An explosive Polish documentary claims that Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who later became the revered Pope John Paul II and a Catholic saint, knew about cases of paedophilia among the Polish clergy and was active in covering them up.
The documentary Franciszkanska 3 – from the late pope’s office address in Krakow – is perhaps the most damning account yet of Wojtyla’s role in allegedly covering up sexual crimes as a hierarch in Poland and then in the Vatican.
Polish journalist Marcin Gutowski spoke with people abused by priests under Cardinal Wojtyla's authority in the Krakow diocese during the 1960s and 1970s. Gutowski also uncovered documents that confirm Wojtyla’s knowledge about sexual crimes committed by clergy.
Gutowski works for the US-owned media group TVN, which is highly critical of the incumbent conservative government of Law and Justice (PiS), which has close ties to Poland’s Catholic church. The documentary aired on March 6.
The documentary sheds light on previously unknown aspects of the late pope's life and raises questions about his response to allegations of abuse within the Catholic Church.
In one example uncovered by Gutowski, Wojtyla sent a longtime offender to work in Vienna with Cardinal Franz Konig. In a letter to Konig, the Polish cardinal did not mention any allegations against the priest, who until his death had maintained friendly ties with Wojtyla.
Another priest, who the communist authorities jailed for abusing underage girls, was okayed by Wojtyla to work with children after completing his sentence.
The documentary has divided public opinion in Poland, not always along the usually expected fault lines.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that the evidence presented by Gutowski is “dubious”. “I am defending our pope because I know that we owe John Paul II a lot as a nation. Perhaps we owe everything,” Morawiecki said in a video published on social media.
The Ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party said it is going to vote on a parliamentary resolution in defence of the late pope, possibly on March 9.
Some of Poland’s opposition sided with Morawiecki and other figures from the normally rejected ruling camp. A resolution to commemorate John Paul II has been proposed by the agrarian party PSL.
Some independent media op-eds critical of Gutowski’s work were broadly in line with opinions in government outlets.
The main point of criticism appears to be that Gutowski relied too much on documents he had found in the archives of the communist secret police, which, the critics say, could have been doctored or otherwise manipulated by the agents themselves.
There also were critical notes arguing that exposing the late pope as an active protector of paedophiles is giving PiS ammunition to lash out at the opposition in an election year.
“In a democracy, one should not attack someone without at least a basic verification of the grounds for such an attack. And certainly, this principle should be respected when it comes to individuals who cannot defend themselves,” Miroslaw Czech, a journalist, wrote in Gazeta Wyborcza on March 7.
“When we forget these foundations, Poland will not deserve anything good. At best, it will become subject to the rule of enemies of democracy and Europe,” Czech added.
The legacy and the myth of John Paul II are set to go through more hard times soon. A book by Dutch reporter Ekke Overbeek, Maxima Culpa. John Paul II knew, about the pope's role in covering up sex crimes among the Catholic clergy was published on March 8.