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No, John Paul II does not appear to have covered up for paedophile priests when he was a bishop

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Poland – There was a time, especially upon his death in 2005, when Pope John Paul II seemed to unite the Poles around himself. This has not been the case for a number of years, however, as the media and some politicians of the progressive/liberal left have been fostering the idea that the Polish pope probably worked to hide paedophile scandals, just as the entire Church in Poland has supposedly been doing up to the present – at least according to these same sources. Until now, however, these parties could not make any specific accusations or show any concrete evidence to support them, while they seemed to be willingly ignoring the fact that it was John Paul II who, in 2001, was the first pope to establish procedures which were to be applied in dioceses around the world when confronted with accusations of paedophilia among members of the clergy. These matters had previously been dealt with by each diocese in its own way.

But in early March, the Polish TVN television network released a documentary film which claims to prove that St John Paul II, when he was still only Archbishop Karol Wojtyła of Krakow (1964-78) and then Cardinal of the Catholic Church (from 1967), was aware of paedophile crimes committed by his priests and yet swept them under the carpet, choosing only to transfer such criminals to other parishes – and therefore putting other children in danger – in order to prevent these cases from coming to light. At the same time, the Agora media group (a company with a George Soros fund among its shareholders), which owns the Gazeta Wyborcza daily newspaper, among other media outlets, published a book by a Dutch journalist living in Poland which makes similar allegations. They are linked to the same set of paedophile priests as TVN’s report, on the basis of the same documents from the archives of the Communist regime’s secret police, and which can be consulted at the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN).

The US ambassador “invited” to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a special resolution passed in the Sejm

This has stirred much controversy in Poland, where supporters and opponents of Pope John Paul II are at each other’s throats. Foreign Affairs Minister Zbigniew Rau “invited” US Ambassador Mark Brzezinski (Zbigniew Brzezinski’s son) to warn him about TVN’s actions, given that it is owned by America’s Warner Bros. Discovery media company. TVN’s attacks on Saint John Paul II were said by Poland’s foreign affairs ministry to divide Poles in the same manner as the “hybrid war” being waged by Vladimir Putin’s Russia is endeavouring to do. The Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament, even passed a special resolution to defend the name of Saint John Paul II. The vote on this resolution laid bare the right/left divide on this issue. The parties in the government coalition, which all belong to the Law and Justice (PiS) group in the Sejm, voted in favour of the resolution, as did the nationalist and libertarian coalition Konfederacja and the agrarian party PSL, which, like PiS, claims to be a Christian Democratic bloc. Donald Tusk’s liberal Civic Platform (PO) chose not to participate in the vote, while the rest of the left voted against the resolution.

The initial reactions were often hysterical on both sides of this political-media divide, as the same right-left pattern could be observed in the media. When the dust settled a bit, however, the time came for more reactions and analyses of the merits of the accusations made by TVN reporter Marcin Gutowski in the documentary Franciskańska 3 as well as by Dutch journalist Ekke Overbeek in his book Maxima Culpa – Jean Paweł wiedział (“Maxima Culpa: John Paul II Knew”), pointing to significant weaknesses and possibly even conscious manipulations within the two journalists’ narrative.

The evidence looks scant upon a closer look…

Many doubts have been raised concerning the “evidence” that Karol Wojtyła hid cases of paedophilia and protected paedophile priests when he was archbishop of Krakow, and only some of the most important examples are explained below.

In his documentary, Gutowski exposes the activities of three priests who are said to have sexually assaulted minors. The central piece of evidence purporting to prove, for the first time, that Archbishop Wojtyła was one of those Catholic bishops who covered up and protected paedophile priests is a letter of recommendation he sent to Archbishop König of Vienna in 1972 on behalf of Father Bolesław Saduś, a priest who is presented as a friend of Wojtyła’s and who allegedly preyed on young boys. But what exactly is meant here by “young boys”? Even according to the communist secret police, the SB (Służba Bezpieczeństwa – Security Service), which kept a close eye on every Catholic priest and had made Saduś a “confidential collaborator” (tajny współpracownik, TW) – that is, an informant – by blackmailing him with information they had on his sex life, it was only a matter of homosexual relations, and not of sexual assaults on minors. And never do the TVN reporter and his interviewers specify the victims’ ages, even if only approximately, including when Gutowski interviews the brother of an alleged victim who had himself lodged a complaint with the police against Saduś at the time.

After seeing Gutowski’s entire documentary, in which he himself is interviewed in some sequences, journalist Tomasz Krzyżak went to check Bolesław Saduś’ file at the IPN. Krzyżak works for the daily Rzeczpospolita (which in Poland could be called a centrist newspaper, or one belonging to PiS’ more moderate opposition) and, together with his colleague Piotr Litka, they were the first to investigate Karol Wojtyła’s attitude toward paedophile priests when he was the head of the Krakow diocese. Here is what he had to say about Saduś a few days ago:

We hadn’t looked at these documents before and decided to check them out. The conclusion is unequivocal: based on the documents on which both Marcin Gutowski and Ekke Overbeek based their own conclusions, one cannot advance the thesis that Cardinal Karol Wojtyła sent Father Saduś to Austria to hide the fact that he was sexually abusing children. (…) There is not even any certainty that Father Saduś committed paedophile acts. The documents only say that he had homosexual tendencies. The secret police knew this, and it was one of the reasons why he could be more closely coopted by the secret police, even though he had in fact been an informer, apart from a short break, since 1949, and remained one even after he left Poland at the end of 1972.

