Polish Catholic Church facing wave of sex abuse allegations

WARSAW (Reuters) - The Catholic Church in Poland is facing a wave of allegations of sexual abuse, church authorities said on Monday, as they laid out statistics on the extent of abuse amid an investigation into alleged cover-ups by a senior clergyman.

Seen by many as a core element of Poland's national identity, the Catholic Church is a powerful force in public life. However, it has been rocked by a series of paedophilia scandals that have contributed to the erosion of its authority, especially among younger Poles.

"We have a wave of revelations," Adam Zak, coordinator for the protection of children and young people at the Conference of the Polish Episcopate, told a news conference.

"This is a continuous wave, you can see that this is not a downward trend, but there are persistently quite high figures."

The Church said that between July 1, 2018, and Dec. 31, 2020, it had received 368 reports regarding the sexual abuse of minors.

It said preliminary investigations had verified 144 of the reports and found them reliable. Another 186 were still under investigation, while only 38 had so far been rejected as unreliable.

"I would like to address all those who have been wronged and scandalised by the evil in the church. I would like to ask for forgiveness once again," said Wojciech Polak, the archbishop of Gniezno, who serves as primate, or the most senior bishop, of the Catholic Church in Poland.

It is the second time the episcopate has published a report on paedophilia cases. The first was published in 2019 and showed 382 cases reported between January 1990 and June 2018.

Human rights advocates say sex crimes by clergy are widely underreported as victims are reluctant to come forward due to the public authority of the offenders.

A map of church paedophilia created by activists and a left-wing lawmaker shows more than 580 cases that ended with a court ruling or have been reported by media nationwide.

The conference came as the Vatican investigated one of the most senior figures in the Polish church, Stanislaw Dziwisz, who served as Archbishop of Krakow from 2005-2016 and had been accused of covering up paedophilia allegations.

On Saturday the Vatican embassy in Poland said Angelo Bagnasco, the former Archbishop of Genoa, had been in Poland from June 17 to 26 to investigate alleged neglect of duty on the part of Dziwisz.

(Reporting by Alicja Ptak; Writing by Alan Charlish; Editing by Peter Graff)

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