The Dispatch

Journalists contradict allegations of ‘cover up’ against John Paul II before he was pope

December 7, 2022 Catholic News Agency 2
St. John Paul II, circa 1992. / L’Osservatore Romano.

CNA Newsroom, Dec 7, 2022 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Journalists investigating secular and Catholic Church sources in Poland have called into question allegations by a Dutch writer that St. John Paul II “covered up” sexual abuse while still a bishop in Poland.

On Dec. 2, Ekke Overbeek, a journalist from the Netherlands living in Poland, said he had found “concrete cases of priests abusing children in the Archdiocese of Krakow, where the future pope was archbishop. The future pope knew about it and transferred them anyway, which led to new victims.”

Overbeek referred to the case of the priest Eugeniusz Surgent and “many others” whom Karol Wojtyla allegedly “covered up.”

The Dutch publication NOS, in which Overbeek’s statements appeared, reported the journalist spent three years combing “Polish archives.”

“Almost all documents collected directly about Wojtyla have been destroyed. However, in other surviving documents, he is mentioned very often. And if you put them all together, they are pieces of a puzzle that give a picture of how he dealt with it,” the writer stated, without saying which archives he was referring to.

Polish journalists Tomasz Krzyżak and Piotr Litka of Rzeczpospolita published an investigation that countered Overbeek’s accusations, stating 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 reporters point out that the priest in question, Surgent, was not from the Archdiocese of Krakow but from the Diocese of Lubaczów.

As archbishop of Krakow, the then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla made several decisions concerning Surgent, they explained, “within his competencies, leaving the final word on possible sanctioning of the priest to his ordinary, the bishop of Lubaczów.”

The journalists added that “the then archbishop of Krakow could not do anything about the fact that Surgent was working in two other dioceses.”

The Polish reporters also referred to another incident that illustrated how Cardinal Wojtyla at the time dealt with abuse, namely the case of priest Józef Loranc, who was accused of sexually abusing young girls.

“The absence of punitive measures by the ecclesiastical court does not cancel the crime and does not undo the guilt,” Cardinal Wojtyla wrote in a 1971 letter to Loranc after he was released from prison.

For Krzyżak and Litka, “this behavior” of the later Pope John Paul II “differs considerably from the practice of leniency toward those who had committed such crimes, which was common at the time.”

In the case of Loranc, a priest of the Archdiocese of Krakow until his death in 1992, “Cardinal Wojtyla made immediate decisions in accordance with canon law. And while he gradually lifted canonical penalties and showed great mercy, he remained ever vigilant,” the journalists wrote.

When Cardinal Wojtyla learned of the case in 1970, his decision came just days after learning of the accusations against Loranc.

In a letter, the future Pope John Paul II stated that the accused priest was “suspended” and “could not exercise any priestly function” and would have to “live in the monastery for a certain period of time and make a retreat and receive help.”

The journalists said that Wojtyla “made all the necessary decisions at that moment: the quick removal of the priest from the parish, the suspension until the matter was resolved, and the obligation to live in a monastery,” where civil authorities then arrested him.

The case did not reach the Vatican, they said, because the provision directing what is now the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith — then the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — to deal with abuse cases was not issued until 2001. 

Although he was eventually allowed to celebrate Mass again, Loran could not return to the “canonical mission of catechesis of children and youth” or to the ministry of the confessional.

The Polish Bishops’ Conference, in a statement published Nov. 14, spoke of “increasingly hearing questions about John Paul II’s attitude toward the tragedy of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable people by the clergy and about his response to such crimes during his pontificate.” 

“It has been increasingly alleged that the pope did not deal adequately with such acts and did little to address the problem, or even covered it up,” the statement continued.

The bishops decried these as a “media assault” on St. John Paul II and his pontificate. The target of such criticisms was “his teaching expressed, for example, in encyclicals such as Redemptor hominis or Veritatis splendor, as well as in his theology of the body, which does not correspond to contemporary ideologies promoting hedonism, relativism, and moral nihilism.”

The statement was not the first time Polish Catholic leaders responded to allegations against St. John Paul II.

In December 2020, following criticism of the Polish pope in the wake of the McCarrick report, 1,700 professors at Polish universities and research institutes signed an appeal defending St. John Paul II.

