Prague archbishop defends former Pope John Paul II against cover-up allegations

A Polish television station reported that, when he was still archbishop of Kraków, he helped to hide priests accused of abusing children. Staff ČTK

Written by StaffČTK Published on 16.03.2023 10:11:00 (updated on 16.03.2023) Reading time: 2 minutes

Prague Archbishop Jan Graubner defended the late Pope John Paul II, saying the accusations that the pope when he was archbishop of Kraków covered up sexual abuse committed by priests did not take the broader context into consideration.

In a statement on the website of the Czech Bishops Conference (CBK), Graubner admitted that John Paul II may have made mistakes, but at the time, there was a different social awareness.

Polish station TVN24 recently reported that John Paul II, when he served as the Roman Catholic archbishop of Kraków under the name Karol Wojtyła, allegedly knew that several of his subordinate priests abused children, and attempted to conceal their deeds.

The report mentions three priests that Wojtyła moved between parishes, sent to a monastery, or to Austria when they were accused of abusing children in the 1970s.

John Paul II was archbishop of Kraków from 1964 to 1978 and was pope from 1978 to his death in 2005 at the age of 84. He was canonized as a saint in 2014.

The lower house of the Polish parliament, the Sejm, reacted to the report by passing a resolution defending John Paul II last week. The resolution condemns efforts to "compromise the greatest Pole in history."

Accusations based on secret police files

According to Graubner, the attempts to discredit John Paul II's legacy come from people who uncritically accept the veracity of secret police documents. According to Graubner, the communist-era secret police in both Czechoslovakia and Poland sought to discredit church officials with false information. Other reports and studies depict the late pope’s words and actions differently, he said.

Defending the holiness of John Paul II does not mean to say that he made no mistakes, Graubner added. Different regulations applied in Poland then.

"Social awareness and the ways of solving problems regarding sexual offenses were different," Graubner said.

He added that the accusations are also an attack on Czech freedom. Graubner concluded by saying the pope contributed significantly to the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe.

A mixed legacy

While enormously popular during his 25-year reign, his pontificate was not without controversy. He strongly opposed homosexuality, euthanasia, contraception, and abortion.

During the height of the AIDS crisis, he opposed the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV, the virus that causes the disease. He was also criticized for being on friendly terms with members of military dictatorships in South America.  

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