POLAND, WARSAW: An alleged television news report claims that while serving as archbishop in his home country of Poland, St. John Paul II was aware of sexual abuse of children by priests under his authority and tried to cover it up.
Late on Monday, Polish channel TVN24 aired a story in which they named three priests whom the future pope, then known as Archbishop Karol Wojtyla, had transferred between parishes or sent to a cloister during the 1970s after they were accused of abusing minors. One of the priests was even sent to Austria.
TVN24 reported that after 2 and a half years of investigating, two of the priests, Eugeniusz Surgent and Jozef Loranc, had served short prison terms for the abuse. From 1964 until his election as Pope in 1978, Wojtyla was the archbishop of Krakow. He passed away in 2005, and in 2014, after a streamlined process, he was canonized as a saint.
TVN24 used documents from the secret security services of communist Poland, which had informants within the Catholic Church and sought to discredit it. Documents are stored in the state’s National Remembrance Institute’s archives. Marcin Gutowski, a journalist, interviewed several alleged victims and a man who claims he told Wojtyla about Surgent’s abuse in the 1970s. Nobody in the clergy was ever defrocked.
A letter supposedly written by Wojtyla to the then-archbishop of Vienna, Franz Koenig, recommending a priest for his care was also referenced on the TV show. As a result of Wojtyla’s silence, Boleslaw Sadus was appointed as a parish priest in Austria, despite allegations that he had sexually abused young boys. Even after becoming pope, Wojtyla maintained contact with Sadus.
According to TVN24’s investigation, there is no doubt that Wojtyla was aware of and actively tried to cover up priest abuse in his archdiocese.
An author on the topic of clergy abuse in the Krakow diocese, who also claimed that Wojtyla’s response was in line with the norms of the Catholic Church at the time, was featured on the program.
Dominican friar Pawe Guyski said on TVN24 on Tuesday that the findings will lead to a “deconstruction of the image of John Paul II that we have been using so far,” adding that some people may not be ready to cope with the new facts.
Though, as Guyski emphasized, “there is no equality sign between sainthood and total absence of mistakes, even crimes in someone’s actions.”
Tuesday, a group of Polish church officials responsible for the safety of children issued a communique saying more study was needed before Wojtyla’s actions could be “fairly assessed.” Church leaders have repeatedly assured members that they are open to hearing from and helping abuse survivors.
In response to the channel’s investigation, a firestorm of controversy has broken out in Poland, with some commentators accusing left-wing forces of trying to smear John Paul II’s legacy, and others calling on the Catholic Church to come clean.
The Catholic Prime Minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki, tweeted a photo of Pope John Paul II greeting a crowd in Poland with the words “Do not be afraid,” along with no additional commentary.
Krzysztof Madel, a Polish Jesuit priest, tweeted that attention should be given to the victims.
Radoslaw Brzozka, a Ministry of Education official, tweeted that those who seek to remove Catholicism from Poland’s national identity are attacking John Paul II’s reputation.
When it comes to dealing with sexually abusive priests, John Paul II isn’t the only pope under scrutiny.
An independent report commissioned by the German Catholic Church found fault with four cases handled by his immediate successor, Benedict XVI, who took a much stricter stance and defrocked hundreds of abusive priests.
Pope Francis has been accused of covering up cases of priestly abuse both in his native Argentina and in Chile, where he served as bishop and then pontiff.
Experts agreed that the Catholic Church’s leadership has prioritized protecting the church’s reputation over meeting the needs of victims.
The election of Karol Wojtyla as pope in 1978 galvanized Poland’s predominantly Catholic population to openly oppose the country’s communist system, leading to its eventual downfall.
For centuries, the Polish Catholic Church has been deeply involved in state affairs. The church’s reputation has taken a hit due to recent revelations about pedophile priests and the close ties it has with the current right-wing government.