Fuel for debate on church and abuse

Fuel for debate on church and abuse

Already 3.5 million Poles have seen it: the film "Clergy" about the offenses of priests. Now it is also running in Germany. Meanwhile, in Poland, church faces accusations.

Never before has a feature film in Poland so successfully denounced wrongdoing in the Catholic Church as "Klerus" (Polish: Clergy). The flick by Wojciech Smarzowski (55) is a box-office hit in the neighboring country. 3.5 million people he attracted in the first 16 days already in front of the screen. It is already the fifth most-watched film in Poland since 1989.

Director Smarzowski shows self-important, sinful priests who dream of a career in the Vatican, build a huge church, break celibacy or abuse children. He calls on Church to mend its ways with high-profile film. "In no country has the church cleansed itself," he criticized. He is also concerned with the co-responsibility of society, which allows the abuse of power by the church. For actress Grazyna Szapolowska, therefore, the film's most important message is society's "complete indifference to the dramas that affect us".

Fierce debate in Poland

Now "Clergy" is coming to cinemas in other countries as well. In the U.K. and Ireland, it grossed $1.3 million last opening weekend. In German cinemas it will be shown on Sunday as a special screening in the original with English subtitles.

In Poland, the film has triggered a sometimes heated debate about the church. The country's Catholic Journalists Association called Smarzowski's work "anti-Catholic" and "anti-Polish". It humiliates Catholics and degrades priests. He says one should not fall for the claim "that the film was made for the good of the Polish Church". The spokesman of the Polish Bishops' Conference, however, did not want to comment on the film.

An apology

On the other hand, the bishop of the Silesian city of Opole, Andrzej Czaja, went on the offensive. He specially wrote a long pastoral letter to the faithful of his diocese about the abuse cases and had it read out at church services: "So far, the guilt of six priests of the Opole diocese has been established, who at least once sexually exploited an underage person." Czaja asked for "God's protection for all those who suffered because of us". And he added: "We apologize to you and ask for forgiveness for our grave sins."

Other local bishops also presented figures for their diocese. The Church is taking the ie more and more seriously. It offers training nationwide to better protect children. In bad memory is still an eclat from 2013 around the then bishops' conference chairman Jozef Michalik. Speaking to journalists, the archbishop blamed broken relationships between parents for their children becoming victims of sexual violence.

Do victims in Poland receive compensation?

Such a child is looking for love, "it leans, it looks for. And it loses itself and drags another person into it," Michalik said at the time. Six hours later, at a press conference called at short notice, he retracted the statement: "I apologize for the misunderstanding. A child is innocent and must not be victimized."

Still controversial today is how Poland's church compensates abuse victims. For a long time, the bishops saw only the perpetrators, but not the church, as being responsible. After all, teachers themselves would have to make amends for sexual assaults, not schools, argued, for example, the lawyer for a Catholic religious order that had been sued by a young woman.

Every case should be tried

A religious had raped the then 13-year-old girl several times from 2006 to 2007. Now the order "Society of Christ for the Pastoral Care of Emigrants" transferred to her 233.000 euros, as the Court of Appeal in the western Polish city of Poznan had ruled at the beginning of October.

But the order is having the verdict reviewed by the Supreme Court, apparently to prevent a wave of lawsuits against the church. The ruling does not provide a basis for compensation claims by abuse victims against the church, stressed the order's lawyer, Krzysztof Wyrwa. "Each case must always be evaluated individually by the court," he.

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