WARSAW: Poland on Thursday (May 16) raised jail terms for convicted paedophiles to a maximum 30 years after a groundbreaking documentary on child sex abuse among Polish priests sparked public outrage and a crisis in the devoutly Catholic country's church.
Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in favour of changes to the criminal code that also introduce life sentences for the most dangerous paedophiles and remove a statute of limitations on prosecution of the most drastic cases of child sex abuse.
The changes introduced by the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) government, which is closely allied with Poland's powerful Roman Catholic church, come just 10 days ahead of a tight race in elections to the European Parliament.
Posted on YouTube on Saturday, the "Tell No One" film by brothers Tomasz and Marek Sekielski has been viewed nearly 18 million times.
The revelations have rocked Poland's powerful Roman Catholic church to the core.
The two-hour documentary includes hidden camera footage of victims who are now adults confronting elderly priests about the abuse they suffered decades earlier.
Several of the priests admit to the abuse and apologise for it, sometimes hinting at monetary compensation.
The film also details how priests accused or even convicted of child sex abuse were transferred to other parishes and able to continue their duties and work with children.
Top Polish clerics refused to be interviewed for the documentary.
Polish Primate Wojciech Polak who apologised "for every wound inflicted by the Church's people" after watching the film on Thursday vowed to set up a "solidarity fund" to help provide victims with "concrete help" but insisted it was not a compensation fund.
"Where compensation is concerned, we should conform to the law in force in Poland, so if the court awards it, then the Church is not above the law," Polak told the TVN24 commercial news channel.
Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, a Vatican expert on paedophilia among the priesthood, will visit Poland next month, the Polish episcopate said Thursday.
The Polish church admitted in March that nearly 400 clergy had sexually abused children and minors over the last three decades, reflecting findings published a month earlier by a local charity.
The documentary concludes that Polish-born pope and saint John Paul II turned a blind eye to sex abuse when Warsaw's communist regime was working to undermine the church, then Poland's only independent institution.
Pope Francis last week passed a landmark new measure to oblige those who know about sex abuse to report it to superiors, which could bring many new cases to light.