The Polish journalist did come across a reference to a minor in the documents, but that mention was in a note drawn up at the beginning of 1979 (John Paul II was made pope in October 1978), more than six years after Saduś’ departure for Austria – a country where Gutowski incidentally found no trace of any paedophilia or sexual scandal of any kind connected with him. Moreover, the note drawn up by an SB officer in 1979 was prepared at the request of Colonel Zenon Płatek, head of the department of the Interior Ministry that was in charge of those operations aimed at disintegrating the Catholic Church. Tomasz Krzyżak: “It was on Płatek’s orders, six years after Father Saduś’ departure and two and a half months after Karol Wojtyła became pope, that a note was drawn up stating that Saduś had “defiled underage boys” and that Cardinal Wojtyła had allowed him to quickly flee abroad. (…) I don’t know why the authors [Gutowski and Overbeek] didn’t notice the name Płatek and didn’t connect the dates. I’d like to think it’s just ignorance of history. ”

Krzyżak was also able to establish that the decision regarding Saduś’ departure abroad was not an abrupt one, contradicting the thesis put forward by Gutowski and Overbeek, since he “told his handler [who was responsible for collecting the information he was delivering to the SB, ed.] about his departure abroad in December 1971.

Insufficient sanctions against paedophile priests

The two authors’ accusation concerning Saduś is central, because in the cases of the other two priests who are mentioned, and who really were paedophiles, they have not found evidence as irrefutable as that which they claimed to have for Saduś; namely, that the future John Paul II sought to cover up their crimes. At most, he can be blamed for not having taken sufficiently severe sanctions: one of two other priests, who formally belonged to the diocese of Lubaczów, was sent back there with a letter from Wojtyła addressed to the local bishop informing him of the reasons for the priest’s removal. The latter was unfortunately then allowed to exercise his ministry until his death in 2008, and he victimized other children, but Karol Wojtyła’s personal responsibility is highly questionable in that matter. The other paedophile priest was convicted by a penal court and sent by Wojtyła to a convent upon his release from prison along with a ban on having contact with children.

In his case, the reaction may have been slow and the punishment too light, as the priest was allowed to return to work in a parish a few years later with only a ban on teaching religion, but unfortunately this was in keeping with the standards of the time, when even the sentences handed down by the communist courts for this type of act were excessively lenient (the priest in question spent only slightly more than a year in prison). This was a time when, in the West, leading French left-wing newspapers such as Le Monde and Libération were openly calling for the legalisation of paedophilia and in Germany the Greens openly promoted – and in some cases shamelessly practised – paedophilia, while the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) had organisations lobbying for the legalisation of paedophilia among its members.

The context of the communist dictatorship

To understand the particular context of the communist dictatorship in Poland, where the secret police sometimes made artificial accusations of paedophilia against priests as part of its fight against the Church – which made the bishops’ task even more complicated when dealing with such accusations – it is worth quoting testimony published on 12 March by Father Jerzy Smyk, then a seminarian in the Krakow archdiocese headed by the future Pope John Paul II:

They set up a file on me as a teenager. I was 19 years old and had just entered the Higher Silesian Theological Seminary (WŚSD) in Krakow. They started following me. Two years ago, the IPN put me in the “directory of persons put under surveillance”. They had collected information about me. The secret police paid visits to my high school principal, who was also my Polish teacher. I was a prize-winner in a contest (the Polish contest, winning 2nd place in Silesia and 6th in Poland), so they persecuted all those they suspected of having helped my religious turn. It was unfortunate that I had slipped away, and they wanted me back. During my first semester at WŚSD, the party and secret police demoted my father, who was the head of the labour and payroll department at the Anna coal mine. They told him that with his poor education, he had driven his son to the seminary, but that he still had a chance; he could get me out of there and they would arrange for me to study in Leningrad or Moscow. My father replied that in our family, everyone chooses their own path after the age of 18. They broke his career, as well as his health, and our family was hit hard financially. But then I understood who my father was. At the Krakow seminary, they tried to place an agent in the classes for each year of study. We knew they were among us, but we didn’t know who they were. In fact, they were unmasked by our superiors, but I don’t know if any of them were ordained priests. I hope not. We had an agent in my class who stayed with us for five semesters – two and a half years. We were helping him prepare for his exams, as we thought he was just intellectually weaker. They organized scandals involving robberies, alcohol, photos with girls, etc. During the whole period of my studies (1972-1979), Wojtyła was the centre of resistance in Krakow against all the demons of communism. I remember his incredibly courageous sermons before the altars that were set up for Corpus Christi in Krakow – not in the church, but in the city’s public places. He was the object of a particular hatred on their part, and we feared for him. After my ordination in the 1980s, I had agents in the youth, worker, and intelligentsia ministry groups that I led. It was in Chorzów-Batory. They carried out sabotage, watched, denounced, and even loosened the bolts on the wheels of my Fiat 126. This was the time when priests were assassinated (Popiełuszko and others). This is all that I have to say about the current massive attacks – that is, the Communist secret police agents’ denunciations of Wojtyła. ”

