ROME — Pope Francis this week accepted the resignation of the archbishop of Gdansk, Poland, who has been accused of protecting priests facing allegations of child abuse, a step seen as a subtle rebuke but also criticized as inadequate.
The archbishop, Slawoj Leszek Glodz, had offered his resignation upon reaching the retirement age of 75, as protocol demands, but bishops are typically allowed to keep their positions past that time.
The pope’s decision to accept Archbishop Glodz’s resignation on his birthday was interpreted by many as an admonishment of the church hierarchy in Poland, which has long been accused of putting the institution’s image above the rights of abuse victims.
For some critics, the perceived rebuke was too little, too late.
“It was an insufficient move,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a group that tracks abuse in the church. “The Pope has promised accountability for bishops who cover up. He has also talked about proportionality of punishment for accused priests, but this is the mildest of sanctions.”
She added: “Sure, it probably embarrassed the archbishop, but a complicit bishop does such enormous harm, the penalty should be much more severe.”
The abuse of minors by clerics in Poland has been documented by journalists and the church itself for years, but a national reckoning has been slow in coming in an overwhelmingly Catholic country where the church plays a political role. Last year, a widely viewed documentary about the sexual abuse of children by priests in Poland helped bring the issue to the fore.
On June 29, more than 600 Polish Catholics paid for an ad in La Repubblica, a Rome daily, appealing to the pope to “rebuild” the church in Poland “where bishops are hiding cases of pedophilia.”
In the appeal, they said that reports criticizing Archbishop Glodz, along with other bishops, had been forwarded to the Vatican but that there had been “no reaction.” The behavior of these bishops “harms the church,” they wrote.
Francis’s spokesman told reporters that the pope had read the appeal, and was praying for the Polish faithful.
“The entire church must do everything possible so that the canonical norms are applied, cases of abuse are brought to light and those guilty of these serious crimes are punished,” said the spokesman, Matteo Bruni.
Archbishop Glodz did not comment this week on his retirement or the broader accusations.
Sexual abuse by clerics has been the subject of “a nationwide debate in Poland now for many months,” said Zbigniew Nosowski, editor in chief of Więź, a Catholic magazine, and a member of Hurt in the Church, an organization that assists pedophilia victims. Poland’s debate is typical of what has taken place in other countries, but it comes “some years later.”
Whether things would change in Poland, “was impossible to say,” he added.
“I am hopeful,” Mr. Nosowski said, “but not optimistic.”
In the 2019 documentary, “Tell No One,” Archbishop Glodz is shown at the 2019 funeral of the Rev. Franciszek Cybula, praising the priest for his “good deeds.” In the same documentary, Father Cybula is secretly recorded admitting to molesting a 12-year-old boy. The priest died before the documentary was released.
Other accounts have raised questions about Archbishop Glodz’s actions. Abuse survivors named him in a report accusing several Polish bishops of protecting predator priests, a document given to Francis on the eve of a global abuse prevention meeting at the Vatican in February 2019.
Polish news media have reported that several priests in Archbishop Glodz’s diocese accused him of bullying, and addressed their concerns to the Vatican, which they said never responded to their complaints.
And lawyers for Barbara Borowiecka, one of Poland’s best known survivors of clerical abuse, have told the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops that the archbishop had been reluctant to look into her claims that she had been abused as a child by the Rev. Henryk Jankowski, a well-known priest who died a year ago.
Ms. Borowiecka said she had “mixed feelings” that Archbishop Glodz had been allowed to resign.
“I am happy he is gone,” she said in a telephone interview from Australia, where she lives. “But I am disappointed that there has been no punishment for what he did, for covering up.”
In April, Archbishop Glodz opened a commission to study the accusations against Father Jankowski.
Last year, three activists toppled a statue of Father Jankowski in Gdansk, and accused Archbishop Glodz of tolerating the risk of there being more victims.
Rafał Suszek, one of the activists, said the pope’s decision allows the archbishop “to tranquilly drift toward retirement.”
“We are dealing with acts, decisions, declarations on the part of the Polish and global Catholic church that are incommensurate to the evil perpetrated,” said Mr. Suszek, a professor of mathematical physics at the University of Warsaw.
“I do understand the symbolic nature of accepting his resignation,” he added. “But that is just not good enough as a compensation for the evil done.”