Image of John Paul II in clods of mud

What have you done to Athens, Socrates? What have you done to your countrymen, Wojtyla? Such a paraphrase of Norwid's bitter appeal is all the more poignant now that John Paul II, one of the greatest Poles in history, has become an object of slander and defamation, mockery and crude memes, when he is denigrated and made a laughing stock of.

One cannot believe that things could have gone this far. But why do we remain silent, why do we not stand up to defend the good name of the one whom so recently almost everyone had on their banners? Do we really have - especially us older ones - such a short memory not to remember what it was like?

Do we need to be reminded of this by the American George Weigel, John Paul II's most eminent biographer, who never had any doubts - and still has none - that "the nine triumphant days of John Paul II in 1979 marked the beginning of the end of the Yalta imperialist system, not only in Poland but in the whole of Stalin's empire. In Warsaw, Gniezno, Opole, Czestochowa, Mogiła and Krakow, John Paul II began the process by which the communist system was finally dismantled from within. This was brought about by his thirty-two sermons, in which he called not for an uprising but for a final revolution: a revolution of the spirit, in which conscience defied the fear and acquiescence by which the ''authorities held the society in an iron grip" (after George Weigel, ''The Final Revolution. The Church of Resistance and the Fall of Communism', translated by Wojciech Buchner, Poznań 1995).

I have quoted this paragraph many times in radio columns and for the "Solidarity Weekly" , in Catholic publications, but also in these pages, quoted it in classes with journalism students, dissected it. I have never ceased to be impressed and inspired by this simple, profound and unambiguous diagnosis by the American historian.

It would seem that whoever was alive at the time, whoever was in one of those squares - such as Zwycięstwa Square in Warsaw at the time, Błonia in Kraków or Błonia in Gniezno - will never forget that breath of history that we felt on our faces. And that was only the beginning. All the subsequent pilgrimages of "our" Pope to Poland - when he spoke to us, but also on behalf of us - led us to freedom and taught us about that freedom.

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE Also one of the last times he was a guest of MPs and senators, when he once again reminded them of his teaching in the free Sejm. I once wrote that this was why he came to the Polish parliament - to make it clear that "today we already know how deep the work of God's power has gone". The meeting at the Sejm was not a courtesy visit. It was yet another lesson that our Pope gave to his people with the hope that it would be understood and taken up. That we would not waste it. That we will complete the revolution of the spirit.
On June 11, 1999, for the first time in history, the pope met with the national parliament. John Paul II spoke to the combined chambers of the Polish Sejm and Senate. Photo: PAP/LESZEK Wróblewski
It was then that he said that 'democracy without values easily turns into overt or covert totalitarianism'. It was then that he warned us against the loss of national memory. He said bluntly that "this meeting in parliament would not have been possible without the determined opposition of the Polish workers on the Coast in the memorable August 1980. It would not have been possible without Solidarity, which chose the path of peaceful struggle for human rights and the whole nation". He recalled that "an attitude of love, fraternity and solidarity, i.e. the values that determined the victory" was possible in public life, since ten million people were then guided by such a common outlook. It was a warning: "these events must not be forgotten"!

I will not now consider whether we have done our homework from that time, because things have gone much further and not necessarily in that direction. But I have recalled at least minimally those events to show how much we owe to John Paul II. As a nation, as a society, as a community whose state - the Republic of Poland - regained its independence and sovereignty. It is not about Catholics, but about the citizens of the Republic of Poland, about Poles. Does this gratitude not oblige us to anything? Does it not call upon us? Neither does our state when one of its most distinguished citizens in history is slandered?

Where are all those people today who so diligently photographed themselves with the Pope? Who hung those photographs in their offices, who put them on their desks? They flew at breakneck speed to Rome for meetings with John Paul II, be they Solidarity meetings, European meetings, meetings from the world of culture and science. Where are you today, ladies and gentlemen? Has something changed in your thinking? Can you not afford the simple testimony that John Paul II was your authority - and has remained so? I won't enumerate by name who and where you lined up to kiss the Pope's hand - be sure to take a picture of me calling out - but after all, a journalist of long standing has all those scenes in his head, those pleas for a place in the front row - "I was standing right next to him" - those self-effacements. Where do you stand now, ladies and gentlemen, not only Members of Parliament, of course, but also publishers and editors, including those from backgrounds that describe themselves as Catholic, artists and professors, etc., the row is long, oh long. What are you waiting for? For his figure and his work to be completely covered up by those puffs of slime and clods of mud that the creators of hate campaigns and their imitators, often thoughtless or opportunistic, do not begrudge him? Today, they wear T-shirts no longer with the inscription "I did not cry for JP II", but with the insulting slander of JP II of paedophilia.

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And yet, it is no trouble at all - there are no small number of articles on the subject in our pages, either - to trace the consistent work of John Paul II and his then chief advisor Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who have been trying to deal - since the 1990s - with the very slowly uncovered pages from the Church's dark past.

