WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s prime minister on Tuesday vowed tougher punishments for those who sexually abuse minors after a new film spurred the country into grappling with the problem of abuse by priests.
The documentary “Tell No One” has triggered soul searching in the deeply Catholic country since it was released Saturday on YouTube. It contains harrowing testimony by men and women of being molested and raped by priests.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki held a news conference in Warsaw with Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro to talk about new legislation the government drafted to more severely punish the abuse of minors.
The bill, which must be approved by parliament, would more than double the maximum prison sentence for sexual abusing a minor, making it 30 years instead of 12.
It also would define a minor as children age 16 and under, instead of 15.
“Every degenerate, disgusting, cruel, bestial crime, especially pedophilia, will be even more stigmatized than it is now,” Morawiecki told reporters.
In other fallout from the film, Catholic Church authorities on Tuesday covered up a statue of a priest kneeling before the late Pope John Paul II. According to the documentary, the 91-year-old priest, Rev. Eugeniusz Makulski, allegedly committed child sex abuse.
The statue in Lichen, a town in central Poland, depicts Makulski on his knees, holding a model of the church he had built, a giant basilica that was consecrated in 2004 and is now a major pilgrimage site.
His Marian order issued a statement after the documentary was released saying Makulski had been relieved of performing any pastoral activities and evidence of his abuse had been sent to the Vatican.
“The suffering of victims of pedophilia committed by the people of the Church fills us with deep pain. Nothing can compensate them for this harm,” the Marians of the Immaculate Conception said in a statement.
The documentary, made by two brothers, features detailed accounts from Poles who say being sexually abused by a clergy member ruined their childhoods. One attempted suicide, another became anorexic.
A 39-year-old woman who was abused at the age of 7 describes having nightmares to this day and confronts her abuser. Now an elderly man, he is captured with a hidden camera admitted his wrongdoing.
Shock over the allegations of abuse and cover-ups by the superiors of pedophile priests are a challenge for Poland’s right-wing government, which is close to the Roman Catholic Church.
The head of the ruling Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, recently described other efforts to expose the secrecy that allowed priests to molest children with impunity as an “attack” on the church.
Law and Justice also has been campaigning for the upcoming European Union parliament elections and Poland’s general election in the fall by calling the LGBT rights movement a threat to young people.
The party’s critics accuse Law and Justice of going after LGBT people as a diversion from the clergy sex abuse scandal.
This story has been corrected to show that Poland’s current maximum sentence for sexual abuse of a minor is 12 years, not 25.