Poland’s Catholic Church has vigorously defended the record of St John Paul II in handling clerical sex abuse, after a November Vatican report raised questions about his promotion of the disgraced American ex-cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, as hundreds of priests, university professors and public figures also signed petitions upholding his good name.
“In any historical assessment of John Paul II’s attitude, the decisive factor is undoubtedly the knowledge he had or sought, and the decisions he took from the information he had,” said a survey of the case, prepared for the Polish Bishops Conference. “All evidence indicates that John Paul II’s decisions cannot be treated as hasty or reckless, but should be seen as based on carefully weighed information.”
The survey was published in response to attacks on the late pontiff in light of the 460-page report, which relates how John Paul II appointed McCarrick Archbishop of Washington in 2000 and raised him to cardinal a year later, despite past accusations of abuse while he was a bishop and archbishop in New York, New Jersey and Newark.
It said media coverage had distorted parts of the Vatican report, which demonstrated there had been direct or up-to-date accusations against McCarrick at the time of his nomination, and that the Polish Pope had been given false or incomplete information about him. Claims that John Paul II had known “McCarrick was a paedophile”, testified to a lack of knowledge of the report’s contents or to “deliberate lies”, the Polish survey added.
Meanwhile, claims that John Paul II had “hushed up paedophile acts by Catholic clergy” were also rejected by prominent Polish priests and over 1200 professors and lecturers, who said they were an attempt to “transform the image of a person deserving the highest respect into someone complicit in heinous crimes.”
“We understand the need for thorough study of the biographies of outstanding historical figures – but a balanced reflection and thorough analysis have nothing to do with emotional, unreasoned or ideologically motivated destruction,” the academics said. “Like everyone else, John Paul II deserves to be spoken about honestly. By slandering and demeaning him, we inflict great harm not on him, but on ourselves, by showing a lack of respect for the great achievements and lasting successes of recent history.”
The reputation of John Paul II (1920-2005) is highly sensitive in his native Poland, whose Church lobbied for his early beatification and canonisation in 2014, but was rebuffed when it petitioned the Vatican and bishops worldwide a year ago to have him elevated still further as a Doctor of the Church and patron saint of Europe.
However, the Vatican report also hints at misjudgements by other senior figures, including St John Paul’s long-serving Polish secretary, retired Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who handled correspondence with McCarrick, and is expected to spur more critical evaluations of the pontiff, notably over his appointment of other discredited leaders.
In a statement on Monday, the president of Poland’s Bishops Conference said John Paul II had been the first Pope to introduce Church regulations protecting young people and calling abusive clergy to account, and had also “provided inspiration” for further action against child molesters.
“A just judgment and punishment are needed for perpetrators, as well as unceasing care for the safety of children, youngsters and adults both in the Church and in other circles,” said Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki. “But any attack on St John Paul II is essentially an attack on the Church doctrine this Pope proclaimed throughout his pontificate. So I thank all those now giving a truthful testimony about the life and teaching of this saintly Pope.”