Poland vows firm penalties for sex abuse amid church crisis

People stand in the Temple of Divine Providence, a major church in the Polish capital, on Monday May 13, 2019. A new documentary about pedophile 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.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's prime minister on Tuesday vowed tougher punishments for those who sexually abuse minors after a new film spurred the country into grappling with the problem of abuse by priests.

The documentary "Tell No One" has triggered soul searching in the deeply Catholic country since it was released on Saturday on YouTube.

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It contains harrowing testimony by men and women of being molested and raped as young children and teenagers by priests, trauma that ruined their childhoods. One attempted suicide, another became anorexic. A 39-year-old woman who was abused at the age of 7 describes having nightmares to this day and confronts her abuser, now an elderly man, who is captured with a hidden camera admitted his wrongdoing.

Shock over the allegations of the abuse and cover-up are a challenge to Poland's right-wing government, which is close to the Roman Catholic church. Only recently the head of the ruling party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, spoke of an "attack" on the church over previous efforts to take on the church for its culture of secrecy and impunity.

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The party, Law and Justice, has also been seeking to present the LGBT rights movement as a threat to young people.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki held a news conference in Warsaw with Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro to announce that the government has prepared legislation to more severely punish the abuse of minors.

Under the new legislation, which must still be approved by the parliament, the maximum sentence for such abuse will rise from 25 to 30 years.

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"Every degenerate, disgusting, cruel, bestial crime, especially pedophilia, will be even more stigmatized than it is now," Morawiecki told reporters.

In other fallout from the film, church authorities on Tuesday covered up a statue of the late Pope John Paul II and a priest who according to the documentary allegedly committed abuse.

The statue in Lichen, a town in central Poland, depicts the Rev. Eugeniusz Makulski on his knees holding a model of a church that he had built, presenting it to John Paul.

After the film's release, his Marian order issued a statement saying Makulski has been relieved of performing any pastoral activities and evidence of wrongdoing had been sent to the Vatican.

"The suffering of victims of pedophilia committed by the people of the Church fills us with deep pain. Nothing can compensate them for this harm," the order said in a statement.

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