Election Eye: will documentary on paedophilia have a political impact?

Three polls have been published in the last two days. Two of them show the ruling party maintaining a steady lead. The outrider is Friday’s poll in Newsweek which shows a sudden large drop in ruling party support resulting in the opposition taking a large lead.

‘Don’t tell anyone’ is not attack on Church: Polish Primate

In an interview with private Radio ZET, Archbishop Wojciech Polak, the Primate of Poland, said that the documentary “Don’t tell anyone” about the...

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The film “Don’t tell anyone” which highlights instances of the abuse of children by the clergy has gone viral on the internet in Poland with over 15 million viewings since it became available last week. The film has caused a political storm as the opposition has attempted to link the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) to the church failing to deal with the problem in its own ranks. PiS have presented themselves as a strongly pro-church party, even though they have refused to restrict further abortion nor have they heeded the church’s callings for help with taking in refugees.

The shock caused by the film has reached the Vatican with Pope Francis reported to be voicing concern at the situation in the Polish Church. The documentary film in Poland was released just a couple of days after Pope Francis made public recommendations for the church to systematically combat the abuse of children in its ranks.

Ruling party message unclear

The response from the ruling party has had diverging voices within it. The government response was firm with the minister of the interior expressing his sympathy to the victims and the minister of justice announcing the toughening up of legislation. The party leader, Jarosław Kaczyński pointed to the fact that PiS have put in place a paedophiles register and have consistently worked for stiffening the sentencing regime for such offences. He also pointed to the fact that liberal have often downplayed instances of the sexual abuse of children among the professions and in the world of entertainment.

But the problem is that of the many documented allegations of abuse in the Church very few have been prosecuted or have gone to court. Another problem which soon reared its head was the fact that some PiS politicians emphasized that the film was being used to attack the church and began arguing, as prof. Ryszard Legutko did, that the problem is one of homosexuality in the church and the existence of the “lavender mafia” within its ranks. Some, like Zbigniew Gryglas MP declared that the film isn’t objective, as if that could in any way be a defence for the practices highlighted. Such remarks came to be interpreted as lacking in empathy for the victims and an attempt to get the Church ‘off the hook’.

The government hurriedly rushed through stiffer penalties for sexual abuse of minors in Parliament. The opposition, who have also called for government action, refused to support the measure arguing an independent state enquiry into paedophilia in the Church was needed first. One of the opposition MPs attempted to place a pair of children’s shoes next to the ruling party leader Jarosław Kaczyński. They want the ruling party to ‘own’ this scandal and to associate it with it.

Election Eye: Attitudes to religion affecting voters choices

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Polling impact

The research for two polls that show the ruling party ahead was conducted over the period when the film was being released. A Social Changes poll for conservative portal wpolityce.pl shows PiS in a five point lead (37 to 32 percent) over the opposition’s European Coalition (KE) and Robert Biedroń’s “Spring” gaining over 14% of the vote. A polls for portal wp.pl puts PiS in a four point lead (36 to 32 percent) with Spring in third place on 10 percent.

The outrider is Friday’s poll by the IBSP institute for the staunchly liberal Newsweek. This poll, most recent in terms of when the data was collected, shows the KE with almost 44 percent of the vote and the ruling PiS on just 33 percent. The survey shows the ruling party dropping by six points in a week. But according to this polling agency KE were already ahead last week, albeit by three and not over ten points.

The Newsweek poll shows the KE making most gains and a sharp rise in the support for the radical right “|Confederation”,the only grouping actually arguing for Poland to leave the EU. It is they who, according to that survey, have made the big gains at the expense of PiS.

One poll does not a trend make. It will be interesting now to see if this marked fall in the support for the ruling party is reflected in other surveys. Clearly the government has been pushed back on the defensive by the problems the Catholic Church is suffering as a result of “Don’t tell anyone”.