POLAND’S POWERFUL ROMAN Catholic Church today vowed “zero tolerance” and apologised for paedophile priests amid public outrage over fresh allegations and controversial remarks by its top cleric.
“We ask forgiveness for our priests who have harmed children,” Bishop Wojeciech Polak, secretary general of the Polish Episcopate told reporters, vowing “zero tolerance for paedophilia in the Church”.
Bishops gathered in Warsaw also said they had drawn up guidelines on how to prevent child sex abuse, help victims and ensure that alleged paedophile priests are served justice.
But despite the apology and guidelines, Church leaders in Poland insist they will not be offering victims any material compensation.
Widespread public outcry a day earlier forced Archbishop Jozef Michalik — head of the Church in Poland — to apologise for and withdraw his claim that children of divorced parents shared the blame for paedophilia cases, including those involving Catholic priests.
Michalik initially said child sex abuse “manifests itself when a child is looking for love”.
“It (the child) clings, it searches. It gets lost itself and then draws another person into this”, he told reporters, adding abuse could be avoided “given a healthy relationship between parents”.
The comments triggered caustic criticism on social networks from mostly young Poles, some of whom feel increasingly disconnected from the Church over its stand against abortion, gay marriage, test tube babies and its failure to root out paedophiles from among the clergy.
“Michalik just wants to shift the blame for paedophilia from the Church to someone else, whether it be divorced parents, or children themselves, just to turn attention away from priests,” Facebook user Daruisz L. Solomon commented on a post by the popular liberal-minded Tygodnik Powszechny Catholic weekly magazine.
It termed Michalik’s comments “scandalous”.
Unlike the United States or Ireland, child sex abuse by priests in Poland has been a largely taboo subject, until this month.
The controversy and outrage, largely on the Internet and across the media, marks the first time the issue of paedophilia in the Church has sparked such high profile public debate.
Polish Church leaders were forced to make an unprecedented apology late last month over paedophile priests, as prosecutors on both sides of the Atlantic began probes against two high-profile suspects.
- © AFP 2013.