - Mr W. was brazen about the fact that he uses physical violence towards his cares. I saw him kick Damian in the yard in front of the building. He slapped Daniel in the face. He told the child: "All you can do to me is fart in the toilet” and carers "have nothing to say at all". I remember that when I talked to Krystian he told me that he took pills for epilepsy to calm down (he sometimes used to make trouble but it was a good boy). He used to feel like after alcohol then and W.’s taunts didn’t affect him. I didn’t have any problems with Krystian. I know he was blacklisted by W.
A superintendent, Ewelina Czuper-Sudnik: - The director told me that Dawid, whom I supervised, was a dealer, junky and a criminal. I tried to convince him not to give up on the boy but he was very rigorous. He couldn’t understand that the child ended up here because of parents’ mistakes not as a punishment. I read all opinions from the children’s home on Dawid and there wasn’t a single positive word. The opinions were written to put him in a bad light.
A pedagogue Paulina S.: - I tried to write about children both in a positive and negative way. The director used to forbade me to write down positive things in the notes. He influenced me so that the notes included only bad information to get rid of the children from the institution. The director checked the notes and pointed out what should be corrected. The notes were not objective. When the notes were corrected, he ordered me or a carer to sign them. He didn’t sing anything himself. He demanded that everything was reported to the police.
Danuta B., a headmistress: - Once, I couldn’t bear any more the director’s harassment and I asked one of the nuns to contact me concerning this case with the director of Caritas, Father Dariusz Kruczyński, but she replied: "I cannot help you because W. is a good friend of the priest from the seminary and earns for him too much money."
Once W. used to wear a cassock. Today he is a husband and a father.
Breakfast for 1 zloty
The criminal case against Marek W. had been pending for 2 years. The acts involved 18 volumes. The director didn’t plead guilty. He wrote to the head of Caritas of the Ełk Dioecese, Father Dariusz Kruczyński, that all accusations of children and the employees were false and absurd: "It is a defamation of character and it puts me, the institution and associates in a bad light."
He was always present in the court room. He was defended by two attorneys. Children testified in a similar way, other remembered less than before. Some of them did not wish the director to be punished any more.
Daniel: - I do not want the court to draw any consequences of him as far as these three or four examples of bad behavior towards me are concerned. I do not want the accused to be punished for that. I will not to render anybody’s life unpleasant. Let bygones be bygones.
Marek T. (one of the directors of the institution) began to mix up professional relations:
"Meetings with charges were organised at Mr Marek’s request. He appeared there as a person supervising and controlling on the part of Caritas. Sometimes he had suggestions how to solve some matters. I treated the upbringing conversations carried on by the accused in a normal way. As he was my supervisor, I believed that it had to be like that."
Similarly, economic abuse came to light.
Dawid: - I do not know why I had pocket money 8,25 zlotys per month. The carer used to write out 30 zlotys and the director crossed it out and used to write 8.
The director ordered to hold a birthday party for 8 zlotys as well. The carers bought a birthday cake with their own money and other children gave back their pocket money for a present.
The pedagogue, Paulina S. said in the court: - Rations are lamentably low. There is 1 zloty for each child for breakfast, the same amount for supper [2 thousand 500 zlotys were provided by the municipal office for each child in care]. Children are permanently hungry.
An example of a breakfast: paprikas, a bread roll with butter and jam, tea. Sometimes some cream cheese instead of paprikas. Supper: scrambled eggs with oil, bread with butter, cacao milk. The other day some fried mortadella instead of scrambled eggs.
A child in care’ s mother: - Once, Tomek told me that they had two loaves of bread for eight people for the whole day. It hurts me that being under the state’s care he is hungry and has nothing to wear.
Marek W. gave the following explanations concerning daily meal allowances in the prosecutor’s office: - The amounts so calculated depend on the number of children in the group. Nobody pointed out that a child is to receive 1 zloty for breakfast and 1 zloty for supper. Children get milk, butter, cheese, corn flakes and muesli. As neither children nor carers raised charges, I decided to continue such form of nutrition.
Angelika J., the mother of two children in care: - When I asked the director what was happening and why the children were hungry he just answered that it was none of my business. Yet, there were my children! Once the director told me that it was his business and his toys. When he said "toys", I believe he meant children.