I began with those works of John Paul II which are - should be - an object of pride and gratitude for all Poles, regardless of religion or lack thereof. But John Paul II was the successor of Saint Peter, he was the head of the Catholic Church, he was the spiritual leader of Catholics. Also in Poland! So as a community of people of faith, we should probably have no doubts about how to behave. It is the whole multitude of ordinary people who attend Mass every Sunday - and often on a weekday - who believe in God.

But they are waiting for the voice of their priests. For a word of encouragement, of support to be active in the work of defending both John Paul II and the Church. For a call for courage, because - let's not kid ourselves, I wrote about this recently - we need courage today to stand up - and to do so wisely - to social media, but also to traditional media, and above all to the opinions of colleagues at work, at university, at the club and at the gym, and also to other mothers on a walk with their children. After all, everyone has a phone and doesn't need great skills to say 'no' and show their opinion of John Paul II. But maybe he or she needs a simple call to not be afraid. That it is not that simple? Nothing is "that simple".

However, I did not start this column with the clergy, who are mostly silent on this issue - including the clergy in the media. I heard recently at a journalistic meeting the demand that it should be the priests - and especially the bishops, many of whom John Paul II has still appointed - who come forward with a strong voice in his defence, that this is what the faithful, who do not understand this silence, are waiting for.
I remember that the bishops never reached a consensus on the proposal to proclaim John Paul II as the patron saint of Poland - with the approval of the Holy See. What were they afraid of? What did they consider inappropriate? Even now, once again, the faithful have begun to feel that they have been left to their own devices and that the vilification of John Paul II does not concern the bishops.

And suddenly, on 18 November, unexpectedly - at six o'clock on a Friday morning - they issued the "Position of the Permanent Council of the Polish Bishops' Conference towards the actions of John Paul II relating to sexual crimes against minors". It discusses in some detail, albeit in a succinct summary, the specific procedures triggered by John Paul II - but does not in any way refer to the identification of the 'brakemen' who effectively blocked these procedures, including in Poland, as evidenced by the still unexplained case of Archbishop Juliusz Paetz.

It is still not clear who was shielding him. Who did not pass on information to John Paul II and blocked the case to such an extent that it was only thanks to the direct intervention of Dr Wanda Półtawska that the hierarch was dismissed - the veil of silence is as tight as a fire curtain in a theatre. And who then, in Poland, cared that the dismissed Archbishop Paetz did not feel uncomfortable, that he was invited and honoured, just as "one of us". And yet this was an action completely against the decisions of John Paul II, it was like a slap in the face! And, in addition, from the family circle.

But it is fortunate that such a 'Position Paper' appeared at all, and in it the sentence that "John Paul II was the Pope who, in line with his acquired knowledge, took a decisive action against cases of sexual abuse of children and minors by certain clergy and introduced Church-wide norms of accountability for this type of crime, stressing that in 'the priestly state and religious life there is no place for those who would harm the young.' He began a very important process of purification of the Church in this sphere, which continues to this day." The bishops also write that "in attempting today to understand the situation at the time, it is also necessary to take into account the mentality of discretion that also prevailed in the Church at the time. Thus, even if some actions were taken, there was at the same time fear and resistance to communicating them transparently".

We know that in Poland, this process has finally begun to take place, and with what resistance - this can be seen, because this "mentality of discretion" probably still prevails. And you can see - however - from the lack of individual, courageous reactions to the slanders against JP II.
September 2022. In Warsaw's Ursynów, a boulder commemorating John Paul II, the patron of the park, was destroyed. photo. PAP/Albert Zawada
I would like to return to the metaphor about the puffs of slime and clods of mud with which the creators of the hate campaign are covering the image of our Pope. Is it not so that this exceptional man, John Paul II, who pulled us out of the depths of hopelessness, passivity, cynicism and opportunism of communist reality and led us towards freedom, disappears?

But if his image of the Man of God and his work, his call for the Spirit to renew this earth, disappears, so does our uprising, that incredible solidarity of ten million of which we are heirs, our share in the freedom that was won, disappears. We can never agree to what will then remain, to another annihilation of our history. We have no way out. We must stand up for John Paul II as best we can, and with the weapons we have. What is really needed is a mass mobilisation.

And to conclude with an interesting fact from the service of the Catholic News Agency (KAI): as part of the celebrations for the 40th anniversary of John Paul II's first apostolic journey to Spain, a chapel dedicated to the Polish pope was opened in Madrid's Almudena Cathedral. Cardinal Carlos Osoro recalled that John Paul II was a man who loved all people regardless of the consequences, defended them, defended the dignity of the human being. "He is a man who came out of your land, dear Polish brothers. He became a prophet in the world and taught us how to love according to the measure of God's love.... John Paul II sought everywhere to show and give God's love," said the Spanish cardinal.

What have you done to Athens Socrates?

– Barbara Sułek-Kowalska
-Translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

Main photo: Participants of marches organized by the Women's Strike in autumn 2020 devastated the monument of John Paul II on Ostrów Tumski in Poznań. Photo: FORUM Agency/Tomasz Kluczyński / Forum
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