Statements about John Paul’s abuse caused an angry reaction in Poland

WARSAW, Poland — The fallout over an explosive television report alleging that Saint John Paul II covered up cases of sexual abuse by clergy intensified Thursday, as the Polish Catholic Church strongly defended “one of the greatest Poles” and the Polish government invited talks the US ambassador.

In a report this week on the television channel TVN24, owned by the American company Warner Bros. Discovery, the names of three priests who were allegedly moved by John Paul during the 1970s after they were accused of abusing minors were named. At that time, John Paul was Archbishop Karol Wojtył, head of the church in Krakow in southern Poland.

John Paul is revered in the predominantly Roman Catholic country for his role in helping to overthrow communism, and the TVN report has sparked a national debate about his legacy at a time when the Polish Catholic Church as a whole is grappling with its own record. sexual abuse of the clergy. A heated debate erupted in Parliament on Thursday about his legacy.

Government figures, including Prime Minister Matevush Morawiecki, resolutely defended the late Pope as a national hero and the highest moral authority of the country. Left-wing politicians seized on accusations that he knowingly protected predatory priests, and some called for John Paul’s name to be removed from street and school names.

On Thursday, the chairman of the Conference of Polish Bishops, Archbishop Stanisław Godecki, joined the fray, resolutely defending the late Pope and urging “all people of good will” not to destroy his legacy. Godetsky celebrated Mass at the tomb of John Paul II in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, praying for those who sought to discredit the Pontiff.

Godecki joined some critics who questioned the credibility of the report because some of the documents it cited came from the files of a communist-era secret service that tried to compromise the church.

“The Polish Pope was a moral criterion, a teacher of faith and an intercessor in heaven” for millions of Poles, Godecki said. “It is shocking that attempts are being made to discredit John Paul II himself and his legacy in the name of concern for truth and goodness.”

Wojtyla served as Archbishop of Krakow from 1964 to 1978, when he became Pope John Paul II. He died in 2005 and was canonized in 2014 after an expedited process.

Defending John Paul, Godetsky said that his “holiness and greatness” did not mean that he “could not make mistakes.” But he also noted that at the time, the church and society as a whole had different attitudes toward abuse and different rules. “There was a different public consciousness and the usual ways of solving problems,” he said.

Separately, the dispute acquired a diplomatic dimension, when the Polish Foreign Ministry invited the US ambassador Mark Brzezinski to discuss the activities of the TV channel. Although TVN was not named, the ministry said the talks were held in connection with the activities of the TV channel “which is an investor in the Polish market”, an apparent reference to TVN. TVN was at one time the largest US business investment in Poland, and its coverage is often critical of the ruling party with investigations into wrongdoing by the authorities.

In the past, the ruling party sought to pass legislation that would strip the American owner of a controlling stake in the company, but President Andrzej Duda vetoed the legislation shortly before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine under US pressure.

The ministry said in a statement that the potential consequences of the reports “are consistent with the aims of a hybrid war aimed at causing division and tension in Polish society.”

The previous version of the Foreign Ministry statement said that the US ambassador was “summoned”, but it was changed to “invited”. The subpoena indicates that the ambassador is served with a note of protest. A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Polish media that the invitation better reflects the nature of the meeting.

John Paul II is not the only Pope under scrutiny for his relationship with predatory priests.

His immediate successor, Benedict XVI, who took a much tougher line and excommunicated hundreds of abusive priests, was accused in an independent report commissioned by the diocese for handling four cases while he was archbishop of Munich.

Accusations that he did not respond to cases of abuse by priests in his native Argentina and in Chile while he was a bishop and then pontiff were also directed at Pope Francis.

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