Polish film The Clergy breaks box office records before sparking hundreds of abuse allegations

Clarisse Loughrey
Arkadiusz Jakubik playing a priest in the Polish movie 'Kler', directed by Wojciech Smarzowski: REUTERS

Polish box-office sensation The Clergy has inspired hundreds of people to come forward with allegations of abuse.

Directed by Wojciech Smarzowski, Kler (which translates to The Clergy) depicts corruption and sexual abuse within the Polish priesthood, with producers claiming it is based on real events.

The film includes testimonies of abuse survivors and features a priest character who is guilty of sexually abusing a young boy; the narrative also has an alcoholic priest who forces his lover to have an abortion and a senior cleric who is involved in blackmail.

Local reports have stated that the film has inspired many individuals to come forward with allegations of abuse committed by current and former priests.

Released in Poland on 28 September, the film broke the country's opening weekend box office record with 935,000 admissions (Poland's box office tracks admissions rather than revenue). Since then, the film has had over 3 million admissions, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The Clergy is on track to become the highest-attended film of all time in Poland, beating James Cameron's Avatar, which saw 3.68 million admissions.

The film's release came weeks after a landmark court decision saw a judge rule that Poland's Catholic Church bore responsibility for a priest imprisoned for the abduction and rape of a 13-year-old. The church was ordered to pay an unprecedented 1 million zloty ($233,000) in damages.

Individuals in the Polish clergy have criticised the film or dismissed it as "vulgar clergyphobia", although there has been no official statement from the Polish episcopate.

Andrzej Czaja, the bishop of Opole, in south-west Poland, read a letter out to his congregation that included the statement: "We appeal to God for mercy and especially for God’s blessing and case for all of those who are suffering because of us." He promised to publish information about instances of abuse, but the Polish press has reported a number of priests in his diocese refused to read out the letter or omitted references to paedophilia within the church.

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