Danuta B., the carer: - Bread, mortadella, frankfurters, pâté, sometimes there was enough money to buy season vegetables. Sometimes they were given half an apple or some cheapest yogurt. Additionally, jam, cheese and cheese spread – food for the poor from the canteen. It was calculated in daily meal allowance. Children used to go to school without sandwiches. They used to come to the school canteen and ask for some soup because they were hungry. I used to buy children some food. The District Family Support Centre knew about it and there wasn’t any further action.
Zbigniew Piestrzyński, the head of the District Family Support Centre in Giżycko: - Taking into consideration the signals from the environment in regards of the doubts concerning the quality of nutrition, I took actions to order an inspection in this regard by a sanitary and epidemiological station. The inspection was carried out.
None of these inspections revealed any irregularities in the way the children’s home functioned. The institution was also controlled by a tax office.
An accountant, Anna M. later said: - The invoices were controlled but nobody checked whether the purchased things were in the children’s home.
Gabriela B., the mother of a girl who attended school with one child in care used to put the boy up for a weekend or for holiday:
- I used to buy Grzegorz some socks because he couldn’t get what he asked for. He used to say that the director was mean and he treated the children in a bad way. He used to say that there was little food and portions were small. He was 190 cm high and he got portions for a small child. Everything was at scheduled time. If he was late, then he wouldn’t get any food. Grzegorz didn’t want to speak about the children’s home. He said he couldn’t bear to be there any more. Recently, he became very nervous. I comforted him that he needed to resist a little more. He couldn't wait to be set free. He used to cry when it was time to go back to the children’s home after the holiday. He didn't want to be there so much.
During the child abuse lawsuit it turned out that during 2007-2008 St. Faustina Children’s Home "Great Heart" received from the voivode a subsidy of 1 million 16 thousand zlotys in six tranches. Having accounted two subsidies, Anna M., an accountant , left her office without saying goodbye and never came back again.
She said: - An invoice for 12 computers was received, only 4 of which were actually delivered. The other weren’t. This was also the case with the bills for a purchased bed, some household appliances and kitchen equipment. As long as I worked there none of the appliances appeared in the institution. Mrs Grażyna handled food inventory accounting and maintained inventory ledgers. In practice, tt was impossible because we used to get invoices and we didn’t get any goods.
Danuta B., a care worker: - I haven’t seen any new clothes for more than a year. I reported to Zbigniew Piestrzyński [the head of the District Family Assistance Center] to arrange for some inspection but he stated that there were a lot of bills for new clothes.
Piestrzyński claims that the District Family Assistance Center carried out an inspection of clothes. The inspection identified deficiencies in underwear as well as winter clothes and shoes for the youth in care. It was ordered to equip children in "the urgent way" and "the instructions were implemented."
Paulina S., a pedagogue: - Children didn’t see the clothes which were bought for them. The carer filed a request to purchase a pair of sandals for a child in care. The child didn't get any sandals and the carer received an invoice.
Anna M., an accountant: - Most invoices were issued by companies from Ełk. I remember that all monitoring equipment for the children’s home was bought in one of the companies from Giżycko and an invoice for four laptop computers was issued there. I didn’t sign the invoice because I demanded submitting the things. The employee declared that he would sort it out with Marek W. I didn’t sign some invoices at all. For instance, the one which amounted to 100 thousand zlotys. The situation got worse and worse and I was afraid. I refused to sign the invoices which, according to my conscience, were false. Later, I quit the job.
Upon giving up the job, Anna M. and Piotr M., then director of the children’s home, went to Wacław Strażewicz who has been the starost of Giżycko until now. The children’s home was transferred to be managed by Caritas and monthly funds were also granted to maintain charges. The employees reported that money were used in a wrong way and weren’t not spent on children.
Anna M.: - These facts were acknowledged, nothing more.
Bogumiła K. who used to work at that time as a carer recounts today:
- An official letter was written by a few people to the starost that children live in bad conditions and there is mobbing so the starost sincerely promised to take care of the matter. Can you imagine that the letter was brought back one or two weeks later by "the father director" [Father Kruczyński, the head of Caritas]. He convened a meeting and said that he will always know about such things because he has his people everywhere.
The storost of Giżycko, Wacław Strażewicz explains: - The reports on settling grants were accepted without any comments by the Warmińsko-Mazurski Office of Voivode in the succeeding years. No inspection was carried out on the manner the money was spent on behalf of the voivodship office in the years 2007-13.
