Vanadalism is the deliberate destruction of someone else's property without an important (e.g. dictated by security reasons) causes. Its effects can be encountered all too often in public space. Every year in Poland there are tens of thousands of acts of damage to property - including sacred objects.
Vandalism is a crime! According to Art. 288 of the Penal Code, whoever destroys, damages or renders someone else's property unusable, shall be subject to the penalty of deprivation of liberty for a term of between 3 months and 5 years. In the event of a minor, the perpetrator is subject to a fine, the penalty of restriction of liberty or the penalty of deprivation of liberty for up to one year. Article 294 provides for an aggravation of the penalty in the event of damage to property of significant value and in a situation where an object of particular importance for culture has been damaged - then the perpetrator shall be subject to imprisonment for a period of one to 10 years.
In the case of less damage, it is an offense. According to Art. 124 of the Code of Petty Offenses, whoever intentionally destroys, damages or renders someone else's property unusable, if the damage does not exceed 1/4 of the minimum wage, shall be punishable by detention, restriction of liberty or a fine. Attempted, inciting, and aiding are also punishable. In the event of committing an offense, it is possible to order an obligation to pay the equivalent of the damage caused or to restore it to its previous state. Also in this case, the prosecution takes place at the request of the aggrieved party.
However, let us remind you that if the perpetrator of the act is directed by the intention of insulting the object of religious worship and offending religious feelings, the act of vandalism committed by him is also subject to Art. 196 of the Criminal Code, according to which "whoever offends the religious feelings of other persons by publicly insulting an object of religious worship, or a place designated for public religious ceremonies, is liable to pay a fine, have his or her liberty limited, or be deprived of his or her liberty for a period of up to two years". Then the act is prosecuted on public indictment.
Last year, there were at least 24 acts of vandalism and profanation committed on church property or objects of worship in Poland, in the first half of 2020 at least 40 such cases were recorded. Elements of church equipment were destroyed - stained glass windows, doors, pews - but also objects worshiped in religion, such as figures, paintings and crosses. Many of the damaged items are monuments, the renovation of which is costly. Often, damage to property was accompanied by the theft of money, devotional items, and even reliquaries or liturgical vessels.
Dozens of attacks on churches are perhaps a small percentage of all - counted in tens of thousands - acts of vandalism that are committed in our country during the year. This number is also far from the French statistics, according to which, in 2017, there were 878 attacks on Christian sacred buildings in France (of which 626 were aimed at places of worship such as chapels, churches, Protestant temples, parish halls, crosses or monuments, and 252 concerned the desecration of religious symbols in cemeteries). The data from Poland, however, are alarming because they show an increasing tendency. Moreover, the perpetrators often do not limit themselves to the destruction of property, but also profane sacred objects. Spray-painted inscriptions usually express hatred towards the Church or priests, slander and blasphemy, and often contain anarchist or satanic symbols. Among the crimes recorded last year and in the first half of this year, many have resulted in the destruction of the altar, tabernacle, desecration of gravestones in the cemetery, and even the scattering of the Blessed Sacrament.
The nature of the phenomenon is best illustrated by examples. In February 2019, in the parish of St. Ludwik and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Katowice-Panewniki, three 16-year-olds desecrated the rosary chapels on Kalwaria Panewnicka. They painted "Ave Satan" in black, pentagrams and paintings in the shape of male genitals on figures of Christ and others, doors and walls. The perpetrators were questioned and will be held accountable in a juvenile court. In July 2019, there was a profanation of the church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Suchy Las. The perpetrator broke the windows, then entered the temple, where she knocked over the cross and the paschal candle, she took the tablecloth off the altar, wrenched advertisements, destroyed candles and flower pots. She tried to destroy the tabernacle, but could not because of the security. She was charged with insulting a public place where religious ceremonies were performed and property damage. In Kędzierzyn (Niechanowo commune), in February 2020 the church was burglarized and the chalice and the monstrance were stolen - the perpetrator scattered consecrated hosts on the altar tablecloth. In March this year, unknown perpetrators painted in blue spray the inscription "take off your dress, scum" on the door of the Church of the Resurrection in Poznań and the symbol of anarchy on the pillar at the entrance. In May, just after the celebration of the centenary of the birth of John Paul II, two men painted the image of male genitals and painted over the face of the monument to the Polish Pope in Toruń, and placed the words „JP2GMD” on the road sign next to it. In July, on the door of the church in Goleszów (Śląskie Voivodeship), a pentagram, an inverted cross, the number 666 and an inscription: „Ora pro nobis Lucifer” were painted white. Also in July, there was a campaign of LGBT activists (action that the whole of Poland heard about) who hung a rainbow flag on the figure of Christ at the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Krakowskie Przedmieście in Warsaw, openly admitting their intention to provoke - the prosecutor's office dealt with the case.
It can be said with a high degree of certainty that in many cases the perpetrators acted with a deliberate intention of insulting the place of worship and offending the religious feelings of believers. Probably, however, not in every case vandals were directed by malice and premeditation directed against the sphere of the sacred. Perhaps the perpetrators of the attacks on places and objects of worship want to express their aversion to the Church as an "impersonal" institution in this way, or perhaps they are simply driven by an unrefined sense of humor. However, they do not take into account that the places they attack belong to the institutions of the Church as much as to its living members - priests, parishioners and pilgrims. For them, each stained glass window, each pew or each station of the Stations of the Cross is another small success in building a community. It is money collected with difficulty, it is hard and careful work, it is everyday care for maintaining the common house, which is the building of the parish church. A roadside cross, a chapel or a figure are a stop on the way to work, but also an element of the local tradition. It's easy to estimate the cost of repairing damaged equipment - it's harder to rebuild a broken spirit.
The Laboratory of Religious Freedom team
Author of the photo: Jacek Smarz
 Police statistics on acts of damage to property available at: https://statystyka.policja.pl/st/przestepstwa-ogolem/przestepstwa-kryminalne/7-wybranych-kategorii-p/uszkodzenie-mienia/121610,Uszkodzenie-rzeczy.html, access: 02.09.2020
 Contribution Complementaire du Ministere de l’Interieur - Bilan statistique, p. 14-15, https://www.cncdh.fr/sites/default/files/contribution_ministere_de_linterieur_partie_statistique.pdf, access: 02.09.2020
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