A Polish film depicting unsavory characters as clerics has broken box office records and sparked a wave of sexual abuse allegations against clergy in the country where 96 percent of the population identifies as Catholic.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film ‘The Clergy’ (Kler in Polish) portrays clerics who are alcoholic, who sexually abuse minors, who carouse with women and coerce them into abortion, or who are engaged in various forms of corruption.
While the film itself is fictional, its producers have said events in the film were based on real incidents.
Debuting in the country on Sept. 28, ‘The Clergy’ broke local box-office records, with 935,000 people seeing the movie on opening weekend.
The film may have resonated so deeply in the country due to the timing of its release, which came in the midst of a global sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church and just weeks after the Church in Poland was rocked by its own high-profile case of clerical sexual abuse.
Last month, a judge in northern Poland ruled that a religious order was responsible for damages caused by one of its priests, who reportedly kidnapped and continuously raped a 13 year-old girl over a 10-month period. While the priest was arrested and spent four months in jail in 2008, he was only dismissed from the order in 2017.
The religious order will pay approximately 1 million zloty, or $233,000, in damages in the case.
‘The Clergy’ has reportedly spurred hundreds of Polish individuals to come forward with their own allegations of abuse, both recent and historic.
Some clergy in the country have dismissed the film as “vulgar clergyphobia.” A right-wing newspaper opposed to the film reproduced the movie’s poster, replacing its characters with the faces of national heroes such as St. Maximilian Kolbe, a priest who offered his life at a concentration camp for a married man who was sentenced to die. The poster calls clergy a “treasure in the fight against Nazism, communism, LGBT and Islamists,” according to The Guardian.
Poland is home to many clerical saints, including Pope St John Paul II, who was Pope from 1978-2005 and was canonized by Pope Francis in 2013.
The movie also released two weeks after a German report, which detailed the sexual abuse of thousands of children in the country over a period of 70 years, was leaked to media mid-September.
The report, commissioned by Germany’s conference of Catholic bishops, accused 1,670 clerics of sexual misconduct after having evaluated more than 38,000 personnel and other files from 27 German dioceses, according to German magazine Der Spiegel. It also came at the height of a global sexual abuse scandal throughout the Church, in which there have been recent widespread cases and investigations of abuses and cover-ups in countries such as the United States, Chile, Australia, Guam, India and others.
Pope Francis has called for all the presidents of the Catholic bishops’ conferences of the world to meet at the Vatican in February to discuss the issue of sexual abuse of minors.