WARSAW, May 13 – Polish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lech Walesa has urged the Catholic Church to prevent further sexual abuse of children by members of its clergy after a new documentary film showed his priest to be one of the accused.
The film “Just don’t tell anyone”, which shows people confronting priests with accusations that they abused them as children, has attracted nearly 7 million views since it was posted on YouTube on Saturday. It presents allegations that known paedophiles were shifted between parishes.
One of the clergymen featured was Franciszek Cybula, who served as Walesa’s priest for 15 years – from 1980 when he co-founded the trade union Solidarnosc which helped bring about the fall of Communism, through to his becoming Poland’s first democratically elected president in 1990 and until his term ended in 1995.
“It is sad for me that I found out that my chaplain, my confessor, was behaving so badly,” Walesa was quoted as saying by Polska The Times daily on Monday. Poland is one of Europe’s most devout countries and Catholic priests enjoy a high level of social prestige. Nearly 85 percent of Poland’s 38 million-strong population identify as Roman Catholics and around 12 million attend mass every Sunday. But Poland has not escaped the sexual abuse scandals that have battered the Catholic Church’s reputation around the world along with accusations of senior clergy concealing or mismanaging cases. In March the Polish Catholic Church published a study saying that between 1990-2018, its officials received reports of sexual abuse by clergy of 625 children since 1950, over half of them aged 15 or younger.
“The church is all of us, we should pray for priests, and the senior clergy – I repeat – must take action,” Walesa was quoted as saying.
The documentary by director Tomasz Sekielski has reignited the debate about sexual abuse in the church just as Poland gears up for European Parliament elections on May 23-26.
Election campaigns have been marked by a focus on religion and sexuality amid tensions between liberals who feel the church wields too much power in Poland and ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, which considers the Catholic faith as a key element of national identity whose influence must be protected. PiS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski promised harsher sentences for child abuse on Sunday.
Walesa, 75, suggested the Church could carry out psychological tests of men wishing to enter priesthood in a bid to guard against abusers.
Church authorities in Poland have yet to reach a consensus on how to address the issue of sexual abuse.
An arm of the Church has filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court seeking to annul a 1 million zloty ($261,144.33) payment ordered by a lower court to a woman who, as a 13-year-old child, was repeatedly raped by her local priest.
The case was a landmark ruling in granting compensation and an annuity to a victim of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest in Poland. ($1 = 3.8293 zlotys) (Reporting by Marcin Goclowski Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)