The late Polish pope John Paul II knew about child abuse in Poland‘s Catholic church years before becoming pontiff and helped cover it up, a new report has claimed.
Michal Gutowski, the investigator behind the report for private broadcaster TVN, said that Karol Wojtyla, as he then was, knew of cases of paedophile priests within the church while still a cardinal in Krakow.
He transferred the priests to other dioceses – one as far away as Austria – to ensure no scandal ensued, the investigator 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 cardinal Franz Koenig, without mentioning the accusations, says Gutowski.
During his investigation, Gutowski says he spoke to victims of paedophile priests, their families and former church diocese employees.
The late Polish pope John Paul II (pictured in 1982) knew about child abuse in Poland’s Catholic church years before becoming pontiff and helped cover it up, a new report has claimed
He cites documents from the former Communist-era SB secret police and rare church documents to which he managed to get access.
But Gutowski said the Krakow diocese had refused him access to its own documentary archives for his investigation.
The Polish church has in the past refused to provide documents to the judiciary or a public commission of enquiry investigating cases of church abuse of minors.
One of Gutowski’s sources said on condition of anonymity that he had personally told Wojtyla about acts of paedophilia concerning one priest in 1973.
‘Wojtyla first wanted to make sure it wasn’t a bluff,’ the source said.
‘He asked it not be reported anywhere – he said he would deal with it.’
The then cardinal had explicitly requested the alleged affair be kept strictly under wraps, the source is said to have told Gutowski.
Thomas Doyle, an American former Catholic priest, canon law scholar, and the author of one of the first reports of Catholic clergy abuse in the United States, said Gutowski’s investigation was groundbreaking.
It showed that John Paul II knew this problem existed even before he became pope, he argued.
The broadcast of the investigation in traditionally Catholic Poland comes soon after a Polish-based Dutch journalist, Ekke Overbeek, made similar accusations.
Overbeek’s book, Maxima Culpa, is due to go 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 high-ranking church officials for having covered up paedophilia by members of the clergy.
As the time of his election, John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope since the 16th century, and the long-serving pope in modern history after Pius IX in the 1800s.
He has been credited with being instrumental in bringing down Communism in Central and Eastern Europe, and even survived three assassination attempts – one of which saw him shot and another saw him narrowly avoid being stabbed.
He made public apologies 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 then before becoming pontiff, wrote a letter of recommendation for a priest accused of abuse to Vienna cardinal Franz Koenig, without mentioning the accusations, says investigative reporter Michal Gutowski
He apologised for wrongdoings including the church hierarchy’s role in burnings at the stake, injustices committed against women, and for the inactivity and silence of many Catholics during the Nazi Holocaust in the Second World War.
Upon his death in 2005, he was succeeded by Benedict XVI, and later canonised as Pope Saint John Paul II. Several in the Vatican refer to him as ‘John Paul the Great’ – in theory only the fourth pontiff to be acclaimed ‘The Great’.
However, has has previously been criticised for failing to respond quickly enough to sex abuse scandals within the Church, responding by saying ‘there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young.’
There have been several cases of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, nuns and other members within the Church, leading to many allegations, investigations, trials, convictions – as well as acknowledgements and apologies.