The late Polish Pope John Paul II knew about child abuse in Poland’s Catholic Church years before he became pope and helped cover it up, a new report claims.
Michal Gutowski, the researcher behind the report for private broadcaster TVN, said Karol Wojtyla, as he was then, knew about cases of pedophile priests within the church when he was still a cardinal in Krakow.
He transferred the priests to other dioceses — one as far away as Austria — to make sure there was no scandal, the researcher said.
Wojtyla, who was pope for 27 years from 1978 until his death in 2005, wrote a letter of recommendation for a priest accused of abuse to Vienna’s Cardinal Franz Koenig, without mentioning the allegations, Gutowski says.
During his investigation, Gutowski says he spoke with victims of pedophile priests, their families and former employees of the diocese.
The late Polish Pope John Paul II (pictured in 1982) knew about child abuse in Poland’s Catholic Church years before he became pope and helped cover it up, a new report claims
He cites documents from the former communist-era SB secret police and rare ecclesiastical documents that he was able to access.
But Gutowski said the Krakow diocese had denied him access to his own documentary archives for his research.
The Polish Church has in the past refused to provide documents to the judiciary or a public inquiry commission investigating cases of church abuse of minors.
One of Gutowski’s sources said on condition of anonymity that he personally told Wojtyla about acts of pedophilia involving a priest in 1973.
“Wojtyla first wanted to make sure it wasn’t a bluff,” the source said.
“He asked not to report it anywhere — he said he’d handle it.”
The then cardinal had explicitly requested that the alleged affair be kept strictly secret, the source reportedly told Gutowski.
Thomas Doyle, an American former Catholic priest, canon law scholar and the author of one of the first reports of abuse by Catholic clergy in the United States, said Gutowski’s research was groundbreaking.
It showed that John Paul II already knew this problem existed before he became pope, he argued.
The broadcast of the investigation in traditionally Catholic Poland comes shortly after a Polish-based Dutch journalist, Ekke Overbeek, made similar accusations.
Overbeek’s book, Maxima Culpa, goes on sale in Poland this week.
Over the past two years, and amid several reports of abuse of minors in the Polish Church, the Vatican has sanctioned several senior church officials for covering up pedophilia by members of the clergy.
At the time of his election, John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope since the 16th century, and the longest-serving pope in modern history after Pius IX in the 19th century.
He is believed to have been instrumental in bringing down communism in Central and Eastern Europe, even surviving three assassination attempts – in one he was shot and in another he narrowly avoided being stabbed.
He publicly apologized to many groups that had suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church over the centuries.
Pope John Paul II (pictured), or Karol Wojtyla as he was before he became pope, wrote a letter of recommendation for a priest accused of abuse to Vienna’s Cardinal Franz Koenig, without mentioning the allegations, investigative reporter Michal Gutowski says
He apologized for wrongdoings, including the role of the church hierarchy in funeral pyres, injustice against women, and for the inaction and silence of many Catholics during the Nazi holocaust of World War II.
After his death in 2005, he was succeeded by Benedict XVI and later canonized as Pope John Paul II. Several Popes in the Vatican refer to him as “John Paul the Great” – theoretically only the fourth pope to be hailed as “The Great.”
However, it has previously been criticized for not responding quickly enough to sexual abuse scandals within the church, responding by saying ‘there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who wish to harm the young’.
There have been several cases of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests, nuns and other members within the Church, leading to many accusations, investigations, trials, convictions – as well as admissions and apologies.