Cardinal Dziwisz defends himself in wake of McCarrick report

By Paulina Guzik
November 11, 2020

Polish Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, Poland, arrives for a consistory in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in this June 28, 2018, file photo.
Photo by Paul Haring

KRAKÓW, Poland – While the world is still digesting the McCarrick report, released by the Vatican on Tuesday, the blame game has begun in Poland, St. John Paul II’s homeland. One of the report’s few living protagonists is Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, John Paul’s longtime personal secretary, who was mentioned 45 times in the document.

But the storm for Dziwisz actually started the day before the report was released, when TVN24 aired “Don Stanislao” by journalist Marcin Gutowski, a 90-minutes-long documentary “showing another face of Cardinal Dziwisz,” as the station advertised it.

The film aired a long list of accusations from covering up for his friends from the seminary, to the role of Dziwisz in the case of the late Father Marcial Maciel, the disgraced founder of the Legionaries of Christ, another other dark spot in John Paul’s pontificate.

The Polish bishops’ conference reacted almost immediately to the documentary. On Tuesday, hours before the McCarrick report was released, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of Polish Bishops Conference, issued a statement: “I hope that any queries presented in the documentary will be examined by an appropriate commission of the Apostolic See,” while at the same time expressing gratitude to Dziwisz “for his longtime service at the side of John Paul II.”

Although there were few new revelations in the documentary, the film’s director did manage show Dziwisz refusing to answer troubling questions.

“Evading the answers is never a good reaction,” said Father Piotr Studnicki, head of Child Protection office of the Polish Bishops conference.

He told KAI, polish catholic news agency, that “explaining this case is in the interest of the Church in Poland.”

“Church leadership should be willing to fully cooperate in the Vatican investigation,” Studnicki added. For him, “it is impossible to investigate this case only on the Polish level.”

McCarrick report and Dziwisz

The McCarrick report and the documentary “Don Stanislao” both contained accusations Dziwisz hid correspondence from  John Paul.

But the Vatican report also confirmed letters sent to Dziwisz regarding the McCarrick case, and even the one written by the American prelate in August 2000 defending himself, was indeed given to the pope.

In a brief phone conversation with Crux and Polish Television, right after the release of the report, Dziwisz said: “The letter was addressed to me, but it really was for the pope. I handed over the letter, the pope read it and sent it to the Secretariat of State.”

Dziwisz stressed that he was not in charge of making decisions for the pope.

“I was only the personal secretary of the pope. It has always been important for me to respect the competences of individual people and not to enter into their functions,” the cardinal said.

He added the main collaborator of the pope in governing the Church “it is not the personal secretary, but the Secretary of State.”

“The pope was always evangelical, transparent and unequivocal,” Dziwisz said, adding if John Paul had known what we know now regarding McCarrick, “he would certainly condemn such acts and would care above all for the victims.”

In his conversation with Crux, Dziwisz also responded to the recent accusations made against him in the Polish media, insisting that he was the one who called for an independent commission to investigate the allegations.

“I would like competent and serious people to investigate the matter. If such a commission is established, I am available to answer any inquiries, to the extent that the described matters were within my competence,” he said.

Protesters took to the streets Tuesday night and marched to the Krakow archdiocesan offices and Dziwisz’s residence shouting out, “Dziwisz-Wojtyła, your era is over.”

The TVN24 documentary and the McCarrick report gave demonstrators another reason to protest the Church, after nearly three weeks of anti-Church protests in the wake of a Constitution Tribunal decision tightening Poland’s abortion laws.

First reactions to the McCarrick report in Poland

The release of the McCarrick report has been hotly debated in Poland, especially how it might influence the legacy of John Paul.

For Dominican Father Maciej Zięba, a longtime friend of John Paul II and author of recently published book Pontificate in the Times of Confusion, said that the fact that McCarrick was at all appointed to the Archdiocese of Washington is “of course sorrowful,” but, at the same time, “the report proves on many levels that there isn’t a slightest engagement of John Paul in hiding anything or covering up.”

Crucial for seeing the full picture, he said, “is the investigation ordered by John Paul II and the rejection of the charges against McCarrick by the three American bishops, which proves that corporate culture of clericalism won,” and that it was and it is “by far too strong.”

Zięba pointed out that the report very clearly shows McCarrick fooled many, including some U.S. presidents, of whom several were in friendly relations with the former cardinal even though “they have a pretty good Secret Service support that could ring the warning bell. Also major American media investigated McCarrick’s case and did not detect anything.”

“Pope John Paul consulted many serious people in the U.S. and in the Vatican, and many congregations, he was not governing all by himself,” the priest continued, also stressing what the report shows is that “those structures of ecclesiastical authority are stuffy and need to be ventilated.”

Zięba is less sanguine about John Paul’s former personal secretary.

“What is lacking in Cardinal Dziwisz’s actions is compassion towards the victims, the willingness to listen and asking for pardon,” the priest said.

“There may have been conscious or unconscious acts of negligence from the side of the cardinal,” Zięba said, before adding that the TVN24 report was “an avalanche of accusations.”

“It was like we only had a prosecutor in the room without a [defense] attorney. There were also statements that were simply untrue [which the] unprepared viewer will take as the whole truth about the story,” the priest said. “We must stand by the truth whatever it may be.”


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