The image of Pope John Paul II, sanctified and venerated in Poland, has just received two strong blows in his country. Two parallel investigations reveal that before arriving at the Vatican, then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla covered up cases of child abuse committed by at least three priests from his diocese in Krakow, in southern Poland. According to a documentary broadcast this Sunday on the TVN24 channel, Wojtyla changed his destination to priests accused of pedophilia to silence the victims and avoid scandals. This Wednesday the book is also published in the country Maximum Guilt: Jan Paweł II wiedzial (maximum guilt: John Paul II knew), an investigation by the Dutch correspondent Ekke Overbeek that addresses the same issue.
Polish journalist Marcin Gutowski has spent more than two years trying to answer the question of what John Paul II knew about child abuse cases in the Polish Church. For years there has been much debate about whether the Pope was aware during his pontificate of the abuses perpetrated within the Catholic Church. His defenders claimed that he did not know the scale of the problem and that he began to see the first signs when he was already very sick. The research papers that are seeing the light this week show the opposite.
Gutowski and his team have interviewed victims of abuse, relatives and witnesses of cases registered during the tenure of Archbishop and Cardinal Wojtyla, who headed the Archdiocese of Krakow between 1964 and 1978. The reporter also had access to ecclesiastical documents, although the diocese of Krakow refused to give him permission to consult its archives. The conclusion of the work, embodied in Franciszkanska 3 —the address of the seat of the Archdiocese of Krakow—, a 92 minute documentary Advance on the channel’s website over the weekend and broadcast on TVN24 this Monday in Poland, is that Wojtyla knew first-hand of the abuses perpetrated by at least three priests.
“Today we know, without a doubt, that Karol Wojtyla knew about the abuses of priests in Poland and covered them up, before he became pope,” Gutowski says in the documentary, which is part of a broader series on pedophilia in the Church. On the tape, a man who prefers to remain anonymous claims that he personally informed the then cardinal of a case of a priest who committed abuse in Kiczorze. According to his version, Wojtyla asked him to keep quiet.
The Polish cardinal, who was pope for 27 years, from 1978 until his death in 2005, ordered the transfer to different dioceses of the priests accused of abuses. In one case, he sent one of them to Vienna, with a letter of recommendation under his arm addressed to Cardinal Franz Koenig, in which he did not mention the accusations against the priest. Another priest went through five different parishes and was denounced for abuse in all of them. According to the testimonies, some complaints reached Wojtyla directly, who promised to take action, but never imposed any punishment on the culprits.
Rembert Weakland, who was Archbishop of Milwaukee (United States) for 25 years, assures in the documentary that John Paul II confessed to him that he knew of the behavior of his mentor in the seminary, Cardinal Sapieha, who forced seminarians to commit sexual practices. sometimes violent. According to Weakland’s testimony, John Paul II collapsed when he told him about it and acknowledged that he “didn’t know what to do.”
The Dutch journalist Overbeek also documents details of abuses known by the future pope in his book, which some Polish media have advanced excerpts. The case of the priest Józef Loranc stands out, who abused girls in the town of Mutne. Overbeek’s work, which in 2013 published Lekajcie sie: Ofiary pedofilii w polskim kościele mówią (Healing: Victims of Pedophilia in the Polish Church Raise Their Voices), explains that the priest was sentenced to two years in prison in 1970 and was released after serving one.
In a letter found in the archives consulted by Overbeek, Wojtyla tells Loranc: “Taking into account your behavior, which demonstrates the intention to correct errors and a sincere improvement, I consider it advisable that you gradually return to work as a priest.” The cardinal thus allowed him to say mass again, although he removed him from his work as a catechist. In 1975 Wojtyla changed his destination again and suspended him from all parish activity to entrust him to be a chaplain in a hospital.
The accusations against John Paul II, canonized in 2014, have been filling pages in the Polish press for some time, but these two investigations provide new evidence that, according to their authors, dispels any doubt about the cover-up of cases of abuse.
The release of the documentary on Monday has shaken deeply Catholic Polish society, which idolizes John Paul II not only for his papacy, but also for his role in fighting the communist regime. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, of the ultra-conservative Law and Justice (PiS), has not commented, but on Monday night updated the cover photo of their social media profiles with an image of John Paul II before a crowd and a legend: “Do not fear.”
Posted by Mateusz Morawiecki on Monday, March 6, 2023
“Saint John Paul II, pray for Poland”, wrote on Twitter Beata Kempa, MEP from Solidarna Polska, the junior partner of the government coalition, even more to the right of PiS. Klaudia Jachira, representative of the main opposition party, Civic Coalition, opined: “After seeing it, no one should have any doubt that JPII (John Paul II) tolerated pedophilia among his priests for years.”
Jesuit theologian and philosopher Krzysztof Mądel wrote on Twitter that “by bringing Karol Wojtyła to the altars, the Church told the world that it could not protect children, because even the saints responded by moving the predators to new parishes, violating the Canon law”. Tomasz P. Terlikowski, a well-known Catholic activist and philosopher, defended in an article In the diary rzeczpospolita, who has also investigated John Paul II’s position on pedophilia, that “to really understand Karol Wojtyla’s approach to these issues, to what extent it coincided with that of others, and to what extent it was, for example, more lenient or harsher on priests, a much deeper investigation is needed.” In any case, the revelations do not seem sufficient to question his holiness. “The merits of John Paul II for Poland, for the Polish Church, for the fall of communism, are indisputable.”
EL PAÍS launched an investigation into pedophilia in the Spanish Church in 2018 and has a database updated with all known cases. If you know of a case that has not seen the light of day, you can write to us at: [email protected]. If it is a case in Latin America, the address is: [email protected].
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