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Poland's Catholic church apologises as paedophile scandal spreads

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Poland's powerful Roman Catholic church on Friday apologised over two alleged paedophile priests as prosecutors on both sides of the Atlantic began probing the men, one a former Vatican envoy.

Prosecutors in the Dominican Republic have asked Interpol to arrest fugitive Polish priest Wojciech Gil, 36, who allegedly abused several young boys while serving on the Caribbean island.

A Vatican probe is already under way into allegations of child sex abuse against Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, a 65-year-old Pole who served as papal envoy in Santo Domingo for around five years.

Senior Polish church officials said they were unaware of the whereabouts of both men on Friday as prosecutors in Warsaw also launched criminal investigations against them.

"Trust in the church is waning. We are sorry. This is the least we can do," Bishop Wojciech Polak, a senior official with the Polish episcopate, told reporters on Friday.

The church would however not offer victims any material compensation, he said in Warsaw.

"The scale of paedophilia in the church in Poland is unknown," Jesuit priest Adam Zak, responsible for child and youth welfare in the Polish episcopate, said at the same press conference.

"The cases that end up in court are just the tip of the iceberg," he said, pointing to 27 priests convicted of child sex abuse in Poland over the last decade.

In the latest scandal to make headlines, a Warsaw priest who was convicted of committing so-called "other sexual acts" continued to work with children, with the full consent of his superiors.

Unlike the United States or Ireland, the string of crimes in heavily Catholic Poland has not provoked widespread public outcry.

Wesolowski was recalled by the Vatican on August 21 after the allegations of abuse surfaced.

He is suspected of engaging in sexual relations with underage prostitutes in the historic centre of the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo, according to press reports.

Reports also linked him with the fugitive Gil, accused of raping minors in the city of Santiago, about 155 kilometres (96 miles) north of the capital.

Gil went missing in May when the allegations surfaced and he was suspended from his duties as a priest.

"We have had no contact with him since May 28," Father Tadeusz Musz, spokesman for Gil's order of the Michaelite Fathers, said at the press conference.

Bishop Polak added that Wesolowski had served under the Vatican's jurisdiction and was not "an archbishop in Poland or a member of the Polish Episcopate".

Religious affairs experts in Poland say its powerful church is ill-prepared to deal with the paedophiles in its ranks.

"The Polish church isn't ready to confront this issue. It's a rigid institution, very bureaucratic, detached from reality and certain of its power," Warsaw-based sociologist Pawel Boryszewski told AFP Friday.

"These cases could fuel a wave of criticism against the church."

Wesolowski was ordained in 1972 by then-Archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who later became Pope John Paul II.

The late pontiff named Wesolowski the Vatican's envoy to Bolivia. He was later posted to several Asian countries before being dispatched to the Dominican by former pope Bendict XVI in 2008.

Earlier this month, Pope Francis came under fire from victims groups following news he had quietly sacked Wesolowski.

Pope Francis has vowed to crack down on abuse in the Catholic Church, reiterating the zero-tolerance approach taken up by his predecessor Benedict XVI after a wave of revelations.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130927/polands-catholic-church-apologises-paedophile-scandal-spreads