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RC media in Poland defend Pope St John Paul II against ‘fabricated’ cover up claims

03 February 2023


Pope St John Paul II

Pope St John Paul II

ROMAN CATHOLIC newspapers in Poland have defended Pope St John Paul II against claims that he covered up sexual abuse by clergy, and accused critics of publishing “grossly fabricated information” about him.

“Being an authority, guide and leader usually means a person is not only imitated, admired and respected, but also closely watched,” the editors said in a joint statement, released with essays by leading Catholic writers.

“But how could such an unprecedented attack happen in the homeland of this saintly pope? This media spectacle, directed with great skill, lures us with promises that truth will be revealed. How sad it is that so many people have been deceived.”

The co-ordinated action was taken in response to media claims that the then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla knew about paedophile priests while heading the Archdiocese of Krakow from 1964 to 1978.

The editors said that they were concerned to highlight the unreliability and “ahistorical nature” of the allegations against the Pope, who had “changed history” both as “an outstanding politician and diplomat”, and “as a priest, teacher and witness”.

Claims that the future Pope ignored abuse by local clergy were made last November by a Krakow-based Dutch journalist, Ekke Overbeek, who referred to material from Communist secret police archives.

The claims were rejected, however, by John Paul II’s former postulator, Mgr Slawomir Oder, who said that his life record had been comprehensively examined before he was proclaimed a saint, as well as by the Bishops’ Conference of Poland, which said that attempts were being made to question the former Pope’s authority and diminish his teaching against “contemporary ideologies promoting hedonism, relativism and moral nihilism”.

John Paul II died after a 26-year pontificate, in April 2005, in Rome, where he was beatified in May 2011 and canonised in April 2014.

In November 2020, a 460-page Vatican report exposed errors of judgement in both his treatment of Marcial Maciel Degollado (1920-2008), the Mexican founder and director of the Legion of Christ, and his promotion of the US Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who, in 2019, was removed from office for sexual crimes over three decades.

The report was followed by demands from anti-clerical politicians in Poland for his honorary citizenship of Warsaw, Gdansk, and other cities to be revoked, although supporters circulated a counter-petition, deploring the “unprecedented attack”.

A senior Polish Radio presenter, Malgorzata Glabisz-Pniewska, told the Church Times this week that she believed efforts were being made to “discredit the Pope’s claims to sanctity” partly for political reasons, and that the “search for evidence against him” could extend even further back, to his years as a seminarian and priest.

A Polish former secretary-general of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, Mgr Piotr Mazurkiewicz, said that the reliance on files from Poland’s secret police, which listed him as a “target to watch” as early as 1946, was “highly questionable”, given its “routine use of false, manipulative information” against the Church.

Besides holding dozens of honorary citizenships, John Paul II has given his name to more than 1300 schools in Poland, as well as to hundreds of streets, squares, and hospitals, while one hundred statues of the Pope were estimated to have been unveiled annually in the decade after his death.

Dozens of churches have also been dedicated to him, while Polish church leaders have called for him to be declared a “Doctor of the Church”: a title so far reserved for 36 historic saints who did most to define Church teaching.

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