The acknowledgement came as Poland, where Catholic traditions and faith remain strong, is grappling with the problem of abuse in the church. Massive soul searching was triggered by a documentary, "Tell No One," that includes testimony by victims, priests who admit their wrongdoing and evidence that the church — even recently — moved abusers from parish to parish and let them have contact with children.
"There are no words to express our shame because of sexual scandals involving clerics," the Polish Bishops' Conference said in a statement, a message that is to be read out in all churches on Sunday. The scandals "are calling for a full condemnation and for severe consequences to be drawn toward the criminals and persons covering up such actions," the message says.
"We admit that as shepherds of the Church, we did not do everything to prevent harm," it adds. The head of Poland's Catholic church, Archbishop Wojciech Polak, told reporters in Warsaw that the bishops also began work on a "systemic" response to the problem of abuse by some clergy and to the cases exposed in the documentary.
He credited the documentary with prompting the new action. "The film, taking into consideration the perspective of the victims, made us aware of the enormity of their suffering," the bishops said in their statement.
The response will include building a professional system of reporting cases of abuse and offering victims legal and psychological counselling. Preventive steps will include educating the clergy with the goal of making the church environment safer for children, according to Rev. Piotr Studnicki, who spoke about the decisions taken.
He said the church is "going through a crisis" as it faces the facts about abuse. The Polish church for years has said that it treats the problem of pedophilia and abuse seriously and is taking steps against it, but many critics point to the small number of priests who have faced punishment or who have been allowed to ignore sanctions, as evidence that the church continues to cover up the problem.