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Pope rejects accusations against St John Paul II

05 May 2023


Pope John Paul II looks out from the Vatican in 1996

Pope John Paul II looks out from the Vatican in 1996

POPE FRANCIS has condemned new accusations against his predecessor St John Paul II, the latest of a series of abuse-related claims about the Polish pope.

“Certain of interpreting the feelings of the faithful throughout the world,” Pope Francis said in his Regina Caeli message on 16 April, from St Peter’s Square, “I direct a grateful thought to the memory of St John Paul II: the object of offensive and unfounded inferences these past few days.”

The Pope was reacting to allegations last month, in a TV interview by an Italian, Pietro Orlandi, that the late pope had been personally involved in the unexplained disappearance of Mr Orlandi’s sister Emanuela, in June 1982.

In January, Pope Francis appointed a prosecutor to re-examine the case of the 15-year-old, the daughter of a papal usher, including the files, reports, and testimonies collected over decades.

In an interview with Italy’s La7 TV station, Mr Orlandi said that his sister’s abduction had been carried out by local mafia. He also said that Pope John Paul had connived in procuring girls to be sexually exploited inside the Vatican.

In a brief statement on 16 April, the Italian Bishops’ Conference endorsed Pope Francis’s comments, and said that there could be “no half-terms” to describe recent attacks on Pope John Paul.

Pope John Paul’s former secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, urged the Italian judicial authorities to “take appropriate action” to protect his “right to a good name” against “fabricated accusations . . . unreal and ridiculous to the point of comedy”.

Pope John Paul, Cardinal Dziwisz said, had pursued the Orlandi case, providing “tenderness, closeness, and help” for the schoolgirl’s family, who still deserved “care and sympathy” after four decades of grief.

Questions have been raised about Pope John Paul’s handling of paedophilia claims against Roman Catholic clergy. 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 (News, 3 February).

In Poland, calls have been made for his record as Archbishop of Krakow (1964-78) to be examined; claims were made in March, in a book by a Dutch reporter, Ekke Overbeek, that he had ignored abuse by local clergy.

The book referred to Communist secret-police archives, which were also used in a recent TV film, Franciszkanska 3, by the Polish journalist Marcin Gutowski. Although the allegations have been rejected by most experts, anti-clerical groups have demanded revocation of the pope’s honorary Polish citizenships, and the withdrawal of his name from streets, squares, schools, and hospitals.

There has been support for the former Pope. Roman Catholics held marches on 2 April, the anniversary of his death; President Duda laid a wreath on his tomb in St Peter’s Basilica, the next day; and co-ordinated rallies were held by Polish organisations across Europe.

A former close Vatican aide said that many of those now criticising the pope had once “made great efforts” to meet and be photographed with him.

“People like that needed him not as a moral authority and evangelical voice, but as a tool for their political goals,” the Archbishop of Lviv, in Ukraine, the Most Revd Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki, told a congregation on 2 April. “Today, when his teachings contradict their views and become a problem, they need to silence him, and are probably taking the pictures off their walls.”

Pope John Paul II was born on 18 May 1920 in Wadowice, and died, after a 26-year pontificate, on 2 April 2005, in the Vatican. He was beatified in May 2011, and canonised in April 2014; dozens of churches in his homeland are now dedicated in his honour.

The Polish Catholic Information Agency said, however, that statues of the pope had been recently defaced in Lódz and Stalowa Wola, and urged Poland’s bishops to press ahead with a planned abuse investigation, to prevent further “havoc in public awareness”.

The editorial director of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication, Andrea Tornielli, denounced the “slanderous, sleazy accusations” by Mr Orlandi, and said that he was struck that they had been largely ignored by English-language media.

“This is how mud is thrown at the memory of people who are dead and unable to defend themselves,” Mr Tornielli told Vatican Radio on Monday.

“John Paul II is not only a saint, but also a person still present in the hearts of millions — the very brief but eloquent words by Francis show how important it is to look with gratitude at this saintly figure.”

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