Warsaw (AFP) - Poland's powerful Catholic church on Thursday published a report admitting that nearly 400 of its clergy had sexually abused children and minors over the last three decades, reflecting findings published last month by a charity focused on abuse in the church.
The Polish Bishops' Conference said in its report that it found 382 clergy sexually abused a total of 624 victims, including 198 under 15 years of age and 184 adolescents between the ages of 15 and 18.
The statistical report which covers the period between 1990 and 2018, did not include the names of perpetrators.
"We know that this is still only the tip of the iceberg," Jesuit Adam Zak, the Polish episcopate's coordinator for child protection and youth, told reporters at a press conference in Warsaw.
"The church must be impeccable and firm in stigmatising evil. But it must... also show mercy to the perpetrators if they strive for internal transformation, if they regret (their actions)," Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski told journalists in Warsaw.
Archbishops speaking at the news conference insisted that paedophilia was not limited to the Catholic Church and that the majority of abuse took place in families.
"Nevertheless, even if there were just one victim (of clerical) abuse, this can only bring pain and shame," Polish Primate, Archbishop Wojciech Polak, told reporters.
In February, a charity supporting victims of paedophile priests in Poland released a groundbreaking report documenting nearly 400 cases of sex abuse by clergymen in the staunchly Catholic country.
Activists from the "Be Not Afraid" foundation presented the 27-page document to Pope Francis at a gathering of the world's top Catholic bishops at a Vatican summit tackling clerical sex abuse.
Liberal opposition politician Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus, who was a key figure in the creation of the victims' report, on Thursday said that the Polish church's report "spat in the face" to victims.
"Today the Episcopate... defended itself as an institution, defended the perpetrators, and did not stand on the side of the victims," she said, adding that the church failed to address the issue of compensating victims.
The foundation's report documents details the cases of 85 priests convicted of paedophilia, another 88 whose alleged abuse has been exposed by the media and 95 others accused by alleged victims.
The report also names 24 Polish archbishops and bishops accused of covering up abuse.