The film by Tomasz Sekielski on paedophilia in the Polish Catholic Church and how often it was covered up in order to protect priests comes at a time when the Catholic Church’s role in Polish society and politics is being questioned. Its impact will be to encourage those who want to see much less church influence over public life in Poland.
The church is being accused not only of tolerating paedophilia. It is also coming under fire for opulent life-styles of some clerics, being too close to the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) and of making religious educations in schools a form of indoctrination.
There can be no hiding of the fact that the Church has had influence on public life in Poland on issues such as abortion, definition of marriage as being between man and woman and also over the introduction of religious teaching in schools. It is also the case that the church has received favourable treatment in the process of restitution of private property after the fall of communism.
However, it is important to realise where Poland is coming from with the Catholic Church. That church in Poland has a tradition of being on the side of the people in the fight against occupiers and for national independence. Its role in the rise of Solidarity and in helping to end communism peacefully is not disputed.
But it has found it hard to adjust to a new role in Polish public life since 1989. It could not have been expected to have given up on its principles on such issues as abortion or marriage. Nor could it fail to take the opportunity to take religion into schools, places where the communists had tried to root out Catholicism in Poland. However, arguably it could have done more to control material appetites and to have held members of the clergy to account for their misdemeanours.
If Sekielski’s film leads to reflection within the church it will have done good. The fear is that it will be used to throw the baby out with the bathwater and lead to knee-jerk anti-church responses aimed at mobilizing voters in the coming elections to concentrate on cultural rather than social and economic issues. In a way it is rather ironic that liberals in Poland are now in the forefront of an attempt to move politics away from economic and social issues and onto the cultural agenda, whereas the political right which originally brought such issues to the fore has been moving gradually in the opposite direction.
Comments by members of the Episcopate, including the Polish Primate Wojciech Polak, in which the Polish Catholic Church unreservedly apologizes to the victims of paedophilia and condemns the injustices they faced indicate that the Polish church is beginning to get the message. Instead of being defensive about the issue the hierarchy has actually thanked Mr Sekielski for the harrowing film he has made and promised that the church will react in the spirit of Pope Francis.
Click here to read the article about the film by Tomasz Sekielski.