Vatican structures riddled with corruption

Among the interviewees there was also Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, but again the journalist does not ask him about the case of Archbishop Juliusz Paetz. And this explanation should finally be given to the faithful not only from Poznań because many years after being removed from office Archbishop Paetz travelled from ceremony to ceremony in various dioceses and cathedrals where he sat in the first rows and made a good impression.

"I think the Pope was devastated and the experience was crushing", says George Weigel, the world-renowned biographer of John Paul II and a prominent expert on the Church. "John Paul II was openly deceived by the people he trusted".

Just after Easter 2002, George Weigel went to Rome to see John Paul II and tell him that this is the real crisis - what is happening in the Church in the US and what American newspapers have exposed by showing the sexual crimes of the clergy. "I wrote a letter to the pope, and I started by saying that it was more important than anything I had written in my books," Weigel says in "The Glass House - John Paul II's response to the crisis of sexual abuse in the Church," documentary shown on TVP1 on Wednesday, May 18, the anniversary of the Polish pope's birth. And concluded with a discussion in the TV studio in which three well-known Catholic publicists: Dr Ewa K.Czaczkowska, Marcin Przeciszewski, Dr Tomasz Terlikowski and Father Dr Adam Studnicki, head of the Office of the Delegate of the Polish Episcopate's Commission (KEP) for the Protection of Children and Young People, pondered what to do next with the work so intensively carried out to purge the Church of these monstrous encroachments.

They were broadly consistent with the view, expressed that day in an extensive analysis by the Catholic News Agency (KAI), that "John Paul II was the pope who initiated a systemic response to the revelations, sometimes years later, of sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church. It was the beginning of a path continued by his successors Benedict XVI and Francis".

Dense webs

The film was produced by TVP in 2021 - I wonder why they waited so long to broadcast it - and is the work of the Krakow journalist Paulina Guzik, who has been running programmes of TVP's Catholic Editorial Board with great success for several years. It was realised in the convention of investigative journalism - the author with the help of many interlocutors with significant names in the Catholic world searches for the answer to the question what - and these are her words - John Paul II did to respond to the crisis of sexual abuse in the Church.

The journalist wants to show all the actions taken by JP II and the Vatican context, which, as she declares, we do not know and do not understand; it is an elegant and diplomatic statement at the same time that in the Vatican offices reigned, and still reign, specific relations that allow to bypass even the most serious laws, orders, instructions and decrees.

The words and actions of the last three popes were not, and still are not, enough if the Vatican bureaucratic network continues to be so densely woven that even the most inquisitive journalist or lawyer cannot squeeze through it in his search for the truth.

Yet even John Paul II, not to mention his successors, knew when taking very specific action against sexual crimes that he had to rely on the most trusted bodies.

"John Paul II must have had doubts about the actions of the bishops since he decided that the Holy See had the final say in judging cases involving the sexual abuse of minors. Putting these cases under the direct supervision of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was a kind of vote of no confidence in the ability of local episcopates to respond independently and correctly to the crisis. And if not a vote of no confidence, then at least a statement that they are not coping with the crisis," commented Father Adam Żak, a Krakow Jesuit appointed by the Polish Episcopate as coordinator of activities for the protection of minors in 2020.
Gniezno, June 1997. 6th pilgrimage of John Paul II to Poland. Archbishop Tadeusz Gocłowski and Archbishop Juliusz Paetz greet the Pope. Photo: Aleksander Hard / Forum
At this point it should be recalled that the Pope appointed Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as prefect of this congregation, with whom they supported each other and agreed on their activities. He does not appear in Paulina Guzik's film, but many of the conversations and documents shown concern his activities. But he also - let us remind you - abdicated as Pope Benedict XVI in 2013, shocking the whole Church, and this act was often commented on as a protest against the prevailing relations in the Vatican which prevented a final fight against homosexual and paedophile structures. This is not mentioned in the film, but neither is it a film about Benedict XVI.

For her interviews, Paulina Guzik invited seasoned Vatican experts, apart from the aforementioned Weigel, John Allen from the USA and Dr Valentina Alazraki, a Mexican woman who has worked as a Vatican correspondent for 47 years. She, like George Weigel, had the opportunity to talk to successive popes and to present them with the burning problems of sexual crimes that consume the body of the Church.

