A TV program, a book with accusations against Saint John Paul II. Two reactions of Polish Bishops. And an initial analysis by ZENIT’s Editorial Director with some background reflections.
(ZENIT News / Rome, 09.03.2023).- On Monday, March 6, Poland’s TVN24 channel broadcast a program in which, among other things, John Paul II was accused of handling inadequately three cases of priests who committed the crime of pederasty when Wojtyla was Archbishop of Krakow (1964-1978). Two of the three individuals were imprisoned and the third (Boleslaw Sadus) was sent to Austria in the decade of the ‘70s.
Journalist Marcin Gutowski’s program mentions several alleged victims, which elicits in the public an emotional empathy, and he uses a letter with which Cardinal Wojtyla placed Sadus under the care of the Archbishop of Vienna. The criminals were moved from parishes when the accusations were made known.
Documents of the Secret Services of Poland’s Communist period are used as the main sources for the program and the conclusion — according to the journalist and the TV channel – is that Archbishop Wojtyla sought to conceal the abuses and the abusers.
Two days after, in the same week, a Dutch journalist called Ekke Overbeek made public the book “Maxima Culpa: John Paul II Knew.” The book came with a letter of presentation to public opinion: the cover of Newsweek magazine has a photo of John Paul II and the title “The Hidden Truth about Paedophilia.” The book goes deeper into the accusations of a coverup by John Paul II when he was Archbishop of Krakow.
That same week other media, such as the progressive Leftist Gazeta Wyborcza, launched accusations of abuses against Archbishop Wojtyla’s predecessor, Cardinal Adam Sapieha, even suggesting a relationship between both of them. The accusations against Cardinal Sapieha are based on the affirmations of a collaborationist priest of the Communist regime, Anatol Boczek, who in fact gave statements to the Polish Secret Services of the Communist period (sources that were used by the journalist of the TV program and also for the book), after Sapieha suspended him precisely for that collaborationism. The accusations have sparked a public debate that has ended in the Parliament.
On Wednesday, March 8, the Prime Minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki, defended publicly John Paul II’s good name , stating as “very doubtful” the accusations against the Pontiff. “I am defending our Pope because I know that we owe a lot to John Paul II as a nation. Perhaps we owe him everything,” he said. He also stressed that those who have launched the accusations come from ambits that promote a cultural war in the country.
One day later, on Thursday March 9, the Polish Parliament approved a Resolution in defense of John Paul II’s name: the Parliament “condemns energetically the shameful media campaign, based to a great extent on the materials of the Communist apparatus of violence, whose object is the Great Pope — Saint John Paul II, the greatest Pole in history,” states the Resolution. And, in another section it adds: “We will not allow the destruction of the image of a man whom the whole free world recognizes as a pillar of the victory over the Empire of Evil.”
For its part, the Polish Church issued two press releases: stated on March 7 (as a reaction to the TV program) was that “Two of the cases presented — that of Father Surgent and that of Father Loranc — were already known by the public for some months thanks to the journalistic work of writers Tomasz Krzyzak and Piotr Litka, based primarily on the analysis of two files of the State criminal processes available in the IPN’s files. The results have already been widely commented.” And they specify: “The third one — the case of Father Sadus — was not presented on the basis of a fiscal or judicial investigation, but from the files of the Security Services of the People’s Republic of Poland. On the basis of the sources presented in the film, it’s impossible to establish the qualification of the acts attributed to Fr. Sadus. It’s good to recall that, according to Canon Law at that time, absolute protection was given to 16-year-olds and not as now — since 2001 — to 18-year-olds.”
Acknowledged finally is that “the determination of the role and a just evaluation of the decisions and actions of the Ordinary of the Archdiocese of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, as well as a just explanation of the accusations against Cardinal Adam Sapieha, require greater archive investigation.”
In a second press release on March 9, a day after the publication of the book, the President of the Polish Episcopal Conference requested “All people of good will not to destroy John Paul II’s legacy.”
