Polish archbishop refers child sex abuse case to Vatican

Image shows Polish Archbishop Wojciech Polak Image copyright EPA
Image caption Senior Polish Catholic archbishop Wojciech Polak said “we do not allow for the hiding” of sexual abuse

The head of Poland’s Roman Catholic Church has said he is asking the Vatican to investigate the cover-up of child sexual abuse by priests.

Archbishop Wojciech Polak called on the Church hierarchy to “launch proceedings” following the release of a documentary on the subject on Saturday.

The film tells the story of two brothers who seek to confront a priest who allegedly abused them as children.

The Vatican is expected to assign an investigator to the case.

The film – “Hide and Seek” – has been viewed more than 1.9 million times on YouTube. It is the second documentary on the subject by brothers Marek and Tomasz Sekielski.

It follows two victims as they attempt to bring to account those in the Church who were responsible for covering up their abuse.

It alleges that a senior bishop knew about the allegations for years but failed to take any action.

A new awareness in Poland

By Adam Easton, BBC Warsaw correspondent

In churches across Poland today, people are celebrating the life of their Pope, John Paul II, a day ahead of the centenary of his birth.

Numbers will be smaller than usual due to the coronavirus restrictions, but Karol Wojtyla, the first non-Italian to become pope in more than 450 years, is still revered in his homeland. In particular, for germinating the belief among people here in the 1980s that together, they could achieve the end of the communist regime, which then seemed impossible.

The Polish Catholic Church’s vital role in that victory subsequently gave it enormous influence in Polish society, including over politicians. The current Law and Justice-led government promotes traditional Catholic values.

When the Sekielski brothers’ first documentary became a subject of national debate last May, it agreed that a state commission should be set up. But it said it must not solely focus on the sexual abuse of children by priests, but also by members of other professions. The law to create the commission took effect in September, but since then, nothing has happened.

Tomasz Sekielski says it’s a failure of all the political parties. He’s says he’s not disappointed because he didn’t have high expectations. The most important thing, he says, is that the film changed the public’s awareness of the problem, and no one today can pretend that the raping of boys and girls by priests is only a problem in the West.

“The film… shows that protection standards for children and adolescents in the Church were not respected,” Archbishop Polak said in a video released by the Catholic news agency KAI.

“I ask priests, nuns, parents and educators to not be led by the false logic of shielding the Church, effectively hiding sexual abusers,” he said. “We do not allow for the hiding of these crimes.”

Archbishop Polak added that he had asked the Vatican to investigate the allegations raised in the film under the auspices of an Apostolic letter that was issued by Pope Francis last year.

The letter made it mandatory for Roman Catholic clergy to report cases of clerical sexual abuse and cover-ups.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Pope Francis promised last year to take concrete action to tackle abuse in the Church

The first film in the series – “Tell No One” – was released by the Sekielski brothers in May 2019 and has been viewed more than 23 million times. It sparked widespread outrage and a national discussion about sexual abuse in the Church.

It includes secret camera footage of victims confronting priests about their alleged abuse. Some of the priests in the film admit to the abuse.

The documentary prompted the government to announce plans to double jail terms for paedophiles. It also promised to set up a commission to investigate paedophile priests, but this has not yet happened.

In March last year, the Polish Church admitted that almost 400 clergy had sexually abused minors over the past 30 years.