Charity says 24 Polish bishops covered up sex abuses of minors

FILE PHOTO: Workers walk in front of Poland’s largest Roman Catholic church and one of the largest in the world, Basilica of Our Lady of Lichen, in Lichen Stary, near Konin, central Poland October 9, 2012. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

WARSAW (Reuters) - A Polish charity helping victims of child abuse committed by Catholic priests accused 24 bishops on Thursday of concealing perpetrators of sexual molestation of minors.

The "Have No Fear" charity made the allegation in a report released as Pope Francis convened Catholic leaders from around the world to address scandals over child sexual abuse by priests that have ravaged the Church's credibility over the last three decades.

The report, which has been delivered to the pope, named Polish bishops whom it said had "concealed clerical crimes and moved pedophilic priests from one parish to another".

It added: "Despite the fact that the Polish mass media almost every day talks about the abuses of children by clergy, bishops still do nothing about it."

Responding to the report, an Episcopate spokesman said: "In the Catholic Church, every believer can present his case to the Holy Father...The Holy See, on the other hand, has the opportunity to evaluate and verify reported cases."

He added, "It should also be recalled that the Church strongly and decisively condemns all sexual abuse of minors in the Church and in society as a whole."

The four-day conference at the Vatican, dedicated to "prevention of abuse of minors and vulnerable adults", is intended to help faltering attempts to coordinate a global response to the crisis.

The "Have no Fear" NGO also said some Church representatives still fail to report clerical sex crimes to Polish prosecutors.

Led by a former victim of clerical abuse, Marek Lisinski, the charity hopes its report will trigger resignations from top positions in the Church in devoutly Catholic Poland.

In Chile last year, all of the country's bishops offered their resignations to the pope over a widespread cover-up of sexual abuses. Francis accepted seven of the resignations and dismissed two others from the priesthood.

In Poland, victims of abuse by priests are often accused of making false accusations, even long after the offender has been jailed, since Catholic priests enjoy high social prestige.

"We demand the opening of the archives of the Polish Church and provision to law enforcement authorities of all information about the offenders, because the Church cannot be above the law," Have No Fear said in its report.

(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Mark Heinrich)