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Polish bishops respond to accusations against Karol Wojtyła

Paul VI, Karol Wojtyla

ASSOCIATED PRESS/East News

An undated file photo showing Pope Paul VI, left, greeting his to-be successor Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, at the Vatican.

I.Media - published on 03/24/23

The bishops question the credibility of Communist secret police records.

The recent journalistic investigations accusing Karol Wojtyła of having covered up abuse cases when he was archbishop of Krakow were carried out “in disregard of scientific analysis in a biased, often unhistorical manner without knowledge of the context,” the bishops of Poland protest in a joint statement issued on March 16, 2023, on the occasion of their 394th plenary assembly.

They denounce media manipulation and the exploitation of documents of the Communist secret police, which had the objective of destabilizing the Catholic Church.

“In recent days, the person and image of St. John Paul II have been the subject of an unprecedented attack,” the bishops state after the release of a documentary and a book denouncing the reactions of the then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyła in the face of cases of abusive priests in the Diocese of Krakow, of which he was archbishop from 1964 to 1978.

They point out that these documents from the archives of the Communist secret police are biased and “show above all the extent of surveillance of the person of Cardinal Karol Wojtyła.” 

They express regret that these investigations are based on documents prepared by “people who monitored citizens, wrote accusations, collaborated with the Communist regime, persecuted believers, and violated consciences.”

The Polish bishops are opposed to the idea that “those who opposed the communist dictatorship” should be “ashamed and have to explain themselves.”

A documentary broadcast in Poland on the privately-owned TVN channel on March 5, as well as a book published on March 8 by Dutch journalist Ekke Overbeek, have indeed provoked a media storm about the way Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, the future John Paul II, handled cases of priests of the diocese of Krakow guilty of sexual abuse of minors. The Polish bishops called for the creation of a commission to investigate the diocesan archives and thus restore balance in the face of documentation considered partial and biased.

One of the cases had already been addressed in an investigation by the newspaper Rzeczpospolita published in December 2022, which had instead emphasized the firmness and rigor of Cardinal Wojtyła.

The Archbishop of Krakow had indeed removed from ministry a priest convicted of sexual abuse of young girls, who had been sentenced by a civil court. He then reinstated him in the parish, but without the possibility of confessing or catechizing, and under the strict supervision of the parish priest-dean, in accordance with the 1917 Code of Canon Law then in force. This newspaper recently republished the article to demonstrate that the accusations of inaction made against the future pontiff are unfounded.

Defending the legacy of John Paul II

“Saint John Paul II is one of the greatest compatriots in our history. He is also the father of our freedom. He walked before us like Moses – he brought us out of the house of slavery, led us through the Red Sea,” the bishops insist, placing the Polish pontiff “in the line of the great prophets.”

“His pilgrimages to his homeland were great retreats for the nation, milestones in our history, a breath of the Holy Spirit in the consciences of tormented and disoriented compatriots,” they recall.

The visits of John Paul II in 1979, 1983, and 1987 weakened the dictatorship then in power in Poland, and were important milestones towards the fall of the Communist regimes in Central Europe and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The Polish bishops also emphasize that John Paul II “was the first citizen of the world; he went to all nations,” they recall, referring to the 104 international trips of the Polish pope. “He called for the spiritual unity of Europe and reminded us of its Christian roots, from which our culture and civilization have developed,” they added.

“His papal preaching, apostolic visits and diplomatic efforts have contributed to the spiritual growth of millions of people around the world,” they said. For them, John Paul II “was and remains a moral point of reference, a master of faith and an intercessor in heaven.

“The process of canonization that was carried out with a thorough historical and scientific analysis leaves no doubt about the holiness of John Paul II,” the Polish bishops insist.

Among them is Bishop Slawomir Oder, who was the postulator of the cause of beatification and canonization of John Paul II and who was ordained on March 11 as Bishop of Gliwice in the south of the country.

“The Church’s judgment on the sanctity of a person is not made on the basis of his individual decisions or lack thereof,” they said, explaining that during these complex procedures, “the person’s whole life and activities, as well as the fruits derived from them, are taken into account.”

“As Pope, St. John Paul II considered causing a child harm in the sexual realm to be one of the most serious crimes,” they insist. Referring to the 2001 motu proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela, drafted with the help of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Polish bishops recall that John Paul II “obliged all the world’s bishops to introduce specific norms for dealing with such cases.”

“Faithful to his instructions, we’re concerned today with the safety of young people within the structures of the Church. We feel obliged to listen and to give concrete help to all those who are hurt,” they say.

Refusal of political instrumentalization

While the memory of John Paul II has become a point of division between the government and the liberal opposition months before the parliamentary elections scheduled for the fall of 2023, the bishops call for the opposing parties “not to use the person of the Polish pope for current political purposes.”

“Let us not be divided. Let us defend together our most precious values,” the bishops insist, in a climate of deep concern in Poland regarding the Russian offensive in Ukraine.

This joint statement is in addition to that of Bishop Stanisław Gądecki, the president of the Polish episcopate, who asked on March 9 “not to destroy the common good and the legacy” of John Paul II. 

In a recent interview with I.MEDIA, Father Stanisław Tasiemski, vice president of KAI, the Polish Catholic Information Agency, recalled that during the canonization process of John Paul II, these issues related to cases of abuse were examined, and the experts concluded that Cardinal Wojtyła had acted according to the law of the time. 

The documents used by the documentary’s director, he explained, came from the communist secret police, and some may have been provided by troublemakers lacking “credibility.”

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