13 March 2019, The Tablet

Sexual abuse survivors held a protest demonstration when John Paul II was canonised

Sexual abuse survivors held a protest demonstration when John Paul II was canonised

In all the soul searching in the Catholic Church over clerical child abuse and its cover-up, surprisingly little attention has been paid to the role played by Pope John Paul II. There seems to be a conscious refusal, particularly in the right-wing Catholic media, to acknowledge the responsibility he bore for years of evasion, negligence and even criminal complicity. John Paul II is their model, their hero. His image must not be tarnished.

The evidence is plentiful. Excuses are less easy to come by. Karol Wojtyla, even before he was elected Pope, was aware that the Communist regime that ruled his native Poland was ever willing to invent accusations of sexual misconduct as a weapon against the Catholic clergy. That appears to have shaped his response when, as Pope, he was faced with clear information that Fr Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legion of Christ, was a habitual sex offender who included child abuse and incest among his many crimes.

But there is more to it than that. Marcial Maciel was his kind of Catholic, and the Legion was his kind of Catholicism. It was authoritarian and ultra-conservative, and the head man’s word was law, not to be challenged. It was, so to speak, more Opus Dei than Opus Dei – another organisation John Paul II was to favour. He dismissed the sort of spiritual and moral deviation being alleged as just not credible.

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