Polish bishops: New allegation that JPII covered up sex abuse based on reports from communist secret police


Pope John Paul II in 1996. / Vatican Media

Washington D.C., Mar 8, 2023 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

The Polish Bishops’ Conference says that “further archival research” is needed to fairly assess a new allegation, based on communist secret police records, that St. John Paul II covered up child sexual abuse by a priest while serving as the archbishop of Krakow, Poland, prior to becoming pope.

The allegation was included in a documentary broadcast March 6 on Polish television channel TVN24.

The same TV report also cited two other instances where St. John Paul II, then Archbishop Karol Wojtyla, allegedly relocated Father Eugeniusz Surgent and Father Jozef Loranc to new parishes despite being aware that they had been accused of sexually abusing minors. However, those allegations, first made by a Dutch journalist on Dec. 2 of last year, were quickly refuted later that month by a pair of investigative journalists, the Polish bishops noted in a statement released March 7.

The journalists, Tomasz Krzyżak and Piotr Litka, found that St. John Paul II did not cover up any abuse and consistently acted against such cases during his time as archbishop of Krakow from 1964 to 1978.

The two reporters countered the claim that Wojtyla covered up the sexual abuse by Surgent, noting that the priest was from the Diocese of Lubaczów rather than the Archdiocese of Krakow. They said Wojtyla made several decisions regarding Surgent “within his competencies” but ultimately left “the final word on possible sanctioning of the priest to his ordinary, the bishop of Lubaczów.”

In the case of Loranc, the two reporters stated that Wojtyla removed the priest from the parish, suspended him, and then forced him to live in a monastery where the civil authorities ultimately arrested him. When he was released from prison, he was again allowed to celebrate Mass but was not allowed to return to the “canonical mission of catechesis of children and youth” or the ministry of the confessional, according to the investigation.

“Two of the cases presented … had already been known to the public for several months thanks to the journalistic work of editors Tomasz Krzyżak and Piotr Litka, which was based mainly on an analysis of the files of state criminal proceedings available in the archives of the Institute of National Remembrance,” Father Adam Zak and Father Piotr Studnicki said in a joint statement on behalf of the Polish Bishops’ Conference. “The findings have already been widely reported.”

Zak is the coordinator of the Polish Bishops’ Conference for the Protection of Minors and Studnicki is the director of the Office of the Delegate of the Polish Bishops’ Conference for the Protection of Children and Youth.

A third allegation, which is an alleged cover-up of sexual abuse allegedly committed by Father Boleslaw Saduś, is a new claim that was not addressed in prior reporting. The documentary alleges that Wojtyla knew Saduś was accused of sexually abusing young boys but recommended him to a diocese in Austria without noting this information.

However, this third case “was presented not on the basis of a prosecutorial or judicial investigation but on the files of the security services of the People’s Republic of Poland,” the Polish Bishops’ Conference statement noted. “On the basis of the sources presented in the film, it is impossible to determine the qualification of the acts attributed to Father Saduś.”

The Security Service was the secret police and counter-espionage agency for the atheistic communist government that ruled Poland and sought to subvert and control the Catholic Church in the country.

Zak and Studnicki also noted that there is “much greater social awareness of the consequences of sexual abuse” today and that the Church has “developed procedures and ways to respond and help.”

“To all those who were harmed in this way by the clergy years ago and still bear the consequences of the evil experienced, we as the Church provide acceptance, listening, and support,” the priests continued. “For details, visit zgloskrzywde.pl. Whereas, determining the role and a fair assessment of the decisions and actions of the Ordinary of the Archdiocese of Krakow Karol Wojtyła, as well as a fair explanation of the allegations against Cardinal Adam Sapieha, requires further archival research.”

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  1. Those of you who have not been following such stories for years may not be aware of the fact that it was a standard technique of the secret police of some communist countries to make false allegations against Catholic clergy.

    It has been suggested that JPII did not believe the allegations against Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, LC because they could have been planted by Communists. Fortunately, his successor at the Chair of Peter did not follow that approach.

  2. 1)The tactic of accusing someone of not doing something is much easier, of course, than accusing someone of doing something. John Paul II’s biography has been under scrutiny so many times, but none of his critics have found any of his actual actions morally wrong. He was accused of having an affair with a woman, etc. None of this was founded on facts. To me, that’s also proof of his sainthood. But aside from this, it’s all too easy to accuse someone of “not having done enough”. But have those critics always, really, done enough, judged by their own exacting standards? Let him, who is without guilt… etc.
    On the other hand, Karol Wojtyła did what he had to do, under the canon law at that time. He acted and did not ignore any of the events which had been brought to his attention. Again, he did so within the procedural limits. One of the priests had been sentenced by a secular court to two years in prison. Karol Wojtyła factored this into the situation (not punishing twice for the same offense). Is two years jail a fair sentence? That’s not a question to ask of John Paul II but of the judicial system of People’s Poland. By the way, now that after 2016 Poland finally tried to reform its post-communist judicial system, has ended up being accused by the EU of not respecting the “rule of law”.

  3. 2. The priests, who were pedophiles, were easily blackmailed (that’s why their “accounts” are in the files in the first place). The communist secret police (SB) turned them into informers, just like it did with alcoholics, delinquents, criminals, etc. The information these priests supplied, however, cannot be seen as objective (and it was not seen as such at that time by the secret police). Some of them reported things which were invented, or which they thought their interviewing officers wanted to hear. Sometimes it was a case of currying favor with those, who could otherwise destroy them. Others, it may be argued, were pathological liars, used to manipulating people, some probably had psychological issues. The claim that the files of pedophile priests who were SB agents contain the objective truth, is false. These files are not testimony in a court of law, and we know that even that were not always trustworthy in communist Poland. The secret police gathered next to everything, including gossip (which they collected to gauge public opinion), but did not act on everything. Tips and gossip were preserved for use later on (they might or might not be used to build a case). John Paul II is now a posthumous victim of the dirty tactics of the SB.
    Our Catholic friends in throughout the world who are critical of these “revelations” deserve many thanks. As Pope John Paul II did so much to improve the Church’s procedures to fight pedophilia. It’s utterly dishonest to accuse John Paul II, and completely disregard all the good he did for Poland, and for the world.
    St. John Paul II, pray for us!

  4. 3. Bishops in communist countries were not living in a vacuum. It was a case of being between the hammer and the anvil. Very little was needed to provoke the communist government to use the press to attack the Church. This is why, I think, the bishop of Cracow would have been very discreet when he heard of pedophilia among the clergy. The communist press could have used it to start a hate campaign against the Church, or as a pretext to limit even more what the Church could do in society. In the 1960s and 70s people were relieved stalinism had ended. For this reason, it is reasonable that Karol Wojtyła did not announce the cases of pedophile priests from the pulpit, condemn them publicly, or refer in any way to those cases outside the official system of canon law. As we know, it functioned properly, because those cases were detected and brought to the attention of the bishop, who acted on them according to canon law. He could not have excommunicated them, for example, because that was not a sanction provided for by canon law.

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