The President of the Polish Episcopate pointed out that “the authors of these criticisms have attempted to assess Karol Wojtyla in a tendentious way, often unhistorical, without knowing the context, considering, uncritically, documents elaborated by the Communist Secret Services as reliable sources,” adding that, “by doing so, they have not taken into account the existing reports and studies that portray in a reliable way his words and actions.”
Archbishop Gadecki underscored that from John Paul II’s decision, “the Church has made a considerable effort to establish structures and develop clear procedures that guarantee the safety of children and young people, to duly punish the guilty of sexual crimes and, especially, to help those that have been harmed.”
He added that to defend the holiness and greatness of John Paul II does not mean to affirms that he couldn’t commit errors. “To be Pastor of the Church at a moment of Europe’s division between the West and the Soviet Bloc meant having to address challenges that weren’t easy. It must also be taken into account that, at that time, and not only in Poland, the laws were different from those of the present, there was a different social awareness and usual ways of resolving problems,” he reminded.
Opposition politicians, progressives and leftists have asked that John Paul II’s name be removed from public areas such as schools and Squares. A councillor of the Left, Agata Diduszko-Zyglewska, of the city of Warsaw even said: “We need to remove John Paul II from the public space.”
Striking is the fact that it’s precisely the Leftist realm, heir of Communism that did so much evil to Poland and to the whole world, from which the political petitions come but also from which the synchronized attacks proceed against a particular figure of the world’s history.
It goes without saying that the Publishing House (Agora) behind Dutch Ekke Overbeek’s book is the same as that behind Gazeta Wyborcza; or to point out that Newsweek has behind it the Swiss-German medium (yes, Germans) Ringier Axel Springer, the same one that is behind the Onet site, friend, promoter and digital amplifier of the documentary, of the book and of the lucubrations of Gazeta and Newsweek, for younger publics, publics not given to reading, that only occasionally watch conventional TV and, especially, young people who didn’t know John Paul II directly and all that he did not only for his own country.
It’s also true that the Polish Church’s reputation is not going through a good moment. Since 2019 the topic of the handling of abuses by the Church is a stone in the shoe. To this have been added some documentaries, which share information that is more critical of public opinion. (think of “Sag es none” of 2019. In all this context, Pope Francis has removed some Bishops for the poor handling of abuses against minors in keeping with current legislation (see, for example, “Vatican, Abuses and Zero Tolerance: The Case of Two Polish Bishops, One Exonerated and the Other Convicted”).
Several considerations to reflect upon:
1st The Main Source and the Trust That Must Be Given It. The main source of the program and the book cannot go unnoticed, they are the secret archives during the Communist period in Poland. Many Poles who lived that period of terror in their country, or lived the process of change of that regime to a democratic one of freedom, doubt the accusations against John Paul II precisely because the Communist regime did not enjoy and does not enjoy a reputation: it invented proofs not only against ecclesiastics but against all opponents. And today, those are the main sources.
In an article of KAI agency, published in Spanish by ZENIT, it is affirmed that: “Obverbeek’s book follows a predetermined agenda; its author lacks historical formation and is almost totally uncritical when it comes to the archives of the Communist Secret Police. This is the assessment of Ekke Overbeek’s book — “Maxima Culpa. Jan Pawel II wiedzial” [Maxima Culpa. John Paul II Knew,” published in Poland –, of Marcin Przeciszewski, President of Poland’s Catholic Information Agency (KAI). The publication has also been harshly criticized by other Polish historians that are concerned with the most recent history of the Church.”
