SNAP Europe: John Paul II, Still a Saint?

By Marc Artzrouni, SNAP Europe

A documentary broadcast a few days ago on Polish TV shows how John Paul II, then Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, protected at least three priests who had sexually abused children in his diocese during the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1972 Wojtyla had one of them, Fr Sadus, transferred to Austria to research the "impact of technology" on  children - this without a word about the allegations of sexual abuse.  The two stayed in touch until Sadus's death in 1990.

Another priest named Eugeniusz Surgent was moved to five different parishes of the diocese between 1957 and 1971 - following in each case allegations of abuse of young boys. A third priest, Jozef Lorenc, was found to have abused girls in a primary school where he was teaching.  

In the 1970s Both Surgent and Lorenc were prosecuted for their crimes and sentenced to three and two years in prison, respectively.  They both served only one year after which they were allowed to resume their religious duty - in Lorenc's case serving as a chaplain in a children's hospital.  Given the secrecy that reigned during the dark years of communism in Eastern Europe and the ambiguous relationship between authorities and an all-powerful Polish Catholic Church at the time, it is probably  fair to ask how much their new parishioners knew of their past crimes.

To this day the Church protects its clergy  who sexually abuse children, thus showing that its moral compass has not moved in 50 years.  Still, one would like to believe that today it  would not dare reinstate a priest who served prison time for sexually abusing children. 

With typical courage and openness the Catholic Church in Poland declined an offer from the TV station to comment on the documentary. Perhaps they did not need to, given the predictable but still distressing knee-jerk defense of John Paul by right-wing  Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki  who put John Paul II at the  top of his Facebook and Twitter pages - while others talked of "a shameful attack on John Paul II".

While the debate rages on as to whether John Paul II may have been canonized too quickly, one may reflect on what a true saint would have done in his place 50 years ago.  He would have convinced the Vatican that priests who violated children should be unmasked and removed - although this shattering of the "company culture"  would have perhaps put paid to higher papal ambitions...

Finally, a harsh light has been shone on the failings of one ambitious Archbishop destined for higher office but who did nothing to protect the children of his diocese. How many others, in Poland and elsewhere but with less stellar careers, have also destroyed the lives of children in the name of ambition? Or is it really because they don't understand that sexually abusing children is an abomination?

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