Warsaw: Poland's right-wing government on Tuesday unveiled plans to crack down on paedophiles by raising prison sentences to a maximum 30 years as a ground-breaking documentary on paedophilia among Polish priests went viral in the Catholic country.
The proposed changes by the Law and Justice (PiS) government, which is closely allied with Poland's powerful Roman Catholic church, come just two weeks ahead of a tight race in elections to the European Parliament.
"Paedophilia has been treated too lightly by our judicial system," Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said after presenting the new proposals.
Commanding a majority in parliament, the PiS wants to raise maximum jail sentences for child sex abuse from 12 to 30 years and increase the age of consent from 15 to 16. PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, regarded as Poland's de facto powerbroker, first suggested longer prison terms for paedophiles on Sunday as the documentary attracted attention.
"Tell No One", by independent Polish journalist Tomasz Sekielski has sent shock waves through the devout country and been viewed 12.5 million times since it was posted Saturday on YouTube.
The two-hour film includes compelling hidden camera footage of victims who are now adults confronting elderly priests about the abuse they suffered decades ago. Several of the priests admit to the abuse and apologise for it, sometimes hinting at monetary compensation.
The film also details how priests who were accused or even convicted of child sex abuse were transferred to other parishes and able to continue their duties and work with children. Top Polish clerics rejected Sekielski's requests to be interviewed for the documentary.
Polish Primate Wojciech Polak apologised on Saturday "for every wound inflicted by the Church's people" and vowed to do everything he could to help victims. The church admitted in March that nearly 400 clergy had sexually abused children and minors over the last three decades, reflecting findings published a month earlier by a charity.
The documentary concludes that Polish-born pope and saint John Paul II turned a blind eye to sex abuse when the Warsaw's communist regime was working to undermine the church, then Poland's only independent institution.
Pope Francis last week passed a landmark new measure to oblige those who know about sex abuse to report it to superiors, which could bring many new cases to light.