The signatories included Hanna Suchocka, Poland’s first female prime minister; former foreign minister Adam Daniel Rotfeld; physicists Andrzej Staruszkiewicz and Krzysztof Meissner; and film director Krzysztof Zanussi.

The professors’ appeal followed an intervention by Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish Bishops’ Conference. In a Dec. 7, 2020, statement, Gądecki deplored what he called “unprecedented attacks” on St. John Paul II. He insisted that the pope’s “highest priority” was combating clerical abuse and protecting young people.

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No Picture
News Briefs

Baltimore seals documents related to clerical sexual abuse report

December 6, 2022 Catholic News Agency 1
A view of Baltimore’s Basilica nestled amid the city’s famed row houses / Public domain

St. Louis, Mo., Dec 6, 2022 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

A judge in Baltimore this week ordered all proceedings, filings, and communications related to the release of a major attorney general’s report on clerical sexual abuse to be made confidential. 

Judge Anthony Vittoria of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City issued a confidentiality ruling Dec. 2 in response to a request from an anonymous group of people named in the report but who were not accused of abuse, the Baltimore Sun reported.

At issue is a 456-page report compiled by the office of Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, consisting of information given by the Archdiocese of Baltimore along with information gathered from interviews that claims to identify more than 600 victims of clerical abuse in the archdiocese dating back eight decades. It is currently unclear whether the report will lead to any new criminal charges.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore, which is paying the legal fees for the anonymous group of individuals, said it “does not and will not oppose the report’s release.”

“We stated this fact last week, when we also pledged to support the rights of some people who are mentioned in the report but not accused of abuse — and were not given the ability to respond to the attorney general during the investigation,” Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore said in a Dec. 2 statement.

“Now they deserve to be heard by the court, and we will pay their legal fees to ensure they are heard. I find it necessary to clarify this fact, which we openly stated after Attorney General Frosh publicly released his motion requesting permission from the court to release his office’s report. This does not mean the archdiocese will in any way seek to keep the report from being made public, as some have suggested.”

In a 35-page legal motion dated Nov. 17, Frosh had asked permission from a judge to release the documents provided by the archdiocese, which were given in response to a January 2019 subpoena from a grand jury. Vittoria’s ruling retroactively seals all previous filings in the matter, including that motion to disclose the report, the Sun reported. 

Going forward, the legal processes of releasing the full report will not be disclosed to the public because of the confidentiality order. Should the full report be released, it will likely be redacted. 

Lori apologized to victims of abuse in a November letter and reiterated the archdiocese’s current zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse.

“Upon reading today’s motion, we feel renewed shame, deep remorse, and heartfelt sympathy, most especially to those who suffered from the actions of representatives of the very Church entrusted with their spiritual and physical well-being,” Lori said in a Nov. 17 statement.

“The information contained in the motion will no doubt be a source of renewed pain for many, most especially those harmed by representatives of the Church, for the lay faithful of our archdiocese, as well as for many good priests, deacons, and religious,” Lori said.

“Ever-aware of the pain endured by survivors of child sexual abuse, I once again offer my sincere apologies to the victim-survivors who were harmed by a minister of the Church and who were harmed by those who failed to protect them, who failed to respond to them with care and compassion and who failed to hold abusers accountable for their sinful and criminal behavior,” Lori added.

Frosh says the report names 115 priests who were prosecuted for sexual abuse and/or identified publicly by the archdiocese as having been “credibly accused” of sexual abuse. It also includes an additional 43 priests — 30 of whom are deceased, and the identities of the rest redacted — accused of sexual abuse “but not identified publicly by the archdiocese,” for a total of 158 names.

The archdiocese’s online list of credibly accused clergy includes 152 names, including many priests from other dioceses or religious orders and 17 religious brothers who served in or had a connection to the archdiocese, the Catholic Review reported. The list was last updated in June.

Addressing the apparent discrepancy between the number of priests named in the attorney general’s report and the number of credibly accused priests listed by the archdiocese, Lori said that the archdiocesan list does not include the names of priests or brothers who died before a single accusation of child abuse was received, unless the allegation could be corroborated by a third party or unless a second allegation was made against the same deceased cleric.

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