John Wojnowski (born 1943 in Warsaw, Poland) is an anti-pedophile activist who has maintained a one-man protest outside the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington DC since 1998. Wojnowski, a retired ironworker, stands on Massachusetts Avenue during afternoon rush hour holding signs with slogans such as "My Life Was Ruined by a Catholic Pedophile Priest" and "Pedophilia: Catholic Clergy's Sordid 'Professional Secret'".
Since thousands of commuters pass the traffic signal at the Vatican embassy each day, Wojnowski's protest is familiar to many Washington, DC and Maryland residents. The initial reaction to Wojnowski was somewhat hostile with many passing motorists yelling curses and some even physically threatening him. He reports that at one point his sign was ripped from his hands, thrown in the back of a pickup truck and stolen. However, media focus on the Catholic sex abuse scandal has sometimes led to a more supportive reaction. However, many remain angered at what they perceive as anti-Catholic bigotry.
Wojnowski's father was a librarian for a Catholic university in Italy. Wojnowski and his two younger brothers grew up in Italy and attended Catholic schools. When he was 14 or 15, he and his brothers spent a month camping alone in the mountains. According to Wojnowski, a village priest in the area offered to tutor him in Latin, and while he was visiting the rectory sexually molested him.
He failed to finish school, and at age 18 left Italy for Canada, where he worked at odd jobs. He came to the United States in 1963, served in the army and worked as a laborer. He found a wife on a 1968 trip to Poland and had two children with her. Wojnowski says his wife left him after 30 years when ironworker jobs became scarce in the 1990s. He lists his past inability to keep a job as just one of many consequences of his alleged molestation. He says "It was so traumatizing. I repressed the memory of that moment, but I ruined my life. My temper changed, my appearance changed. I was avoiding people. I felt so insecure, I never talked to anyone."
In 1997, Wojnowski's memory of molestation was revived by newspaper accounts of Rudy Kos, a Texas pedophile priest sentenced to life in prison and whose victims were awarded $119 million in damages. The case, and the huge damage award, got him thinking. He spoke to a priest in Maryland who helped him get church-paid therapy and advised him to seek financial compensation through the Archdiocese of Washington. According to Wojnowski, after some correspondence and long delays, the archdiocese informed him that the Italian priest was dead and that there would be no compensation. In April 1998 he took early retirement and began his daily protest outside the Vatican embassy.
As of September 2015, 17 years later, Wojnowski appears daily outside the Vatican embassy, standing silently alongside a banner reading "The Vatican hides pedophiles".
- Cooperman, Alan (April 3, 2002). "No Longer a Lone Voice Crying: A Catholic Hears Vindication in Scandal's Growing Chorus". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 24, 2010.
Many passersby assumed he was homeless or deranged. Now some stop to say he was right all along.
- Murdock, Elizabeth (October 30, 1998). "Holy War: Vatican Embassy protester John Wojnowski seeks daily affirmation – and a few supportive honks – on the Massachusetts Avenue sidewalk". Washington City Paper. Retrieved June 24, 2010.
From his sidewalk pulpit in front of the Vatican Embassy, Wojnowski pans his sign, waves to commuters, and buttonholes any pedestrian who happens to cross his path.
- "Recognition for a 12-year protest". The Age. April 5, 2010. Retrieved June 24, 2010.
Mr Wojnowski, a Pole born in 1943, has a very personal reason for bearing a grudge towards the church.