WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s opposition lawmakers demanded Wednesday that a member of the ruling party be excluded from parliament’s work on new laws to curb sex abuse of minors, alleging he had tried to justify the actions of a priest convicted of pedophilia.
The conservative government said this week that the penalty for child sex abuse must be increased, following recent revelations about such abuse by priests. Parliament was debating the government’s draft bill on Wednesday, with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki urging the chamber to back it.
A documentary with harrowing testimony by men and women of being molested and raped by priests when they were children aired Saturday on YouTube, triggering soul searching in the nation’s influential Catholic church and mutual accusations among the main political forces of having failed to curb the crimes.
Opposition lawmakers said prosecutor Stanislaw Piotrowicz, who is head of the parliament’s justice commission and a lawmaker for the ruling, pro-church Law and Justice party, should be excluded from the parliamentary debate and vote on the law. They claimed he had tried in the past to play down the actions of a priest who later was convicted and given a suspended prison term for inappropriately touching and kissing young girls.
Parliament officials said the new law will not be sent for debate to the commission he presides.
The documentary has exposed a rift among Poland’s church leaders in their approach to sex abuse by priests.
Poland’s primate, Archbishop Wojciech Polak, has apologized to the victims, while Gdansk Archbishop Slawoj Leszek Glodz initially distanced himself from the matter, saying he does not watch poor quality films.
On Wednesday, Glodz apologized to the victims and said he had earlier used the “wrong words.”
Many young priests have condemned the abuse of minors in the church.
Poland’s Catholic church has been addressing clergy pedophilia since 2009, when it issued guidelines for detecting and dealing with such cases, but the measures have apparently proven insufficient, even despite later amendments to the guidelines.
In March, Polish church authorities said they had recorded cases of 382 clergymen who abused 625 victims under the age of 18 since 1990. Some observers described it as just a first step in revealing the truth, while an organization of the victims, Have No Fear, is calling for an independent commission to investigate.
The Vatican’s longtime sex crimes investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, is expected to attend a session of Poland’s Episcopate’s in June.
The film also became a prominent topic in Poland’s political debate, airing in the midst of campaigning ahead of the European Parliament election on May 26 and Polish general elections in the fall.
Prompted by ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the government decided to increase prison terms for the sexual abuse of minors to 30 years, from the current 12 years.