And, referring to Wojtyla’s conduct described in the book as Archbishop of Krakow, KAI’s President calls attention to the imprudent and naïve way in which the documents of the Communist Security Services were consulted. For his part, “Dr Marek Lasota, respected historian and for many years Director of the Krakow section of the Institute of National Remembrance, adopts a similar point of view. Focusing on four cases, Overbeek holds that, despite his knowledge, Wojtyla tried to cover up the crimes of the paedophile priests and, instead of punishing them explicitly, moved them from one parish to another. Commenting on these sensationalist affirmations, Dr Lasota emphasizes that it must be taken into account that Cardinal Wojtyla delegated his functions; he was not concerned personally with all the cases and that, although certain documents arrived at the Curia, he had no reason to be abreast of all of them. “In other words, the general conclusion that he should have been abreast of everything lacks justification in the light of these sources,” points out the historian.
2nd The Prime Minister’s Statement, Who Considers that a Cultural War Is Being Waged. In fact, Poland is one of the few European countries that has not given in to the West’s progressive agenda, both on the subject of protection of the family as well as the defense of the conceived baby. Along with Malta and Hungary, Poland is in a very different place from the rest of Europe. Can it be forgotten that in 2021, the German Head of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, applied economic sanctions to Poland for not abiding by the agenda of the gender ideology, after the Poles shielded their constitution? In a real sense, the figure of John Paul II has been and is a sort of shield. To lay down the shield is a good way to win or advanced in this cultural battle.
3rd The President of the Polish Episcopate (who celebrated Mass at John Paul II’s altar on Thursday morning, March 9) opened an interesting consideration: the Holiness and greatness of John Paul II does not mean to affirm that he couldn’t commit errors, and the fact that the laws were different from those now, which implies a different social awareness and different ways of solving problems. In other words, he seems to suggest that past history cannot be judged with the present criteria. The first press release is also in this line: “It is good to recall that, according to Canon Law at the time, absolute protection was given to those under 16 years of age and not, as now — since 2001 — to those under 18 years of age.”
4th The Intentions and the Defense of the Dead. For those who think of it with serenity and good will, the fact makes one reflect that the intentions are judged of people who at this moment can no longer defend themselves and answer because they are dead. To say that “the intention” of the Archbishop of Krakow was to conceal abuses is to enter the sphere to attribute what one thinks to another. And because of intellectual honesty, any person is capable of understanding that reality doesn’t function that way, for the simple reason that no one can read the thoughts of third parties. To this is added the fact that a person is being attacked who can no longer defend himself against accusations of this sort.
5th The Call of Warsaw’s Councillor to Banish John Paul II: is of Leftist politics, in fact in all this realm of which are also the “coalition” Gazeta Wyborcza, Agora, Newsweek, TVN and Onet. Moreover, that everything was so chronologically thought out, induces to wonder if the intention was to sell a book or to defend the victims of abuses. Because the book is not given away. And of course to a leftist agenda (heiress of Communism), erasing John Paul II smooths the way.
6th The Qualifiers. It is striking that mediums such as AFP and AP allude to those that defend John Paul II with qualifiers such as “conservatives,” “traditional Catholics,” ”religious Poles” just because they are not in the line of the writer of the day or of the Leftist press. It is striking that there are no allusions, at least analogous ones, to refer in this way to the heirs of that Communism which killed millions of people in and outside of Poland.
7th Can the Memory of Others Be Stained on the Basis of Lucubrations? We are not now referring to John Paul II only but also to Cardinal Sapieha himself. Insinuated this week has been his homosexuality and homosexual practices. And to do so, recourse is taken to the same source of the Secret Services of the Communist period. Used, for example, is the “testimony” of Father Andrsej Mistat, Cardinal Sapieha’s chaplain. But it’s not said that that “testimony” was written on a table of the Communist Secret Services after the Cardinal was arrested, threatened, not knowing what could happen to him if he didn’t obey. It is certainly especially repugnant that “Catholic” media, such as Tygodnik Powszechny insinuate things about Wojtyla and Sapieha.
8th Finally, all this controversy obliges the Archbishopric of Krakow to open and, why not, justify better its own archives. It’s not about simply doing so or not, but about what to open and to whom to open a source that not only in the ecclesial realm is usually associated with respect for people’s privacy. Privacy that calls for years. That happens thus in all sectors.
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