WARSAW — The Roman Catholic Church in Poland released long-awaited statistics on Thursday that shed light on the sexual abuse of children by priests over the past 28 years.
The study, commissioned by the Episcopal Conference of Poland and pulling together data from over 10,000 local parishes, found that from 1990 to mid-2018, church officials received abuse reports concerning 382 priests.
During that time, the statistics said, 625 children, most of them aged 15 or younger, were sexually abused by members of the Catholic clergy.
Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, the president of the conference, said it was “particularly painful, even tragic” that priests betrayed public trust by “hurting those who are most vulnerable.”
He also said that the problem was not confined to the church and that related areas of abuse also needed attention.
“What is the point of dealing with this problem in the Catholic Church if that problem persists in other groups of the society?” he asked during a news briefing on Thursday. “We are narrowing down the issue of children’s suffering to sexual abuse, instead of looking at the bigger picture that includes sex tourism, slavery, organ trade and others.”
Many said they thought the figures released in the report underestimated the true extent of the problem and left unanswered questions that church officials have been avoiding for years.
Marek Lisinski, the co-founder of an organization called Don’t Be Afraid, which represents victims of clerical abuse, said “the numbers don’t tell the whole story.”
“Show us the files of those priests,” he said on Thursday, issuing a demand to church leaders. “Tell us how they hurt those children and how many times they were transferred to different parishes before you paid notice.”
The release of the data, which church officials said was only a prelude to a closer examination of the issue, came weeks after a landmark Vatican meeting on sexual abuse at which Pope Francis called “for an all-out battle against the abuse of minors” and said that the church needed to protect children “from ravenous wolves.”
The church in Poland is one of the most powerful in the world, with about 87 percent of the country’s 38 million people saying they are Catholic.
But the church’s record on tackling abuse is patchy at best. In 2012, Archbishop Jozef Michalik, a former president of the Episcopal Conference, blamed divorced parents and feminists — as well as children he said had lured priests — for abuse by clergy.
After pressure from Pope Francis, Poland’s church has changed its tone in recent years, with top figures publicly apologizing to abuse victims. The church now underlines the need to report those accused of hurting children or committing other crimes.
Before the Vatican meeting, Archbishop Gadecki met with those who had suffered abuse as children.
The publication of the statistics is the first time the church has presented any data about the scale of the problem in Poland. For decades, clergy who were told about the sexual abuse of minors were not required by their superiors to report the information to the police. Instead, they were supposed to investigate the allegations and, if proven credible, inform the Vatican.
That policy has regularly been challenged by the Don’t Be Afraid organization, which has been gathering testimony for over five years and hand-delivered a report on abuse in Poland to Pope Francis last month.
In a report released during the Vatican meeting, Don’t Be Afraid listed 24 Polish bishops who, it said, failed to report priests who had sexually abused minors, letting them stay in ministry and often continue to work with children. The report has been called “inaccurate” by church officials in Poland.
Mr. Lisinski, who was abused as a child by a priest, said that he had been trying to arrange a meeting with church officials in Poland for years. It took him only a week to set up a meeting with Pope Francis during the last conference at the Vatican, he said.
“He kissed my hand and actually cried. And I could tell he was honest,” Mr. Lisinski said in an interview before the abuse figures were released. “They were real tears of sorrow and helplessness, because he knows that he can’t change the attitude of the church on his own.”
As Poland gears up for national elections in the fall, the debate surrounding the church has grown more heated and political. Many religious leaders are close to the governing, right-wing Law and Justice party and the church often echoes government warnings about the threat to the “traditional family” posed by gay rights. The issue has become a leading topic in the campaign after the mayor of Warsaw signed a declaration defending L.G.B.T. rights.
The church enjoys a privileged status in Poland. Along with Poland’s cherished pope, John Paul II, the church helped fight the Communist regime that collapsed in 1989. It is also credited with having played a significant role in building Poland’s subsequent civil society.
As a result, analysts say, the social consequences of incriminating priests in Poland are much higher than in other countries.
“Without the church, Poland as it is today wouldn’t exist,” said Ireneusz Krzeminski, a sociologist at the University of Warsaw. “Being Polish has inadvertently intertwined with being Catholic. That’s why Poles have always approached the subject of the church’s sins with restraint.”
In recent months, however, the church has come under increasing pressure — in the courts and in public opinion.
“Clergy,” a movie by the director Wojciech Smarzowski that focuses on child abuse and how the church covered it up, has won a huge audience in Poland, with five million going to see it since its release in September.
And in a precedent-setting ruling, the church was ordered to pay about $260,000 in compensation to a woman who, when she was 13, was repeatedly raped by her local priest.
The church in Poland has appealed that verdict, and a highly charged question in Poland is who should compensate the victims — the individual priests, who are often destitute, or the church itself.
The growing public anger about abuse by members of the clergy could be seen in the case of the Rev. Henryk Jankowski, who was a parish priest in Gdansk, a northern Polish port city. Father Jankowski gained prominence and enormous popularity in the 1980s by supporting Lech Walesa’s Solidarity movement, but his image was tarnished in later years by allegations of abuse.
Further accusations against Father Jankowski, who died in 2010, surfaced last year, when several victims came forward with horrific accounts of abuse suffered at his hands.
“It wasn’t that he chose me,” one of the victims, Barbara Borowiecka, said in an interview with Polish news media. “As kids, we were running from him to hide in basements or our houses — he would cling to the first child he caught.”
Father Jankowski’s statue in Gdansk was removed by the City Council last week after protesters spilled red paint on the monument and twice tried to dismantle it, once on the day the Vatican conference started.
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