Pope John Paul II in 1996. / Vatican Media
Washington D.C., Mar 8, 2023 / 15:30 pm (CNA).
The Polish Bishops’ Conference says that “further archival research” is needed to fairly assess a new allegation, based on communist secret police records, that St. John Paul II covered up child sexual abuse by a priest while serving as the archbishop of Krakow, Poland, prior to becoming pope.
The allegation was included in a documentary broadcast March 6 on Polish television channel TVN24.
The same TV report also cited two other instances where St. John Paul II, then Archbishop Karol Wojtyla, allegedly relocated Father Eugeniusz Surgent and Father Jozef Loranc to new parishes despite being aware that they had been accused of sexually abusing minors. However, those allegations, first made by a Dutch journalist on Dec. 2 of last year, were quickly refuted later that month by a pair of investigative journalists, the Polish bishops noted in a statement released March 7.
The journalists, Tomasz Krzyżak and Piotr Litka, found that St. John Paul II did not cover up any abuse and consistently acted against such cases during his time as archbishop of Krakow from 1964 to 1978.
The two reporters countered the claim that Wojtyla covered up the sexual abuse by Surgent, noting that the priest was from the Diocese of Lubaczów rather than the Archdiocese of Krakow. They said Wojtyla made several decisions regarding Surgent “within his competencies” but ultimately left “the final word on possible sanctioning of the priest to his ordinary, the bishop of Lubaczów.”
In the case of Loranc, the two reporters stated that Wojtyla removed the priest from the parish, suspended him, and then forced him to live in a monastery where the civil authorities ultimately arrested him. When he was released from prison, he was again allowed to celebrate Mass but was not allowed to return to the “canonical mission of catechesis of children and youth” or the ministry of the confessional, according to the investigation.
“Two of the cases presented … had already been known to the public for several months thanks to the journalistic work of editors Tomasz Krzyżak and Piotr Litka, which was based mainly on an analysis of the files of state criminal proceedings available in the archives of the Institute of National Remembrance,” Father Adam Zak and Father Piotr Studnicki said in a joint statement on behalf of the Polish Bishops’ Conference. “The findings have already been widely reported.”
Zak is the coordinator of the Polish Bishops’ Conference for the Protection of Minors and Studnicki is the director of the Office of the Delegate of the Polish Bishops’ Conference for the Protection of Children and Youth.
A third allegation, which is an alleged cover-up of sexual abuse allegedly committed by Father Boleslaw Saduś, is a new claim that was not addressed in prior reporting. The documentary alleges that Wojtyla knew Saduś was accused of sexually abusing young boys but recommended him to a diocese in Austria without noting this information.
However, this third case “was presented not on the basis of a prosecutorial or judicial investigation but on the files of the security services of the People’s Republic of Poland,” the Polish Bishops’ Conference statement noted. “On the basis of the sources presented in the film, it is impossible to determine the qualification of the acts attributed to Father Saduś.”
The Security Service was the secret police and counter-espionage agency for the atheistic communist government that ruled Poland and sought to subvert and control the Catholic Church in the country.
Zak and Studnicki also noted that there is “much greater social awareness of the consequences of sexual abuse” today and that the Church has “developed procedures and ways to respond and help.”
“To all those who were harmed in this way by the clergy years ago and still bear the consequences of the evil experienced, we as the Church provide acceptance, listening, and support,” the priests continued. “For details, visit zgloskrzywde.pl. Whereas, determining the role and a fair assessment of the decisions and actions of the Ordinary of the Archdiocese of Krakow Karol Wojtyła, as well as a fair explanation of the allegations against Cardinal Adam Sapieha, requires further archival research.”