As many as 382 children were sexually abused by clergy in Poland between 1990 and 2018, according to findings presented on Thursday by the Polish Catholic Church in one of the most devout countries in Europe.
The report follows investigations into widespread abuse of minors by clergy in other countries – notably in Chile, the United States, Australia and Ireland – that have shaken the Roman Catholic Church to its foundations.
'This is an especially painful, tragic issue as it is connected with consecrated people, who devoted themselves to serving the church, other human beings. They have social trust and this social trust was so tragically violated,' Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski said at a news conference.
Polish bishops last year asked victims of past clerical abuse for forgiveness and began collecting data to 'identify the causes of these deeds and assess their scale'.
The report said as many as 198 of the victims were below the age of 15.
Last month the Polish charity Have no fear, which supports abuse victims, delivered its own report to Pope Francis in which it calculated – purely on the basis of media reports collated since the mid-1950s – that at least 384 minors had been sexually abused by clergy in Poland.
Activists say the real figure is probably much greater.
The charity has called for the creation of a panel to investigate the real scale of the problem, securing access to Church documents regarding the abuse of minors, and dismissing bishops found responsible for covering up sexual crimes.
In Poland, Catholic priests enjoy high social prestige and victims of sexual abuse by clergy are often suspected by devout Poles of making up false accusations, even long after the offender in question has been jailed.
Poland remains one of Europe's most devout countries. Nearly 85 per cent of Poland's 38 million-strong population identify as Roman Catholics and around 12 million attend mass every Sunday.
But Polish Church authorities have yet to reach a consensus on how to address the issue of sexual abuse.
An arm of the Church has filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court seeking to annul a 1 million zloty ($263,000) payment ordered by a lower court to a woman who, as a 13-year old child, was repeatedly raped by her local priest.
The case was a landmark ruling in granting compensation and an annuity to a victim of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest in Poland.