Office for Foreign Communication of the Secretariat of the Polish Bishops’ Conference
The full text:
OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE POLISH BISHOPS ‚CONFERENCE
ON ATTACKS ON THE PERSON OF ST. JOHN PAUL II
On the 100th anniversary of the birth of St. John Paul II, we are witnessing unprecedented attacks on his person. The pretext is the alleged failure of the Pope to disclose and punish clergymen – perpetrators of sexual abuse against minors. People who thoroughly research the history of the pontificate of the Holy Father know very well that the issues of protecting children and youth and counteracting any abuses by the clergy were the highest priority for the Holy Father. John Paul II saw the future of the Church in young people, therefore – he was the first to introduce church legal regulations to protect the weakest, and thus initiated the process of detecting sexual crimes and punishing clergymen who perpetrate it.
It must be clearly stated that the present state of awareness on these issues and the subsequent guidelines and instructions for proceeding largely result from the decisions and actions of St. John Paul II. These decisions inspired further steps to protect children and young people and help those who were wronged in the Church. The Pope quoted forcefully from the Gospel of St. John: „and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32). In the present situation, I would therefore like to draw attention to a few important facts.
St. John Paul II was the first to introduce in the Church legal provisions that actually increase the protection of children and youth. John Paul II, as early as 1993, told US bishops that, in the case of sexual crimes, canonical punishments, including expulsion from the priesthood, were necessary and fully justified. „He added that they should emphasize the importance of harm and evil done. The Holy Father, recalling the evangelical words of Jesus, emphasized in a letter to American bishops that „for the one who sows scandal, it would be better to have a large millstone around his neck and drown in the depths of the sea.” In 1994, he issued a special indult for the Church in the USA, and two years later for Ireland, stressing that there can be no tolerance for sexual abuse of minors” pointed out the CCEE vice-president.
In 2001 – with the introduction of the motu proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela- he obliged every bishop and religious major superior to report all sexual crimes committed by clergy against minors under the age of 18. In this document we read, among others: „Whenever an Ordinary or Hierarch had at least probable knowledge of the commission of one of the reserved grave delicts, after having carried out the preliminary investigation, he was to inform the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which, unless it called the case to itself because of special circumstances, would indicate to the Ordinary or Hierarch how to proceed”. Since 2001, cases of this type from all over the world have been reported to this Congregation.
The attitude of St. John Paul II clearly reflects the position expressed in 2002 towards American bishops: „People must know that in the priesthood and religious life there is no place for those who would harm minors.”
We must therefore firmly oppose the spreading of unsubstantiated accusations about his alleged negligence in responding to known cases of negative behaviour of clergy and laity.
It was St. John Paul II who set the course of action in the field of the protection of children and young people, which was later developed by Pope Benedict XVI. In the Pastoral Letter to Catholics in Ireland (March 19, 2010), he addressed, among others, to the clergy with these words: „You betrayed the trust that was placed in you by innocent young people and their parents and you must answer for it before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals”. Today, Pope Francis is vigorously pursuing the same direction.
The „Report on the Holy See’s institutional knowledge and decision-making related to former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930 to 2017)” clearly proves that St. John Paul II was cynically deceived.
Prior to McCarrick’s appointment as Metropolitan Archbishop of Washington, St. John Paul II consulted the American bishops on this candidacy. Today we know that he has not received complete information. McCarrick himself – in a letter of August 6, 2000 addressed to the secretary of John Paul II – lied, assuring him that he had not had sexual relations with anyone. Only recently it turned out that not only the popes became victims of the deceptions of the former cardinal who led a double life, but also the Presidents of the USA and the Department of State, with whom he cooperated. „If the people who dealt with McCarrick every day saw, heard and knew anything, and even did not clearly report anything to Rome, how the Pope 10,000 km away could consciously restrain a wolf in sheep’s clothing” (card. Gerhard L. Müller).
To this day, we do not know much about the former Cardinal McCarrick. For example, the intelligence thread in his biography is not explained (see: The Report, p. 34, footnote 127 and pp. 95–96). It seems that his ability to manipulate the Church was not only due to his individual skills.
