The Catholic Church in Poland has just recently started to address the issue of child sex abuse that has rattled the religious institution around the world for years.
Poland’s ruling conservative party PiS (Law and Justice Party) announced legislative amendments with more severe punishments for pedophilia after a documentary film exposing sex abuse of children by Catholic Church priests went viral.
Poland is known as a devout Catholic country, with 85 percent of the population identifying as Catholics and nearly a third attending mass every Sunday, and the Catholic Church is deemed to be closely allied to the ruling party.
The documentary alleges that known pedophiles were shifted to different parishes as cover-ups by the Catholic Church. It shows Poles who were abused as children confronting the priests who molested them.
The film has sparked a wave of indignation in Poland, with public demands, including by lawyers and journalists, that the police begin a criminal investigation.
On Monday, the leftist progressive Wiosna (Spring) party tried to show the documentary on a building near a church headquarters only to see the police seize its data projector and disband the event.
On Tuesday, however, the Polish government announced changes to the country’s criminal code that would up prison sentences for pedophilia to up to 30 years.
“Torture, paedophlilia have been punished too kindly,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told a news conference.
“Every degenerate, disgusting, cruel crime, social behaviour, of course especially pedophilia, will be even more severely stigmatized,” he added.
Upon announcing the new measures, however, Morawiecki, mentioned directly neither the Catholic Church, nor the viral documentary that sparked the present public outrage.
The scandal in Poland has broken out against the backdrop of the campaign for the 2019 EU elections. While the ruling Law and Justice party PiS views the Catholic Church as an invariable part of Polish national identity, opposition liberals have expressed misgivings about the vast power of the religious institution.
“PiS doesn’t want to talk about the Church in this context because the Church cooperates with the party. Many priests support PiS politicians during mass, so PiS doesn’t want to harm the Church,” Anna Materska-Sosnowska, political scientist at Warsaw University, is quoted as saying.
The report notes that Poland has only recently begun confronting the child sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church around the world in recent years.
In March, the Polish Catholic Church published a study claiming that between 1990 and 2018 its officials had received reports of sexual abuse by clergy of 625 children.
The abuses in question occurred after 1950, and half of the abused children were 15 or younger at the times when the crimes were committed, according to the church.
In a relevant case, an arm of the Polish Catholic Church appealed to the country’s Supreme Court to annual a compensation worth PLN 1 million (EUR 230,000) ordered by a lower court for a woman who was repeatedly raped by her local priest when she was 13 years old.
(Banner image: Video grab from YouTube)