May 17, 2019 / 10:15 AM / in 2 days

Poland's pro-EU opposition takes big lead after Church abuse scandal - poll

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s pro-EU opposition has a 10-point lead over the ruling nationalists ahead of European Parliament elections, a survey showed on Friday, a sharp turnaround that some analysts linked to a film about sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church.

FILE PHOTO: People wave European Union and Polish flags during a protest against supreme court legislation in Warsaw, Poland, July 21, 2017. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo

The documentary “Just don’t tell anyone”, which shows victims of child abuse confronting priests who had sexually abused them, has shocked Poles. The powerful Catholic Church has close ties with the governing Law and Justice party (PiS).

The European Coalition, which comprises pro-Europeans from across the political spectrum, would win 43.6% and PiS 32.9% in the May 26 election, according to the poll, conducted on May 14-16 by the Institute for Research into Public Affairs (IBSP) for Newsweek and Radio Zet.

Most previous opinion polls have put PiS, which takes a conservative stance on social and moral issues while favouring a bigger state role in the economy, in the lead for both the EU election and for a national election due later in 2019.

The drop in support for PiS ahead of the EU elections is linked to the strong emotions stirred up by the documentary, said Lukasz Pawlowski from the Polish Nationwide Research Group, to which IBSP belongs.

“The biggest drops are observed in the group of voters who are not closely associated with the Church. Evidently, the outflow is related to the subject of the priests’ scandal and favours the European Coalition,” he told Newsweek, adding that smaller right-wing parties had also seen their support increase.

These include the far-right Confederation party, whose support grew by five percentage points in the space of a week to hit 6.9 percent, the survey showed.

The sex abuse documentary has been viewed more than 18 million times on YouTube since it was released last Saturday.

PiS has responded to the public outcry by announcing tougher penalties for child abuse but it has also stressed that the instances of abuse by priests should not be used as a reason to attack the Catholic Church.

PiS sees Catholicism as a key element of Poles’ national identity. Liberal Poles say the Church is too powerful.

Izabela Styczynska, the president of Warsaw-based think tank the Center for Social and Economic Research (CASE), said negative perceptions of PiS and the Church had increased following the film, but added: “The question is - will this last?”

Not all analysts were convinced by the survey’s findings.

“I don’t doubt that support for PiS is falling... but I don’t know if it would be by as much as 10 percentage points,” said Anna Materska-Sosnowska, a political scientist at Warsaw University, adding the poll results appeared “exaggerated”.

Reporting by Alan Charlish; Editing by Gareth Jones

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