Polish activists pull down statue of priest in abuse protest

Activists in Poland pulled down a statue of a priest early Thursday after increasing allegations that he sexually abused minors, a stunt they said was to protest the failure of the Polish Catholic Church in resolving the problem of clergy sex abuse.

The protest comes as Pope Francis has gathered church leaders from around the world at the Vatican to grapple with the church's sex abuse crisis.

Video footage showed three men attaching a rope around the statue of the late Monsignor Henryk Jankowski in the northern city of Gdansk and then pulling it down to the ground under the cover of darkness. The activists then placed children's underwear in one of the statue's hands and a small white laced church vestment worn by altar boys on the statue's body to symbolize the suffering of children molested by the prelate.

The private broadcaster TVN24 reported the three men were arrested.

Jankowski, who died in 2010, rose to prominence in the 1980s through his support for the pro-democracy Solidarity movement and its leader, Lech Walesa, in their struggle against Poland's communist regime. World leaders including President George H.W. Bush and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited his church in recognition of his anti-communist activity.

But in recent months, allegations have surfaced that Jankowski abused minors, mostly boys.

In a manifesto, the activists said they were acting to protest a failure by church leaders to fully investigate the Jankowski case and take steps to make future sex abuse less likely.

"We accuse the institutions of the Catholic church and its representatives, who with full consciousness of the evil done by Henryk Jankowski, failed to act to put an end to evil, remained silent or — like (Gdansk Archbishop) Slawoj Leszek Glodz — tolerated the risk of there being more victims," they wrote.

The activists placed rubber tires on the ground to cushion the fall of the statue, explaining that their goal was not to physically destroy the monument but rather to upend "the false and hideous myth" of the priest.

By the time morning came, however, authorities in heavily Catholic Poland had covered the statue with blue plastic.

Church authorities will now be in the uncomfortable position of having to decide whether to remove the statue altogether from the square or re-erect it, which could spark more outrage.