WARSAW, Poland – Contradicting claims by Poland’s ruling party leader, the head of Poland’s Catholic church says recent revelations about priests abusing minors are not attacks on the church but will help its cleansing.
Poland’s primate, Archbishop Wojciech Polak, was referring to a documentary film, “Tell No One,” that contains testimony by men and women that they were molested or raped by priests when they were children. Aired Saturday, it has provoked a heated public debate and a soul-searching in the church, which traditionally enjoys respect in predominantly Catholic Poland.
At a recent electoral campaign rally, the leader of Poland’s ruling conservative party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said the church has been under attack lately from western values. He said “anyone who raises his hand against the church, wants to destroy it, raises his hand against Poland.”
Speaking on private TVN24 late Thursday, Polak said he did not see any “hand raised against the church.”
“If the church is currently going through difficulties, serious challenges, even a crisis, they all serve the church’s cleansing,” Polak said.
In March, church authorities said they had recorded cases of 382 clergymen who abused 625 victims under the age of 18 since 1990.
Reacting to the film, Poland’s government and parliament have toughened the punishment for pedophilia, raising prison terms to 30 years from the current 12 years. The new law is expected to win approval from the Senate and President Andrzej Duda.
Opposition parties are also calling for an independent commission to investigate abuse of minors by the clergy.
The move against pedophilia, enacted in a matter of days, is seen as an attempt by the ruling Law and Justice party to gain support ahead of the May 26 election to the European Parliament and Poland’s own parliamentary election in the fall.
But an EU Parliament lawmaker for the ruling party, Ryszard Legutko, drew strong criticism on social media for showing no compassion for victims and arguing that most abuse cases were on boys aged between 12 and 17, in which case they were pederasty, not pedophilia. He has refused to apologize.