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Poland's Catholic Church vows 'zero tolerance' on pedophilia

Poland’s Catholic Church has apologized to victims of child sexual abuse by priests, vowing a "zero tolerance" stance. The move comes a day after controversial comments made by the church’s Archbishop.

The country's bishops met in Warsaw for a second day on Wednesday to draw up guidelines on how to prevent child sex abuse perpetrated from within the clergy. Protocols were also set out on how to help victims and ensure pedophile priests received justice.

"We ask forgiveness for our priests who have harmed children," Bishop Wojciech Polak, secretary general of the Polish Episcopate told reporters, adding the church would have a "zero tolerance" approach to pedophilia.

The meeting had come after the emergence of two cases of child abuse by priests, with two Polish priests based in the Dominican Republic among the accused. One of those priests was a Vatican envoy. Some 27 priests have been convicted in Poland of abusing children.

Backlash on controversial comments

The church had backtracked from comments made on Tuesday by Archbishop Jozef Michalik to Polish broadcaster TVN24. The comments were interpreted by many as an attempt to shift blame from the doorstep of the Catholic Church.

"And one has to say ... how many wounds are inflicted when parents divorce? We often hear that this inappropriate attitude (pedophilia), or abuse, manifests itself when a child is seeking love," Michalik said Tuesday. "(The child) clings, it searches. It gets lost itself and then draws another person into this."

'Slip of the tongue'

A spokesman for the episcopate said the comments had been a "pure slip of the tongue," while Michalik later said the context of his comment "was as follows: a child is always innocent. But it can be hurt not only by priests but also by its own environment."

Despite the hard line approach and guidelines, Polish church leaders have stopped short at offering any monetary compensation for victims.

ph/mz (AP, AFP)