A million on its own
On the 27th of January 2012 the Regional Prosecutor Office in Olsztyn starts the investigation on the exceeding the authority by the director, forging documents and spending money from the subsidies granted to St. Faustina Children’s Home not according to the purpose. During that time a criminal case against Marek W. concering children abuse is still pending. The prosecutor secures 400 invoices and hears jointly with the police almost 200 witnesses.
The doubts of the investigators from Olsztyn are raised by the fact that Caritas of Elk Dioecese revealed its share of own funds in getting the subsidy "by using false invoices." In order to get it, Caritas had to provide half of these funds. That is its own million.
How to get it?
The accountant Anna M. (to the prosecutor): - We were with the director Piotr M. in Ełk to account a subsidy on the 31st of December 2007 [Marek W. worked in the children’s home since March]. On the spot we talked to Father Kruczyński who shouted at us because 30 thousand zlotys of own funds were missing to account the subsidy. He stated that he only had problems with us. There was a man aged around 50 on premises who immediately wrote down for us bills with retro dates for clothes worth more than 20 thousand zlotys. Father Kruczyński gave the man a certain amount of money on the spot and arranged a bill for the remaining amount on the phone. We were immediately given the date and the invoice number. This way the whole subsidy was accounted for.
A handwriting expert later stated that the signature on the invoice for clothes worth 20 thousand zlotys did not belong to the owner of the company. The head of Caritas in Elk later told the investigators that "due to the passage of time he does not remember such an event."
Anna M. had a better memory. She told the investigators: - For example, an invoice for renovation for 4 thousand 700 zlotys was issued by D., the owner of a workshop, but the actual work was carried out by my husband voluntarily. The invoice was included into the subsidy. My husband worked for Caritas for 5 zlotys an hour without any contract. When he stopped working for the children’s home, Marek W. obtained the salary for my husband’s work. He also took 8 months’ salary of another employee when the other didn’t work any more. I learnt about it from the cashier when I used to pay out salaries.
Anna M. and two other former directors of the institution questioned the invoices for the total of 240 thousand zlotys.
The prosecutor’s office screened the owners of businesses and their employees.
Jolanta J., a company owner, confirmed that the invoice for 8 thousand 500 zlotys which she issued was false. Neither sport equipment nor garden furniture were actually sold.
Nobody else was caught in the act. Thus, the investigators write that "there aren’t any procedural measures to decide who says the truth and if such services were provided at all."
As far as "its own million" is concerned, Caritas informs the prosecutor’s office that the money were collected at churches, came from donations, offerings and subsidies from the curia in Elk. The fact of cash settlement wasn’t registered anywhere because Caritas "as a church legal entity not conducting business activity" is excluded from applying the provisions of accountancy.
In November 2012 the prosecutor’s office dismissed the case of false invoices "due to the lack of data which sufficiently justify the suspicion that a crime has been committed."
Marek W. wasn’t punished for exceeding his authority. He didn’t serve public office because the children’s home wasn’t a state institution but just a non-public one. Thus, being appointed by Caritas, he was neither state nor self-government employee. According to the bishop’s decree, he reported only to the latter.
In November 2012 the district court in Giżycko decided that there isn’t sufficient evidence that Marek W. abused children. It changed the legal classification of the offence and determined that the director violated the bodily integrity of two children and one was insulted. Later, the court discontinued all charges because the time period for prosecution expired after that change. The prosecution of crimes under Article 217 of penal code, that is beating or violating in some other way the bodily integrity, was proceeded by a private prosecution (such was brought by the father of Marika). It ceased to be punishable three years after the crime had been committed. The director was to violate the bodily integrity of children from 2007 to October 2009 "within some further unidentified dates." He avoided a penalty because the sentence was rendered on the 12th of November.
The prosecutor Urszula Bolik still feels the sense of failure: - I believe that I reasonably presented charges of mental abuse but children didn’t have any chances in this clash. They still lived in the institution and there was the director above them who decided about their fate. During the trial he used to submit to the juvenile court monthly reports about children’s behaviour and some minor offences, even though he was not asked to do so. His aim was to expel the children who were mentioned in the indictment from the children’s home. They were afraid about themselves and about their siblings who were placed in the children’s home. The psychologist’s opinion indicated that they didn’t tell the whole truth. Yet, in a criminal procedure everything is the matter of evidence. Those were nice and intelligent children, just rebellious. Yet, only three women stood up for them.
