May 15, 2019 / 12:43 PM / 9 days ago

Polish bishops to discuss child sex abuse as documentary spurs outrage

WARSAW (Reuters) - Polish bishops will meet on May 22 to discuss steps to tackle paedophilia in Poland’s powerful Catholic Church after a documentary that showed victims confronting priests who had sexually abused them shocked the devout nation.

The film “Just don’t tell anyone”, which has been watched by 14.8 million people since Youtube released it on Saturday, also alleges that the Polish Church moved known paedophile priests from parish to parish, as happened in other countries.

Lawyers and journalists have called for the police to launch criminal investigations and the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which has close links to the Church, announced plans on Tuesday to tighten sentences for child sex abuse.

“The head of the Episcopate, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, called yesterday an extraordinary meeting of top bishops - the meeting of the permanent council - to set out further actions aimed at protecting minors,” an Episcopate spokesman said.

“This is connected with the (recent) paedophilia issue,” priest Pawel Rytel-Andrianik told Reuters.

Primate Wojciech Polak, the most senior clergyman in Poland, told private Radio Zet on Wednesday he saw no need for any bishops to resign over the scandal but added that more had to be done to protect minors.

“CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE”

The leftist opposition party Wiosna (Spring) accused the Church of trying to cover up sex abuse cases and said secular authorities should get directly involved.

“We can’t expect the Church to clean up its own act, as if this were just its own affair... A number of bishops took part in this conspiracy of silence, in hiding these crimes,” Wiosna leader Robert Biedron told Radio Zet.

“The state should guard the safety of children, youths, and the state has failed,” said Biedron, one of Poland’s first openly gay politicians.

Biedron has called unsuccessfully for Polish state television to broadcast the documentary. When his party tried to project the documentary onto a building next door to a church on Monday, police seized the projector and blocked the event.

Child abuse scandals, some dating back many decades, have rocked the Catholic Church globally, eroding its authority in once devout nations from Ireland to Chile. It has had to pay out billions of dollars in damages to victims and close parishes.

The Church in Poland, where 85 percent of people identify themselves as Catholic and where a third of the population attends mass every week, has yet to reach a consensus on how to address the abuse issue.

An arm of the Church has filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court seeking to annul a 1 million zloty ($260,000) payment ordered by a lower court to a woman who, as a 13-year-old child, was repeatedly raped by her local priest.

The abuse scandals in the Church are a challenge to PiS as it gears up for European elections this month and national polls later this year. PiS sees Catholicism as a key element of Polish identity while liberals say the Church wields too much power.

($1 = 3.8436 zlotys)

Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Gareth Jones

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