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KRAKÒW, Poland – A former top aide to Pope John Paul II has been cleared by the Vatican of charges that he mishandled sex abuse cases in Poland, with a papal investigation concluding that his actions were “correct” and, as a result, “the Holy See decided not to proceed further.”
Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz served as John Paul II’s priest-secretary and, later, as Archbishop of Krakow between 2005 and 2016.
The reason for the Vatican investigation of Dziwisz, 82, has never been officially stated, but it’s widely understood that it concerned accusations of negligence in handling abuse cases. The inquiry was led by Italian Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, a former president of the Italian bishops’ conference.
“I think that the Polish society has never believed these accusations,” Dziwisz told Crux. “I am glad and relieved that the statement is final and closes the matter, and that we will not come back to it anymore.”
“I feel satisfied that what I said has been confirmed,” Dziwisz said.
He also expressed relief that accusations concerning his actions cannot be used to impugn the legacy of the pope he served
“Many linked the whole matter with the Pope, and I’m glad this argument failed,” Dziwisz told Crux, adding that he’s grateful to Rome “for its fair judgment.”
The case for which Dziwisz was investigated goes back to 1984, when a boy was abused by the local parish priest in the town of Międzybrodzie in southwestern Poland for more than five years, beginning when he was 12.
Years later, the victim-survivor, Janusz Szymik, was twice ignored by Bishop Tadeusz Rakoczy of the Bielsko-Żywiec dioceses. Szymik then asked Father Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski, a priest known for helping victims of church sexual abuse, to try to intervene on a higher level in the Archdiocese of Krakow.
In September 2020, Isakowicz-Zaleski publicly accused Dziwisz of being informed about Szymik’s case in 2012 and doing nothing about it. Dziwisz denied those accusations and urged the creation of an independent commission to check the facts.
Nine months later, Bagnasco came to Krakow to investigate, including a meeting with Isakowicz-Zaleski.
“I talked to Bagnasco and told him about all my doubts about the actions of Dziwisz in connection with his explanation of sexual abuse by priests,” Isakowicz-Zaleski told the Polish website Onet on Friday, April 22.
For Isakowicz-Zaleski, the case against Dziwisz may be legally closed, but it’s not over.
“For me, the topic is not finished in a moral sense,” he said.
On Friday, Isakowicz-Zaleski wrote on Twitter that the papal embassy in Poland never announced the fate of a letter he allegedly handed to Dziwisz, describing the case of Szymik and asking the cardinal to intervene since Rakoczy was not willing to do anything about it.
Rakoczy was sanctioned by the Vatican for his role in the case in May 2021.
“When this case took place, I was in the Vatican; many of these things were completely unrelated to me,” Dziwisz told Crux.
In a legal analysis provided to KAI, the Polish Catholic News Agency, Michał Skwarzyński of Catholic University of Lublin wrote that Dziwisz, even if provided with information about another bishop, did not have a legal obligation to inform the Holy See in 2012. It was only Vos Estis Lux Mundi, a document released on June 1, 2019, by Pope Francis, which obliged metropolitan archbishops to do so.
“Before 2019, the metropolitan could only ask the bishop in question personally to remove the priest, but he could not force him to do so,” the lawyer wrote in his analysis.
When Dziwisz was Archbishop of Krakow, seven cases of sexual abuse were reported and proceeded on his watch, including the case of an alleged victim known as “Adam.”
“I waited for 20 years to report my case to church authorities, and, to be honest, when I was going to meet the cardinal after sending him an initial letter, I thought the case would be swept under the carpet,” Adam said.
But when he met Dziwisz in 2013, he said he was surprised by the archbishop’s support.
“He not only told me my letter to him was dramatic and important, but he laid out all the legal options at hand,” Adam said.
As a result of that experience, Adam said he was always “calm about the accusations regarding Dziwisz” in the case investigated by Bagnasco.
“In Poland we say – God is not in a hurry, but he is just, and knowing the way I was treated it was hard for me to believe how he could ignore that other case,” Adam told Crux.
With Dziwisz’s case closed and Rakoczy sanctioned a year ago, the case of Janusz Szymik, the victim from Międzybrodzie, is now closed as far as the Vatican is concerned. The only option left for Szymik is now in Poland’s civil courts, having filed a lawsuit seeking $760,000 in compensation for abuse from the Diocese of Bielsko-Żywiecka.
In the course of the lawsuit, attorneys acting for the diocese asked Szymik whether he enjoyed the abuse, a strategy that drew international criticism and eventually compelled the diocese to issue an apology.