Poland plans to double jail terms for paedophiles

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Poland has announced plans to double jail terms for paedophiles after a documentary on priest sex abuse sparked outrage in the country.

Convicted paedophiles could now face a maximum sentence of 30 years or, in the most serious cases, life in prison.

The documentary includes harrowing testimonies from victims and has been viewed more than 18 million times.

Correspondents say the conservative government, allied to the Catholic Church, is scrambling to react.

However the ruling Law and Justice party says the legal amendments have been in the works for months. The proposal will now go to the senate.

The announcement comes 10 days ahead of the European Parliament elections. Law and Justice is currently polling neck-and-neck with the European Coalition, a collective of opposition parties.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said it was the government's "strong conviction" that suspended sentences should not apply in cases of paedophilia.

"It is difficult to imagine a more serious offence than the betrayal of the trust of the youngest people, those placed under someone's protection," he said.

"Therefore, people, who are guardians in various institutions, including all secular and Church institutions, all such persons will have to bear even more severe penalties."

The documentary "Only Don't Tell Anyone" includes secret camera footage of victims confronting priests about their alleged abuse. Some of the priests admit to the abuse.

Police have prevented the documentary from being projected on to the façade of churches in Warsaw and Gdansk.

The biggest challenge to the Catholic Church in Poland

Analysis by Adam Easton, BBC Warsaw correspondent

The Catholic Church is undergoing the biggest challenge to its role as the unquestionable moral authority in Polish society in recent times. The release of the documentary, following the box office success of the movie Kler last year, which dealt with the same theme, has caused Poles to speak openly and emotionally about the topic on an unprecedented scale.

People are angry but they are not yet taking to the streets in large numbers in protest. And there is evidence to suggest that most of the discussion and interest is taking place in bigger cities, rather than in small towns and the countryside, home to Law and Justice's core electorate.

But it is a thorny problem for Law and Justice because it allies itself with the Catholic hierarchy. Just days before the documentary's release, party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said: "whoever raises their hand against the Church and wants to destroy it, raises their hand against Poland."

The government has scrambled to react, rushing through tougher sentences for child sex abusers but simultaneously sending mixed messages about the documentary, with some branding it an attack on the Church. Even some Church leaders have denied that and have been quick to apologise to the victims.

That may not be enough. There are demands for the creation of an independent investigation. Next month, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, a papal envoy who investigated child sex abuse in the Catholic Church in Chile that resulted in the resignation of several bishops, will arrive in Poland on a visit to discuss the issue.

Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro has appointed a team of prosecutors to investigate the documentary, the National Public Prosecutor's Office told thenews.pl news website.

Bishops have been accused of not responding effectively to cases of abuse.

Archbishop Wojciech Polak, the leader of Poland's Roman Catholic Church, has apologised to the victims.

In March, the Polish Church admitted that almost 400 clergy had sexually abused minors over the past 30 years.