WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland announced plans on Tuesday to tighten sentences for child sex abuse, just days after the country’s politics were upended by a documentary on pedophilia in the Catholic Church, closely allied to the nationalist ruling Law and Justice party.
In just three days since it was posted on YouTube, more than 11 million people have viewed the documentary “Just Don’t Tell Anyone”. It shows Poles confronting priests they said abused them as children, and presents allegations that known pedophiles were shifted between parishes.
The documentary has led to a swift public outcry, with lawyers and journalists calling for the police to launch criminal investigations.
The issue has erupted in the run-up to a European parliamentary election in which issues of sexuality and religion have played a prominent role. Law and Justice (PiS) portrays the Catholic faith as a key element of national identity. Liberals argue that the Church has come to wield too much power.
The leftist progressive Wiosna (Spring) opposition party planned to project the documentary onto a building next door to a church headquarters on Monday. Police seized the projector and blocked the event.
The government announced changes to the criminal code on Tuesday that would increase prison terms for pedophilia to up to 30 years.
“Torture, pedophlilia have been punished too kindly,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told a news conference.
“Every degenerate, disgusting, cruel crime, social behavior, of course especially pedophilia, will be even more severely stigmatized.”
In his speech he avoided direct reference to the Catholic Church or the documentary.
“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 said.
Poland is one of Europe’s most devout countries, with 85 percent of the population identifying as Catholics and nearly a third attending mass every Sunday.
The Church has long held a powerful political role, notably as a counterweight to Communist rule during the Cold War-era papacy of Polish Pope John Paul II. Poland has only just 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 saying that between 1990 and 2018 its officials had received reports of sexual abuse by clergy of 625 children since 1950, over half of them aged 15 or younger.
Church authorities in Poland have yet to reach a consensus on how to address the 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.
Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Peter Graff