Poland leader slams church pathology, backs sex abuse probe

MONIKA SCISLOWSKA
FILE -- In this Thursday, March 14, 2019 photo the head of Poland's Catholic Church Archbishop Wojciech Polak, right, addresses the media during a news conference in Warsaw, Poland, in which the church revealed it has recorded cases of 382 priests abusing minors since 1990. At left is Archbishop Henryk Gadecki, the head of Poland's Episcopate. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, file)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's ruling conservative party leader said Friday it does not tolerate "pathology" in the Catholic church and will back a commission to investigate sex abuse of minors in church but also in other circles.

It was the first reaction by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a practicing Catholic, 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 soul-searching in the church, which traditionally enjoys respect in predominantly Catholic Poland.

Also, the pro-church ruling Law and Justice party has rushed through parliament a law toughening punishment for pedophilia.

At an election campaign rally Kaczynski said the party backs the church, "which does not mean that we support or tolerate pathology in the church."

Previously, Kaczynski was saying that the church has been under attack lately from western values and argued that "anyone who raises his hand against the church, wants to destroy it, raises his hand against Poland."

Contradicting those claims, the head of Poland's Catholic church, Archbishop Wojciech Polak, said that the recent revelations about priests abusing minors are not attacks on the church but will help its cleansing.

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.

He said the church will establish a fund to support the victims.

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 lawmakers are demanding that an independent commission investigate abuse of minors by priests. Kaczynski backed the idea, but said the commission should not only focus on the church but also investigate other areas of work with minors. His words were seen as an attempt to lessen the censorious focus on the church.

"Neither purple (bishops') robes, nor a Nobel prize or an Oscar, neither worldwide nor European fame can protect from responsibility for the crime of pedophilia," Kaczynski said at a rally ahead of May 26 elections to the European Parliament.

The new law against pedophilia, enacted in a matter of days, is seen as an attempt by the Law and Justice to gain support ahead of the upcoming European vote 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.