Considering the case as lost in advance, the prosecutor didn’t file an appeal against the sentence.
In 2014 the court ordered Marek W. to refund attorneys’ fees worth 27 thousand zlotys.
Marek W. warned against defaming him on the Internet forum of Giżycko: "Everyone is presumed innocent until proved guilty by a legally-binding decision of the court. The district court in Giżycko didn’t convict me by its judgment and didn’t enter in any part of the order that I am guilty. Therefore, my criminal record is empty. The fact that court fees, including the refund of the costs which were borne by me, were borne by the Treasury is an evidence that I am not the losing party in the proceedings."
I asked at Caritas how come that Marek W. stopped working for them. Szymon Owedyk from the secretary’s office answered that "Caritas is not a public body and provisions on access to information are not applicable."
Today Paulina S. is a pedagogue in a primary school. She recollects: - Children who didn’t have anything clubbed together for me for a medal with an inscription "the best employee". They weren’t polite or easy children but I was able to cope with them. They sometimes visited me in the evenings asking for some food. I cooked a lot of frankfurters for them.
Nowadays, only two out of ten carers who signed the letter to a starost work at the institution. The others were dismissed or forced to quit the job.
Bogumiła K., former carer: - Earlier „the father director” that is Father Dariusz Kruczyński cut their salaries to national minimum.
Today it is Bernadetta Wojtuń who administrates the children’s house on behalf of Caritas.
Bogumiła says that there may be more food and good clothes for children but the head master either lived and breathed with the election because she was a candidate to the district council in Mrągowo, "so she was absent for half a year on the whole and she appeared occasionally" or she works full time in the Youth Sociotherapy Center in Giżycko, "so she is a guest at the children’s home too."
March 2016. Marek W. still works at school. He is a teacher of maths and religion.
He teaches music in Primary School No. 7 in Giżycko which is attended by the children from the children’s home until today. The head teacher, Katarzyna Banach, when asked if there are or were any complaints about him answer that it never happened. She also writes that "she didn’t employ Marek W., because when she started work he had already been a teacher." Does she know about the criminal charges brought against the teacher? This question she leaves open.
Moreover, Marek W. teaches religion in the junior high school in Wilkasy near Giżycko. Zygmunt Marciniak, the headmaster of the junior high school, remembers charges that were levelled six years ago: - I am well aware of the case Mr W. was involved in. He used to teach music at that time. He was again employed in our school in 2014. It took place pursuant to missio canonica issued by the Faculty of Catechist of the Ełk Diocesan Curia and signed by the bishop Romuald Kamiński. Mr Marek submitted a statement from the Ministry of Justice confirming that there is no entry in Criminal Record of the National Criminal Registry.
In simple words, missio canonica means delegating a lay teacher to teach religion in a specific school. First of all, Marek W. had to get a positive opinion from the parish priest from Wilkasy.
Today the parish priest is Father Tadeusz Kochanowicz. He says: - Missio canonica was assessed by my predecessor.
The predecessor is Father Jacek Sz. He worked in Wilkasy until 2014 that is when the mother of an 18-year old boy came to policemen in Giżycko with the text messages found in the son’s cell phone providing the evidence of the sexual relationship with the parish priest. The curia in Ełk very quickly dismissed the priest from the parish. Today there are criminal proceedings against him in the prosecutor’s office in Giżycko.
Zygmunt Marciniak, the head teacher of a junior high school:
- In case of missio canonica, the head teacher acts as “a notary”. As you can see, in fact the decision to employ Marek W. as the teacher of religion in our junior high school was taken in a completely other place than the head teacher’s office. If a teacher of some other subject were concerned, neither W. nor any other person with such or similar past would find employment in the school I manage.
The phone of Marek W. is turned off and he does not react to the messages on his voicemail with a request to contact me. He took unpaid leave of absence from the 6th of April until the end of school year in Wilkasy.
Marek W. explained to reporter Cezary Łazarewicz for Wirtualna Polska that he is innocent and "the prosecutor’s office forced incriminating testimonies by threatening the carers with tortures". It was his decision to give up working in the children’s home "because he was fed up with everything." He said that the issue was closed for him.
Translation: Joanna Urbanowicz