News Analysis

The big story: Polish bishops promise action after abuse documentary

What happened?

a polish documentary on clerical sexual abuse has provoked a national debate over the role of the Church. Released on YouTube (with English subtitles available) as Tell No One, it interviews survivors and tells stories of abusive priests being moved from parish to parish. It also shows survivors confronting their alleged abusers.

The film has been viewed more than 20 million times and has led to a public outcry, as well as an investigation by Poland’s prosecutor general.

What the bishops said

in a pastoral letter read at Masses on Sunday, the bishops’ conference told Polish Catholics: “We admit that as shepherds of the Church we have not done everything to prevent these harms.” They said the film had “made us all aware” of how much abuse survivors had suffered, and thanked those who had given interviews.

The bishops affirmed their support for Pope Francis’s recent new laws, which require every diocese to have a mechanism for reporting abuse. Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, the president of the bishops’ conference, said the film would lead to an “even more stringent” application of the laws. He offered “sincere apologies” on behalf of all the bishops.

The bishops’ letter also asked Poles to support good priests and avoid hostility to the clergy as a whole.

What the media said

Antonia Mortensen of CNN said that the film had “sent shockwaves” through the Church “and wider society in a deeply religious nation”. She pointed out that, a week before the film’s release, Jaroslaw Kaczyński, leader of the conservative ruling Law and Justice Party, said: “Anyone who raises his hand against the Church, wants to destroy it, raises his hand against Poland.” But “after seeing the documentary”, he clarified his remarks at a rally, saying: ‘‘That does not mean that we support or tolerate pathology in the Church.”

The Associated Press asked whether Poland, “which is already being reshaped by economic growth and secularisation”, could go the way of Ireland, where abuse revelations have helped lead to a widespread rejection of Catholicism.