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Polish archbishop apologizes for harm caused by exorcist-led group

A Polish archbishop apologized on the Church’s behalf Monday “to all those who have been hurt by people” associated with a community led by a well-known exorcist.

Archbishop Wacław Depo of Częstochowa, Poland. Silar via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Archbishop Wacław Depo issued the apology in an Aug. 7 letter, after a probe into the Families Covenant Community “Mamre,” a private association of the faithful established in the year 2000 in the Archdiocese of Częstochowa, home to Poland’s celebrated image of the Black Madonna.

The archbishop said that the investigation had exposed “significant irregularities in the way the community is managed and its activities.” 

He confirmed that he had begun the search for a new leader of the community, also known as WPR Mamre, following the resignation of its founder, the exorcist Fr. Włodzimierz Cyran. 

But Depo acknowledged that the group, which operates throughout Poland, had expanded significantly under Cyran’s leadership. According to local media, it has around 2,000 members.

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Depo’s predecessor, Archbishop Stanisław Nowak, issued a decree dated Feb. 14, 2000, recognizing WPR Mamre as a private association of the faithful and granting it ecclesiastical juridic personality. It was also recognized by the civil authorities in 2010.

According to its website, WPR Mamre has “a pro-family character” and its spirituality draws on the experience of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. Its statutes explain that the name Mamre — referred to in Genesis 18:1 and Hebrews 13:2 as the place where Abraham received angelic visitors — “indicates hospitality, which belongs to the community’s charism.” 

The statutes define the community’s goal as proclaiming the kingdom of God “through evangelization and service in the Catholic Church, especially by serving the family in the spirit of Mary rushing to Elizabeth’s aid.” 

The statutes say that the goal is realized through initiatives such as evangelization and formation retreats, “prayer communities for inner healing,” family counseling, and “various activities related to the defense of the life of the unborn.”

Archbishop Depo informed the community’s members in a Dec. 21, 2021 letter that he had decided to launch a visitation after receiving an anonymous letter containing detailed allegations about the “improper functioning of the community and situations or attitudes that do not comply with the community’s statutes.”

The archdiocese released the archbishop’s letter to members with a statement saying that Cyran’s license to perform exorcisms would be suspended while the visitation took place. It underlined that the allegations did “not concern issues of a sexual nature, but the way the association is managed and operated.”

Depo was assisted in the visitation by members of a specially formed commission.

The archdiocese confirmed in a statement issued July 5 this year that Cyran had resigned from his role as moderator of the group and it was being overseen by a community council.

“We would like to express our gratitude to Fr. Włodzimierz Cyran for his zeal and invaluable contribution to the community, which gave it its spirituality by defining its charism, the principles of its life, and the duties of community members,” the statement said.

The archdiocese explained that changes had been introduced to the community’s life in line with recommendations from experts in a report completed after the visitation.

It noted that in May, the association’s members had agreed to work toward the recognition of WPR Mamre as a nationwide public association of the faithful by the Polish bishops’ conference. It added that new statutes were being drafted.

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In his Aug. 7 letter, Archbishop Depo thanked everyone who had cooperated with the visitation.

“I am sure that this difficult time for the community will have blessed fruits,” he wrote. “The first stage in the implementation of the visitation’s conclusions is to organize the legal form of the community’s functioning.” 

The next step will be to change the way the group functions, he said.

“It will also be necessary to draw consequences against those who have committed negligence or harm. I can guarantee that these matters will not be trivialized,” he stressed.

He continued: “The visitation and the work of the commission revealed significant irregularities in the way the community is managed and its activities. The result of these irregularities, unfortunately, is also moral or psychological harm to certain individuals, families, and marriages.” 

He said that the expression of thanks to Fr. Cyran in the archdiocese’s July 5 statement was “in no way a rejection of the objections or a denial of the complaints of those who have suffered harm, but an honest recognition that much good has also been accomplished through his ministry, and the community has experienced tremendous growth under his leadership.”

“I feel obliged, on behalf of the Church, to sincerely apologize to all those who have been hurt by people associated with the community,” Depo said. 

“My apology probably won’t manage to soothe the pain, but I nevertheless ask for forgiveness for any mistakes and oversights, which were certainly not the result of ill will, but rather of too much trust and faith in human goodness and responsibility.” 

“The situation related to the community is undoubtedly a bitter lesson for me, and probably for the whole Church, to be even more vigilant about the operation of Church groups and communities.”

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