Rome grab-bag: Papal health, Ukraine, and abuse in Poland

Crux [Denver CO]

March 11, 2024

By Elise Ann Allen

ROME – Despite the fact Pope Francis continues to recover from a recent cold, it was a busy weekend around Rome as he resumed certain duties, removed a Polish bishop accused of coverup, and urged Ukraine to consider negotiations in its ongoing war with Russia.

Pope Francis, 87, at the end of last month was forced to cancel several days of scheduled meetings and audiences due to what the Vatican described at the time as a “mild flu-like state.”

Though he resumed his regular schedule Feb. 28, he made a quick hospital visit for a CAT scan of his lungs and has regularly had aides reading his prepared speeches.

However, he was back at it this weekend, reading his entire homily and even stopping to make some brief, off-the-cuff remarks during his Lenten “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative, which this year took place March 1 at the Roman parish of Pio V.

Francis spent around half an hour hearing several confessions at the parish before leaving to return to the Vatican.

On Saturday he had a full morning of appointments, and on Sunday he delivered his noontime Angelus address as usual, reading the speech himself on a windy and raining morning, and offering prayers for peace in Haiti, Ukraine and the Holy Land, and giving a special greeting to women for International Women’s Day.

Ukraine and courage to negotiate

On Saturday, a new papal interview was published that was given to Italian journalist Lorenzo Buccella from the Swiss broadcaster RSI on Feb. 2, and which is expected to be broadcast on March 20 as part of a new cultural program.

During the interview, Pope Francis caused a stir when asked about the debate between those who say Ukraine ought to raise a “white flag” and surrender as it has not been able to overcome Russian forces, and those who argue that doing so would legitimize Russia’s actions.

In response, Pope Francis said he believes “the strongest one is the one who looks at the situation, thinks about the people and has the courage of the white flag, and negotiates.”

“The word negotiate is a courageous word. When you see that you are defeated, that things are not going well, you have to have the courage to negotiate,” he said, noting that many countries, including Turkey, have voiced a willingness to mediate.

Francis’s comments marked the first time he had used the term “white flag” or “defeated” in reference to the Ukraine war, raising alarm from Ukrainian authorities and allies who have supported Ukraine for past two years, since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni made a statement to journalists explaining that the term “white flag” had been used by the interviewer, and that Pope Francis had simply repeated it “to indicate a cessation of hostilities and a truce reached with the courage of negotiations.”

“His hope is a diplomatic solution for a just and lasting peace,” Bruni said.

Asked if he was willing to mediate, Francis said, who has repeatedly prayed for “martyred Ukraine” and its people, said, “I am here.”

“One may feel shame, but how many dead will it end up with?” he said, referring to the war, and urged both parties to “find a country that can be a mediator…Do not be ashamed of negotiating, before things get worse.”

Also asked about the ongoing war in Gaza between Israel and Palestine, Pope Francis said “we have to move forward,” and that every day he calls the Holy Family Catholic parish in Gaza, where around 600 people are sheltering.

“Two people are making war, not one,” he said, saying, “the irresponsible ones are those who wage war. Then there is not only the military war, (but) there is also the ‘guerilla war’, so to speak, of Hamas for example, a movement that is not an army. It’s a terrible thing.”

Francis again lamented that the greatest investments are currently in the global arms trade, calling war “madness.”

While it is right to defend oneself – which has been both Ukraine and Israel’s defense of their ongoing military actions – the pope said, “then you realize that they have a plane factor to bomb others.”

“Defend ourselves, not destroy,” he said, saying “there is always some geographical or historical situation that causes a war…but behind a war there is the arms industry, and this means money.”

Abuse scandals in Poland

On Saturday, Pope Francis removed Bishop Andrzej Franciszek Dziuba of Łowicz following allegations of negligence in handling clergy abuse cases.

In 2020, following a diocesan investigation into Dziuba carried out by now-Cardinal Grzegorz Rys, Metropolitan Archbishop of Lodz, according to the pope’s anti-abuse norm Vos Estis Lux Mundi, a dossier containing the results of the inquiry was presented to the Holy See.

A state commission inquiring into pedophilia in 2022 presented to the prosecutor’s office a formal notification of charges against Dziuba, 73, for failure to notify the police of the sexual abuse of a minor.

The Vatican’s nunciature in Poland issued a statement after the March 9 announcement of Dziuba’s removal stating that “difficulties in the management of the diocese were identified” in the inquiry, “in particular negligence in handling sexual abuse cases committed by some clergy against minors.”

It was these allegations, they said, that “confirmed the proceedings conducted by the Holy See based on the papal document Vos estis lux mundi,” a piece of legislation issued by Pope Francis in 2019 which among other things establishes mandatory reporting for bishops and outlines the so-called “metropolitan model” for conducting investigations into bishops.

Bishop Wojciech Tomasz Osial, auxiliary bishop of Łowicz, has been tapped to lead as apostolic administrator until a new bishop is named.

Dziuba’s ouster marks the latest of Poland’s bishops to fall amid a cascade of abuse scandals that have so far seen 13 bishops removed.

On Feb. 24, the pope accepted the resignation of Bishop Andrzej Dzięga of Stettino, who was accused along with his predecessor of abuse coverup in his diocese.

However, despite the fact that many bishops continue to be removed in Poland for the crime of coverup, survivor advocate groups have criticized the pope for not enforcing harsher penalties.

In a statement following Saturday’s announcement of Dziuba’s removal, Bishop Accountability said the pope “has again chosen to give a soft landing to a bishop who protected child molesters. An early retirement is hardly an adequate penalty.”

“For many years, he covered up for abusers, ignored the suffering of victims, and put other children in harm’s way. Yet he retains his prestigious title and privileges,” the organization said, calling for the removal of his title.

Dziuba’s case serves as “a depressing reminder of the inadequacy of Vos estis lux mundi and penal canon law,” they said, saying, “the Vatican’s investigative and penal processes are painfully slow, and even when a bishop is finally found guilty, the sanctions are disproportionately mild.”

However, the organization welcomed the nunciature’s acknowledgement that Dziuba was ousted for negligence in abuse cases, saying it is “a far cry from the transparency we were promised,” but there is at least “official verification that the bishop was fired for cover-up.”

Follow Elise Ann Allen on X: @eliseannallen