Polish cardinal, St John Paul’s aide, defends Pontiff’s record on abuse

Polish cardinal, St John Paul’s aide, defends Pontiff’s record on abuse In this file photo, Pope John Paul II is helped by secretary bishop Stanislaw Dziwisz during his weekly general audience, in October 2002.
Jonathan Luxmoore


A close aide to St John Paul II has vigorously defended the late Pope’s handling of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and denied accusations that he ignored the problem during his 27-year pontificate.

“Emerging opinions that John Paul II was sluggish in guiding the Church’s response to sexual abuse of minors by some clerics are prejudicial and contrary to historical facts – the Pope was shocked and had no intention of tolerating the crime of paedophilia,” said Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who was the Pontiff’s personal secretary for 39 years.

St John Paul saw how local churches “dealt with emerging problems and gave help when necessary, often at his own initiative”.

The 79-year-old cardinal, who retired in 2016 after 11 years as archbishop of Krakow, was reacting to media criticisms that the Polish pontiff failed to confront abuse claims when they became widespread in the 1980s.

In a March 20 statement to Poland’s Catholic Information Agency, KAI, he said the Pope had concluded “new tools were needed” when the abuse crisis “began to ferment” in the US.

He added that the saint had given Church leaders new powers to combat it, including indults, or special licenses to ensure “a policy of zero tolerance”, for the US and Irish churches in 1994 and 1996.

“These were, for the bishops, an unambiguous indication of the direction in which they should fight,” Cardinal Dziwisz said.

“When it became clear local episcopates and religious superiors were still unable to cope with the problem, and the crisis was spreading to other countries, he recognised it concerned not just the Anglo-Saxon world but had a global character,” the cardinal said.

A March 16 commentary in Britain’s Catholic weekly, The Tablet, said St John Paul advanced several cardinals accused ignoring sexual abuse, including US Cardinals Bernard F. Law and Theodore E. McCarrick, Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer and Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien.

The commentary added that the Pope’s 2turning a blind eye to sexual abuse” had been shaped by communist-era experiences in Poland and had caused “the mess the Church is in today”.

However, in his statement, Cardinal Dziwisz said St John Paul had promulgated legal norms of “ground-breaking importance” for tackling abuse crimes in May 2001 – a year before “a wave of revelations” in the US – requiring sexual abuse committed by clergy be referred to the Vatican’s Apostolic Court.

Catholic News Service