Overbeek visibly lacks evidence outside the secret police’s files

Ekke Overbeek, the author of the book Maxima Culpa did not live through the communist period in Eastern Europe, and he gives the impression that he does not understand those times (at least this is what leading historians reproach him for). He displays great confidence in the documents of the communist regime’s secret police, even stating that the Catholic Church and the communist secret police had a common interest in protecting paedophile priests. The same Overbeek, as can be read on the French Observatoire du Journalisme’s website, “had in the past promoted the person of Marek Lisiński, a blackmailer (convicted by a court) who posed as a former victim of a paedophile priest and whom Ovebeek, probably unaware that he was dealing with a liar, had encouraged to create the foundation Nie Lękajcie Się (Don’t Be Afraid) with the aim of providing help to victims of paedophile priests.

Suggestions that John Paul II had homosexual relations with Cardinal Sapieha

Another point raised by the Journalism Observatory concerns the accusations made by Gutowski and TVN against Cardinal Adam Sapieha, an important figure in Polish Catholicism during the first half of the 20th century. Nicknamed “the inflexible prince” (pol. książę niezłomny) because of his noble origins, his attitude toward the German occupiers during World War II (among other things, he ordered priests to issue false baptismal certificates to Jews), and his vigorous anti-communism under the Soviet occupation after the war, Bishop Sapieha was the mentor of the future John Paul II, whom he had trained in an underground seminary during the war and ordained a priest in 1946. Sapieha, according to Gutowski, was an active homosexual who abused his seminarians:

We also notice a weak point in the first few minutes of Gutowski’s documentary, which could almost be called manipulation. To support the thesis of Karol Wojtyła covering up for paedophile priests, it is explained in the documentary that Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha (1867-1951), archbishop of Krakow from 1926 to 1951, was a homosexual and that he sexually harassed seminarians. One of Sapieha’s seminarians was at one point the future John Paul II, whom he even favoured to some extent (a sexual relationship between Archbishop Sapieha and the young Karol Wojtyła is even suggested, though not clearly stated). The author, Marcin Gutowski, acknowledges that one of the two priests who accused Sapieha in the SB documents is not necessarily credible because he was himself a homosexual and a known paedophile. Gutowski forgets to mention, however, that this priest had been suspended by Archbishop Sapieha, and therefore had reason to want to seek revenge by telling lies to the SB. He also forgets to mention that the statements of the other priest, who is a more credible figure, were obtained under torture. Another omission, which occurs right at the beginning of the documentary, concerns the recording of a telephone conversation with Rembert Weakland, a former archbishop of Milwaukee and former superior of the Benedictine order in the United States. 94 years old at the time of the recording, Weakland said that he had heard of a high-ranking homosexual bishop in Poland who preyed on seminarians, and whom viewers are led to believe was Sapieha. But Gutowski does not mention that Weakland, whom he presents as an authority on the matter, handed in his resignation to John Paull II in 2002 after his archdiocese had to pay $450,000 to one of his victims – a seminarian – to avoid a lawsuit, that he was an avowed homosexual (he officially came out of the closet in 2009), and that it has now been proven that he himself sexually assaulted several seminarians – and that he had long hidden cases of paedophilia and covered up for paedophile priests in his archdiocese. ”

Another indication of Overbeek’s lack of seriousness and bias

A comment made by the author of Maxima Culpa in the TVN documentary says it all. This is how, while talking into Gutowski’s camera, the Dutch journalist explains his conversations with Father Bolesław Saduś’ alleged victims to check the veracity of the information found in the IPN documents: “I have talked to two men who I think may have been sexually assaulted, but they don’t want to talk about it. This story is known in Krakow, because I found mentions of it on the Internet. But then, when you find these people, they don’t want to talk, right? It’s a difficult subject.” Nothing more is heard in the documentary about the testimonies of Saduś’ victims that were collected by Overbeek, which seems to confirm that he based his book primarily on the secret police archives available at the IPN.

Similarly, again in Gutowski’s documentary, there is only one witness who attests that he personally informed Archbishop Wojtyła of the misdeeds of one of these paedophile priests and that Wojtyła did not react appropriately. For some reason, however, this witness, who is not a victim, chose to testify anonymously. Why? In the light of the manipulations and objective gaps in the Franciskańska 3 documentary broadcast by TVN, this raises additional doubts…