31 May 2019

How the Polish right wing tries to derail the pedophilia discussion

Polish right-wing groups are doing everything to divert attention from the pedophilia cover-ups in the Catholic church. And they are trying to kill two birds with one stone by pushing for more restrictive abortion laws in parallel.  

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How the Polish right wing tries to derail the pedophilia discussion - NewsMavens
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In May, Tell No One -- the long-awaited, crowdfunded documentary by the Siekielski brothers about child abuse in the Polish Catholic Church and its cover-up in the institution --  premiered on YouTube. It soon reached record viewership -- to date, the YT counter reads over 21 million views. The movie has been shown on traditional TV channels, and the producers plan to pitch it to streaming services like Netflix.

Amidst the outrage and criticism towards Church officials, reactions from the Catholics right wing have been mixed. The Primate of Poland has issued a conciliatory statement, expressing regret and willingness to help the victims; some Catholic media urged Polish bishops to show more humility, to take more decisive actions against the systemic cover-up of abuse, or even to resign. However, many prominent right-wing politicians, journalists and priests attempted to dismiss the criticism, derail the discussion and defend the Church from these “attacks”. An archbishop accused of ignoring reports of abuse said “he doesn’t watch those things” when asked for comment (he later apologized). The editor-in-chief of the right-wing magazine Sieci has blamed Soros; a website from the same publisher accused the priests of having collaborated with secret services during communist times; a former presidential candidate and a journalist of the national broadcaster has said the “trauma” of sexual education is comparable to the trauma of abuse; the evening news program of the national television has stated that there are more convicted pedophiles among bricklayers than among priests. Many of the commenters claimed that since most of the victims were boys, the real problem is not pedophilia, but homosexuality (or even “pederasty”, in the words of MEP and university professor Ryszard Legutko).

Some of the attempts to divert the discussion from systemic sexual abuse by priests even aim at downplaying female experience and further limiting women’s rights -- most prominently, the right to abortion.


“Higher age of consent leads to more abortions”

In response to the documentary release, the ruling party has prepared a novelization of the Polish penal code. One of the proposed changes (later dropped in the process) was to raise the age of consent from current 15 to 16. Some anti-abortion activists, like Kaja Godek (one of the leaders of the far-right Konfederacja coalition) or the president of the Ordo Iuris think-tank, have opposed this idea unless the abortion law is tightened -- arguing that otherwise the new age of consent will lead to “more cases of legal abortions”. This is because Polish abortion law -- already one of the most restrictive in Europe -- allows for the procedure in three cases: when pregnancy is a threat to the woman’s life or health; when the fetus is seriously malformed; and when the pregnancy is a result of crime. Since 15-year-old girls would be considered minors under the new law, they could legally get an abortion if they became pregnant by someone older.

“It’s actually homosexuality, not pedophilia”

Ryszard Legutko, a MEP from the ruling party (PiS/ECR), has said in a radio interview:

“In cases of sexual abuse among the clergy, the cases of pedophilia are extremely rare. We are simply dealing with homosexuality here. There is research conducted on this, and reproduced several times, by American and German Episcopates. They all repeat the same: over 80 percent of cases of abuse involves boys between 12-17. What kind of pedophilia this is? This is just pederasty. [...] This is called “the lavender mafia”. [...] This is where the problem in the Church is”.


Regardless of whether raising the age of consent to 16 would be effective in fighting sexual abuse or not, the main concern of Godek and Ordo Iuris, who are proponents of a complete ban on abortions in Poland, is to further limit access to abortion -- even for teenage girls with unwanted pregnancies.

The number of legal abortions conducted in Poland under the “pregnancy resulting from a crime” exception is already very low -- slightly over 2 cases per year on average since 2002. This number also includes adult women who became pregnant because of rape. Given the minuscule influence of age of consent on the number of legal abortions, it is clear that the discussion on pedophilia is only a pretext for Kaja Godek and Ordo Iuris to push for a complete ban on abortion.

As for the claim that “over 80% of cases of abuse involve boys age 12 to 17”, Legutko most probably referred to the report of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which states that 81% of alleged underage victims of abuse in the US in the years 1950-2002 were boys (of all age groups). However, from the same report it can be concluded that 72.7% of all victims were under the age of 15 (such is the sum of age groups under 7, 8-10, and 11-14). While the age group mentioned by Legutko is different from those used in the report, the sum of all victims under 11 is 21.8%, making his statement inaccurate.

Legutko’s claim is not only falsely conflating abuse of young boys with homosexuality, but also erasing the abuse of girls -- 19% of all victims -- by suggesting it is somehow less of a problem. What’s more, according to the John Jay report, female victims are on average younger than abused boys. Legutko’s dismissal of female victims overlooks the women who appear in the Tell No One documentary. According to another document Legutko probably refered to in his statement -- the report commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference -- the gender ratio of known victims (if specified in the files) was 62.8% male to 34.9% female. 51.6% of the abused were under the age of 14 at the time of first incident. In light of the German report, Legutko’s claim is even further away from the truth than in the case of the John Jay report.


The statements quoted above are examples of spin aiming to divert public attention from the problem of systemic cover-up of abuse in the Catholic church in Poland, recently highlighted by the popular documentary, and direct it to other issues instead (e.g. abortion, homosexuality, sexual education). Saying that homosexuality is the true problem in the matter of abuse committed by priests is an example of intersectional discrimination, reinforcing negative stereotypes against homosexual people, and also of trivializing violence against women -- since the abuse of girls is downplayed and ignored in this line of thinking. Attempts to use pedophilia scandals as an excuse to push anti-abortion agenda are anti-feminist backlash.


Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

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