A documentary broadcast in Poland on the TVN channel on March 5, 2023, as well as a forthcoming book by Dutch journalist Ekke Overbeek, reignite the controversies about the attitude of Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, the future John Paul II, towards the cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests of the Krakow Diocese. In particular, the documentary highlights the case of a priest who was allegedly transferred to an Austrian parish, with a letter of recommendation from Cardinal Wojtyła, archbishop of Krakow between 1964 and 1978, to his colleague in Vienna, Cardinal Franz König.
Fr. Stanisław Tasiemski, a Dominican and vice president of KAI, the Polish Catholic Information Agency, gives us his take on these accusations.
Are you surprised by this new information?
Some of the accusations regarding the fact that priests from Krakow had been transferred to other dioceses had already been reported in the media in November 2022. Therefore, this information does not come as a surprise.
Bishop Oder, the postulator of the cause of canonization of John Paul II, explained that during this procedure, all these problems were examined with the archives of the diocese and the Vatican. They showed that Cardinal Wojtyła had acted according to the law of the time. However, he was limited in his actions because he was not fully informed about everything, which was also seen towards the end of his pontificate.
The documents used by the director of this documentary come mainly from the Communist secret police. Some of the elements that are now coming to light come from priests who had collaborated with the secret police. One of the accusers is a priest who was known to cause trouble in parishes. He has no credibility. It is therefore necessary to keep a distance from the information that is promulgated on the basis of this documentation.
Are these resources from the Communist period still subject to instrumentalization and manipulation?
Yes, one must always read these documents critically. It will take some time for a thorough study, to find a balanced and objective view. We need facts, not emotions.
Now, many people want the Diocese of Krakow to build up a dossier to respond precisely to these accusations. The head of the archives of the diocesan Curia has been contacted in this regard, but it’s not clear what the position of the current Archbishop of Krakow is on this question of opening the archives.
Is the legacy of John Paul II increasingly criticized in Polish society?
Yes, because the Church does not only have friends; it also has enemies. If we heed reason, if we study the texts of John Paul II, we can only be amazed by the depth of his thought. But by playing up the emotional aspect, these documentaries can seduce those who live far from the Church, who have distanced themselves, even if they are baptized and call themselves Catholic. I think that the directors of these films are addressing this milieu.
During his more than 15 years as archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyła was especially interested in family ministry, and he was a great teacher. But in terms of the administration of his diocese, he relied mostly on his collaborators. Karol Wojtyła himself admitted in an interview that he was not a good administrator, but he made his decisions collegially. In a large diocese, it’s not easy to keep track of all matters concerning priests [according to the Pontifical Yearbook, the Diocese of Krakow had more than 900 incardinated priests at the time, Ed.].
Today, how has the Polish Church adapted its system for dealing with abuse, given the evolution of canon law under Pope Francis?
I followed the conference organized in Warsaw in 2021 to bring together those responsible for this fight against abuse in the countries of Central Europe. There’s a precise program that’s now being implemented in all dioceses and religious congregations.
There’s a delegate in each diocese to follow up on the contact with the victims. In my own Dominican community, we’ve gone through a cycle of meetings about our responsibilities and how to avoid crimes of this nature. So the approach to these phenomena has changed a lot.