In the film, they both talk about the most famous and shocking cases which, thanks to their work and tenacity, have been brought to a conclusion. Weigel on the case of his compatriot Theodore MCCarrick, who was a cardinal and whom Pope Francis expelled from the clerical state, and Dr Alazraki on the case of her compatriot Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, whose supposed good intentions no one questioned.

It was of these two that an American biographer said that they openly and brazenly deceived John Paul II. And Dr Alazraki in turn declares that the Maciel case is most emblematic of the extent of the corruption eating away at Vatican structures. "I've seen three popes in the Vatican", Alazraki says in the film, "I've talked to all of them many times, I consider one of them a saint, and I claim that none of them had or have a full grasp of the subtle and hidden mechanisms of this corruption".

A dark figure

Probably not only the oldest readers - and TVP viewers who followed the papal pilgrimage and can now watch the film - remember more or less clearly the figure of Cardinal Angelo Sodano, a powerfully built man who, as Vatican Secretary of State, stood two steps behind John Paul II at many meetings, audiences and talks, and with a seemingly benevolent smile registered with his eyes everything that was going on. The film suggests quite unambiguously that he was responsible for at least some of the actions blocking radical solutions on the subject of sexual crimes against minors.

It is very impressive to learn of the Apostolic Nuncio to Mexico, who sent letters to headquarters - that is, to the Pope - with information about Maciel Degollado, which never reached the addressee, while the sender was dismissed from his post and placed in the new offices in such a way that he could never meet the Pope in person. Was Sodano responsible for this?

The journalist shows the audience attempts to get in touch with this - still, despite 95 years of age, fit - cardinal, but to no avail. It is certainly a pity, but it is an even greater pity that the film does not mention an example from Poland - Archbishop Juliusz Paetz, Metropolitan of Poznań.

It was only the intervention of Dr Wanda Półtawska that put an end to his nasty activities in the area of clerical abuse. It was she who got through to John Paul II with the information gathered by a group of trusted people, because all other ways were blocked. Although this was twenty years ago, other issues dealt with in the film were also taking place at that time - the crisis in the USA or in Ireland.

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The American and Irish experiences, as well as reports of clergy sexual offences in other parts of the world, led to the issuing of the apostolic letter "Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela" (Protection of the Sanctity of the Sacraments) on John Paul II's personal initiative (motu proprio), dated 30 April 2001, and the norms "De gravioribus delictis" (On the Most Grave Crimes), promulgated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 18 May of the same year (I quote after KAI). A year later, the well-known Polish Jesuit Father Józef Augustyn published a book on clergy sexual offences, and two years later Tomasz Terlikowski wrote about the homosexual lobby. And what? Nothing. A hurricane was needed for something to happen among the Polish clergy.

Among interlocutors of Paulina Guzik there was also Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, but the journalist does not ask about the case of Archbishop Juliusz Paetz. And the explanation should finally be given to the faithful not only from Poznań because many years after abbot Paetz was removed from his office he went from celebration to celebration in various dioceses and cathedrals where he sat in the first rows and made a good impression. Paulina Guzik asks Cardinal Dziwisz whether he has nothing to reproach himself for in the case of, for example, Marciel Macial Degollado, but she stops there. And even in the studio the gathered guests did not manage to touch this topic, which is closely related to the main theme.

A great figure - and a value of the film - is Australian Cardinal George Pell, who bears beautiful witness to the actions of the Polish Pope and who is an example of wonderful Christian living and coordinated decisive action against the defenders of the sex lobby. But he paid for his fight against it with imprisonment and became the victim of a media campaign.

"I consider this film to be very important, because it shows the maturing of John Paul II in response to the crisis of sexual abuse of minors that is engulfing the Church, as well as his honesty in dealing with these matters. He reminds us that the credibility of the Gospel itself can be overshadowed if the Church does not deal with this problem properly", said Fr. Adam Żak SJ for KAI after the broadcast.

The film is necessary, multi-faceted, educational and very interesting. It will certainly be screened and it is certainly worth seeing. But the film is not meant to solve the problems faced by the faithful - and the clergy - in the Church in Poland.

– Barbara Sułek-Kowalska

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– Translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski
Main photo: 2005 Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano at the funeral ceremony of Belgian Cardinal Jan Pieter Schotte. Photo by Max Rossi / Reuters / Forum
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