WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The chairman of Poland's conservative ruling party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has called the LGBT rights movement a foreign import that threatens the Polish nation.
Kaczynski, a member of parliament who wields tremendous influence as leader of the Law and Justice party, also said during a lecture on patriotism that "everyone must accept Christianity" in Poland and questioning the Roman Catholic Church is unpatriotic.
The positions Kaczynski expressed Wednesday in the central city of Wloclawek came as Poland's powerful Catholic Church is under scrutiny for child sex abuse by clergy and superiors who might have covered up for pedophile priests.
Poland also has two elections this year: the vote next month to elect the country's representatives to the European Union parliament and a national election in the fall.
With his remarks, Kaczynski seemed to be tapping into the belief held by some Poles that liberal values have been forced on them as a result of Poland joining the EU 15 years ago.
Kaczynski's Law and Justice party won the last general election in 2015, the height of Europe's mass migration crisis. The party's campaign included portraying Muslim refugees as a threat to Poland.
In recent weeks, Law and Justice has described the LGBT rights movement as another danger to Polish families and children. LGBT rights have become increasingly visible as more Polish cities and towns hold gay pride parades, even places known as bastions of the church and conservative values.
Miroslawa Makuchowska, from the group Campaign Against Homophobia, said she thinks the party chairman's anti-LGBT message was meant to distract attention from corruption scandals in the Catholic Church and in the Polish government.
"These are the same methods and same messages" used to demonize Muslim immigrants, Makuchowska said. "It's appalling and frightening because it's scapegoating."
The Catholic Church has long been revered as the institution that kept the language and spirit of Poland's people alive during a long period of foreign rule, while also supporting the democracy movement under communism
But the church's standing has taken a hit as sex abuse victims increasingly speak publicly about past crimes of accused priests. Public opinion surveys show falling support for having nuns and priests, or even lay educators, teach religion in public schools, as is now the case.
A movie about the clergy abuse problem, "Kler" (Clergy), became a blockbuster hit last year. On Wednesday, Kaczynski called the film an "attack on the church" and alleged it's the LGBT rights movement that puts Polish children at risk.
"We are dealing with a direct attack on the family and children - the sexualization of children, that entire LBGT movement, gender," he said. "This is imported, but they, today, actually threaten our identity, our nation, its continuation and therefore the Polish state."
This story has been corrected to show that the name of the city where Kaczynski spoke is Wloclawek, not Wroclawek.