As a bishop in Krakow, Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005, knew very early on that priests in his diocese were abusing minors. Even when paedosexual priests were sentenced to prison, he allowed them to continue working in another diocese. This is evident from Polish documents that a Dutch investigative journalist has tracked down. Vatican specialists call the discovery “explosive”.
The Dutch journalist Ekke Overbeek, who has worked for Trouw and News hour works, lives in Poland and spent two years delving into the Polish archives. “I found concrete cases of concrete priests in the Archdiocese of Krakow, where the future pope was archbishop, who abused children. The future pope knew about it and nevertheless transferred those men. That led to new victims.”
Puzzle pieces that form the picture of how he dealt with child abuse by priests.
Polish Pope John Paul II was born Karol Józef Wojtyła. He was one of the most popular and influential popes in history. He fought communism in his home country. But as a conservative pope, he also vehemently opposed divorce, same-sex marriage, birth control, abortion and extramarital sex.
In 2014, he was remarkably quickly canonized by the current Pope Francis. Prominent Catholics already warned at the time: there were indications that Wojtyla looked away from charges of sexual abuse.
There is a lock on all ecclesiastical archives of the Roman Catholic Church. But in Poland, the secret service documents are public. He kept a close eye on the Catholic Church during the communist period, for forty years. Overbeek searched for information about Wojtyła, the future pope, in detours.
“The documents that have been collected directly about Wojtyla have almost all been destroyed. But he is mentioned very often in other documents that have survived. And if you put them all together, they are puzzle pieces that form the picture of how he handled that child abuse by priests has been dealt with.”
Overbeek calls the evidence “hard”. He looked at dozens of documents documenting the situation surrounding four pedophile priests. One of those sex offenders is priest Eugeniusz Surgent. Overbeek: “For example, a report written on the basis of a cellmate of this priest, who had already been arrested for abuse at the time. The cellmate describes that the priest asked for forgiveness in a letter to Bishop Wojtyla, after he promised that it would never happen again. happen. But then he had done it again.”
There is also an interrogation of the priest who was suspected of abusing boys. “He describes being with Cardinal Wojtyla and talking to him about it,” says Overbeek, who has written a book about his research and the evidence. Maxima Culpawhich will be published in Polish early next year.
He wasn’t part of the solution, he was part of the problem. He did nothing.
Stanislaw Obirek is a professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Warsaw. He is a specialist of the Catholic Church and has read the first version of Overbeek’s book. “What I’m reading is explosive. It’s thorough and it’s true. It overturns the Pope’s former image. Because he wasn’t part of the solution, he was part of the problem. He did nothing.”
He is shocked that so many priests’ affairs have been kept under wraps. “Pedophile cases, covered up by the Bishop of Cracow and many others.” Obirek calls it courageous that Overbeek dared to write it down. “First-hand information, authentic, historical and accurate information that unravels the myth of John Paul II as the holy man almost from his youth.”
Until now, it was only known that Wojtyła learned of sexual abuse by clergy in the United States in 1985. He was handed a report by the American Tom Doyle, a priest who worked at the Vatican embassy in Washington. Doyle is dedicated to researching abuse in the Catholic Church. The same Doyle has now also studied Overbeek’s proofs.
Overbeek: “The reasoning of the church – of the defenders of the pope – boils down to the fact that he would not have known. That he understood the seriousness of the situation very late and that he first thought it was America’s problem. Al Those arguments can now be dropped.”
Critics might question the evidence, which comes, after all, from the Secret Service. And he was not well disposed to the Roman Catholic Church. But expert Obirek is convinced of the authenticity. “This kind of material, the same sources, are still used in Polish politics today. Nobody rejects this kind of evidence, on the contrary.”
Doyle is also convinced and it doesn’t even surprise him anymore. “I’ve seen so much already. Especially on the side of the institutional church and the bishops.” Action by the church would really surprise him. “That a bishop will one day stand up in front of his people and say, ‘I’m the bishop and I just want to tell you how sorry I am about all this sexual abuse. I’m going to visit all the victims. We’re going to do what we can for them. We’re going to act like Christians.” That would shock me, but it’s not happening.”
This is a new chapter, a first step. We’ll see how the church responds.
That is what the Catholic Church has been afraid of for a long time, Overbeek thinks. “They were in a great hurry to canonize John Paul II. And now you see facts emerging from those Polish archives that are very incriminating and can therefore actually cast doubt on his sainthood.”
While Overbeek was putting the finishing touches to his book, the Polish church called on victims of Surgent to come forward. And just this week, Polish media reported that the Vatican would have decided to investigate the Polish period of Pope John Paul II. For questions about that News hour the Diocese of Krakow and the Vatican do not want to comment.
Professor Obirek thinks that all people who still cling to the holiness of John Paul II should be prepared to face serious evidence. “We now know that Wojtyła actively covered up pedophile crimes committed by priests under his jurisdiction. That is a new chapter, a first step. We will see how the church will react.”