I am grateful to Holy Father Francis for publishing this report, as well as for these words: „John Paul II was a man so morally rigorous, of such moral integrity that he would never have allowed a corrupt candidacy to be promoted” (Report, p. 401). „Whoever questions the sanctity of John Paul II is blinded by his prejudices and does not know what he is saying. It is all the more sad when some Catholics do it” (Card. Camillo Ruini).
The response of the Church in Poland to the above-mentioned report cannot be different than the words of Pope Francis during the Wednesday audience, when he assured of his closeness to the victims of all kinds of abuse and emphasized the need to eradicate this evil.
Together with Pope Francis, I renew my deep compassion for those wronged by some clergy. It is necessary to fairly judge and punish the perpetrators, and also to constantly care for increasing the safety of children, youth and adults in the Church and in all other environments.
St. John Paul II led the universal Church for almost 27 years. At that time, people from all over the world could get to know him well, and the symbolic response to this knowledge was the cry „Santo subito!” on the day of his funeral. The attack on St. John Paul II – in my opinion – is in fact an attack on the teaching of the Church, which this Pope preached throughout all his pontificate. In a sense, already in 1994, he predicted this attack: „although there is on the one hand the „civilization of love”, there continues to exist on the other hand the possibility of a destructive „anti-civilization”, as so many present trends and situations confirm” (Letter to families, 13). In the encyclical Evangelium vitaehe wrote: „When conscience, this bright lamp of the soul (cf. Mt 6,22–23), calls „evil good, and good evil” (por. Is 5:20), it is already on the path to the most alarming corruption and the darkest moral blindness” (Evangelium vitae, 24).
Already during his pontificate, John Paul II was the subject of attacks. We remember the most brutal of them, i.e. the attempt on his life made in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981 „Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training” (Wis 2:12) – we read in the Book of Wisdom. Indeed, during his lifetime, the Pope from Poland was inconvenient for some circles promoting „anti-civilization”, as well as for the supporting media. „The suspicious people have long been in the starting blocks to destroy the memory of John Paul II, and thus of the Catholic Church, which they hate” (Card. Gerhard L. Müller). That is why I sympathize with the position of the Rector’s College of the Catholic University of Lublin, addressed to the authors of false and biased publications, the aim of which is not so much the good of the victims of abuse as slandering the good name of St. John Paul II and undermining his authority.
The German philosopher, Hans-Georg Gadamer, wrote: „The authority of persons does not have […] the final basis in the act of submission and abdication of reason, but in the act of recognition and acceptance – namely, knowing that another is superior to someone else’s judgment and opinion, and therefore its judgment takes precedence, ie, prevails over that someone’s judgment. Related to this is the fact that authority is not actually imparted, but rather gained, and must be gained if one wants to have it. It consists in recognition and, therefore, in the operation of the mind itself, which, aware of its limits, recognizes the better insight of others”(Prawda i metod, Warsaw 2004, p. 385). During his pontificate St. John Paul II gained this authority with us. People who are below his size are trying to destroy him today. However, they do not do so by referring to rational and verifiable arguments, but by manipulating them, they try to evoke negative emotions towards him.
So thank all of you for giving a true witness to the life and teachings of this holy Pope. I express my gratitude to all people in Poland and around the world for sharing the truth about this holy man. I especially thank the people who define themselves as the Generation of Saint John Paul II for passing on knowledge and love for him to the next generation who could not meet him in person.
Let us use the papal teaching more often and let us not allow the good name of St. John Paul II to be destroyed, he, who was a tireless guide on the path of the human person and societies to freedom.
The Mother of God whom St. John Paul II entrusted his life, let us ask that his teachings – as well as the ones of his successors – inspire people all over the world to live authentically the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
+ Stanisław Gądecki
Metropolitan Archbishop of Poznań
President of the Polish Episcopal Conference
Vice-President of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE)
Warsaw-Poznań, December 7, 2020