WARSAW, Poland — A new documentary revealing new cases of pedophilia by priests has deeply shaken Poland, one of Europe’s most Roman Catholic societies, eliciting an apology from the church hierarchy and prompting one priest to leave the clergy.
“Just Tell No One,” a film paid for through crowdfunding, was released on YouTube on Saturday and by Monday had more than 8 million views.
After the premiere, the primate of Poland thanked the film’s creators, brothers Tomasz and Marek Sekielski, for their “courage.”
“I apologize for every wound inflicted by the people of the Church,” Archbishop Wojciech Polak said.
The Apostolic Nuncio to Poland, Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, expressed his sympathy on behalf of himself and Pope Francis.
“The pope is very concerned and we express sympathy and solidarity,” he said.
Among others in the Polish church, the reactions were mixed. Leszek Slawoj Glodz, Archbishop of Gdansk, said he has better things to do than watch the film.
But Jacek Prusak, a Jesuit priest, called the church “a home for a herd of wolves in clerical collars.”
He said Sunday that “a judgment over these wolves in clerical collars is coming. Actually, it is happening already.”
Most Poles identify as Catholic and attachment to the church is powerful. Poles credit the church with keeping the language and culture alive during more than a century of foreign rule and for backing Solidarity. The late Polish pope, John Paul II, who is now a saint, is revered both as a moral authority and for his opposition to communism.
But like many other countries, Poland has been forced recently to reckon with the pedophilia in its ranks as victims and their advocates have been breaking old taboos by speaking out. In March, Poland’s church authorities said they had recorded cases of 382 clergymen who abused 625 victims under the age of 18 since 1990.
The film presents new evidence that known pedophiles were transferred between parishes.
One of those featured is Franciszek Cybula, who was the priest of Lech Walesa from 1980-1995, during a time when the shipyard electrician founded the anti-communist Solidarity movement and after the fall of communism was president.
“I am so surprised that I do not know what to say,” Walesa said. “If I, as a Catholic, had known, would I allow such a thing? No way.”
The film opens with a 39-year-old woman, Anna Misiewicz, returning to a parish in Topola, a village near Krakow, to confront an elderly priest who had molested her when she was about 7.
Fearful and wearing a hidden camera, Misiewicz tells the priest how his abuse still gives her nightmares and keeps her from sleeping at night. When she reminds him that he had kissed her and used her hands to masturbate, the priest admits his wrongdoing against her and other girls.
He expresses remorse and blames the devil.
“I know I shouldn’t have don’t it, shouldn’t have touched or kissed you. I know I shouldn’t have. Some stupid passion,” the priest tells her. He is identified only as Father A. and his face is blurred in the film because he hasn’t been convicted.
The film also alleges that Dariusz Olejniczak, a priest who had been sentenced for molesting 7-year-old girls, was allowed to continue working with young people. On Sunday, he resigned from the priesthood.
The film has also prompted politicians from across the political spectrum to call for tougher actions to fight pedophilia.
The leader of the conservative ruling party, Jaroslaw Kacyznski, vowed to make the sexual abuse of children punishable by up to 30 years in prison.