|John Paul 'Ignored Abuse of 2,000 Boys'
By Bojan Pancevski
April 4, 2010
United Kingdom -- When John Paul II died five years ago the crowd that packed St Peter's Square for his funeral clamoured "Santo subito (Saint now)!" in a spontaneous tribute to the charisma of the Polish pontiff.
As the faithful marked the anniversary of John Paul's death on Good Friday, however, he was being drawn into the scandal over child abuse in the Catholic church that has confronted his successor, Benedict XVI, with the worst crisis of his reign.
Allegations that the late pontiff blocked an inquiry into a paedophile cardinal, promoted senior church figures despite accusations that they had molested boys and covered up innumerable cases of abuse during his 26-year papacy have cast a cloud over his path to sainthood.
The most serious claims related to Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, an Austrian friend of John Paul's who abused an estimated 2,000 boys over decades but never faced any sanction from Rome.
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Groer's successor, criticised the handling of that scandal and other abuse cases last week after holding a special service in St Stephen's cathedral, Vienna, entitled "Admitting our guilt".
Schönborn condemned the "sinful structures" within the church and the patterns of "silencing" victims and "looking away".
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — who became Pope Benedict — had tried to investigate the abuses as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, according to Schönborn. But his efforts had been blocked by "the Vatican", an apparent reference to John Paul.
Asked by The Sunday Times whether John Paul's role in the cover-up of abuse should be investigated, Schönborn said: "I have known Pope Benedict personally during 37 years of amiable acquaintance and I can say with certainty that ... he made entirely clear efforts not to cover things up but to tackle and investigate them. This was not always met with approval in the Vatican."
The Groer affair became public in 1995 when former pupils of an elite Catholic school accused him of sexual abuse.
After an outcry, Groer was replaced and made the prior of a convent. He was never punished and issued only a vague apology in 1998 before retreating to a nunnery where he lived until his death in 2003. Some of his victims were offered "hush money" from the church.
Michael Tfirst, 54, one of Groer's victims, claims to have reported the abuse to highranking church officials from the 1970s onwards. He says the church paid him £3,300 in 2004 under a contract that obliged him to keep quiet.
"There is no question that Ratzinger knew all the details of reports on abuse within the church, as there is no doubt that John Paul, his superior, took part in a massive and systematic cover-up," Tfirst said.
John Paul also faced criticism last week from Poland for protecting Archbishop Juliusz Paetz, who was accused of abusing trainee priests. Letters detailing the charges were sent to John Paul's office and to Ratzinger in 2000 but were ignored. Paetz resigned in 2002 when the allegations became public.
Stanislaw Obirek, a Polish theologian and a former Jesuit priest, said: "I believe John Paul is the key person responsible for the cover-up of abuse cases because most of it occurred during his papacy. How can someone who is to blame for this be beatified?"
In America critics pointed out that although Benedict has borne the brunt of criticism over ignoring the scandal of Father Lawrence Murphy, accused of molesting 200 deaf boys at a special school in Wisconsin, Ratzinger had acted on the authority of John Paul.
Another beneficiary of John Paul's discreet approach was Marcial Maciel Degollado, a Mexican priest known as Father Maciel, who founded a conservative religious order. He was accused by former members of abuse in 1998. John Paul blessed Maciel in the Vatican in late 2004, at a time when Ratzinger was investigating him. A year after Ratzinger became pope, the Vatican ordered Maciel to lead "a reserved life of prayer and penance", effectively removing him from power.
John Paul was also accused of ignoring controversy over John Magee, a former private secretary to three popes including the Polish pontiff, who named him Bishop of Cloyne in 1987. Late last month Magee was forced to resign after an independent report found that his diocese in Ireland had put children at risk.
In the Vatican the spiralling allegations have prompted a siege-like mentality. Father Federico Lombardi, Benedict's spokesman, declined to comment on John Paul's handling of abuse cases. "We're busy with Easter celebrations, let's focus on the homilies," he said.
The Polish cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul's private secretary for four decades, rejected as "unfair and misleading" any attempt to distinguish between the approaches of the two popes to abuse cases. "Benedict is strongly committed to clearing things up, like a father," Dziwisz told La Repubblica, the Italian newspaper.
In Europe there are signs of the faithful turning their backs on the church in large numbers. In Austria alone more than 20,000 Catholics left the church in March.
In America there was a furious response by Jewish groups to a Good Friday sermon by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Benedict's personal preacher, in which he compared the wave of attacks on the church to anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, of the American Jewish Committee, protested: "So far I haven't seen Saint Peter burn. The Vatican is trying to turn the persecutors into victims."
John Paul was expected to be beatified in October but the process may be delayed. A French nun who appeared to have been miraculously cured of Parkinson's disease through his intercession has reportedly been found to be suffering from a different illness.
Giancarlo Zizola, a leading expert on the Vatican, said the church officials who had gathered documents and questioned witnesses about John Paul's suitability for sainthood had examined "negative" aspects of his papacy, including his handling of abuse cases.
"There's no chance of Benedict delaying the beatification because of the abuse scandal," Zizola said. "On the contrary, I expect he'll accelerate it."
Critics say John Paul II:
Failed to encourage bishops to report accusations of paedophilia by priests to the police.
Ignored accusations against senior members of the clergy, at times promoting them to higher office.
Allowed many priests accused of paedophilia to be transferred to a new diocese without anyone being warned of their record.
Decreed that "pontifical secrecy" must apply to cases of sexual abuse in church trials.
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