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, private broadcaster TVN reported on Sunday, March 5.
Michal Gutowski, the investigator behind TVN’s broadcast, said Karol Wojtyla, as he then was, knew of cases of pedophile 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, Gutowski 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, according to Gutowski.
Gutowski said he had spoken to victims of pedophile priests, families and former church diocese employees. He cited documents from the former Communist-era SB secret police and rare church documents. But Gutowski said the Krakow diocese had refused him access to its own documentary archives.
The Polish church has refused to provide documents to the judicial or a public commission of inquiry investigating cases of church abuse of minors in the past.
One of Gutowski’s sources said on condition of anonymity that he had personally told Wojtyla about acts of pedophilia 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, he added.
Thomas Doyle, a former Catholic priest, canon law scholar and 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 said.
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The broadcast of the investigation in traditionally Catholic Poland came 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.
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Over the past two years, amid several reports of abuse of minors in the Polish church, the Vatican sanctioned several high-ranking church officials for having covered up pedophilia by members of the clergy.