October 8, 2018 / 4:25 PM / 14 days ago

Activists to set up panel to tackle pedophilia in Polish church

WARSAW (Reuters) - An independent panel aimed at documenting cases of pedophilia in Poland’s Catholic Church will be set up early next year to help victims speak up and claim damages, opposition parliamentarians said on Monday.

The Roman Catholic Church worldwide is reeling from crises involving sexual abuse of minors, deeply damaging confidence in the Church in Chile, the United States, Australia and Ireland among other countries.

In stark contrast, in Poland, a deeply Catholic country, debate has only just begun while activists close to the nascent anti-pedophilia project, called “Nie lekajcie sie” (Don’t Be Afraid), say that around 600 priests in Poland may have inclinations towards pedophilia.

Around 100 people claiming to have been sexually molested by Polish priests phoned to tell their stories in the first 24 hours after organizers of the panel posted an interactive pedophilia map on the Internet on Sunday.

“The map of pedophilia was viewed by 500,000 people since yesterday. Public discussion has started and we want to set up a panel early next year to tackle the issue,” Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus, an opposition MP, told Reuters TV.

The map documents 280 cases of pedophilia committed by 60 priests convicted by Polish courts, but according to activists the real numbers are much higher since victims are often afraid to speak up for psychological and social reasons.

“One-hundred people have called us since yesterday to tell us about their cases, and we need to research and verify all these cases,” Scheuring-Wielgus said.

Several left-wing and liberal MPs, along with rights activists, declared their support in creating or running the investigative panel. The ruling nationalist (PiS) party, whose core support comes from devout Catholics and the Church, is not expected to be involved.

A PiS spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment, nor was a spokesman for Poland’s Church.

Last week a Polish court upheld a landmark ruling granting a one million zlotys ($266,084.83) in compensation and an annuity to a victim of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest, accepting that the church ore responsibility for the crimes of its cleric.

Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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