ROME – Facing suggestions that Saint John Paul II’s reputation has been stained by the Church’s child sexual abuse scandals, including perceptions that John Paul turned a blind eye to accusations against certain leading churchmen, the official responsible of the Polish Pope’s sainthood cause insisted Friday his record was thoroughly investigated and no evidence of wrongdoing was found.
“No, John Paul II didn’t cover [up] for any pedophile,” Monsignor Slawomir Oder told journalists May 15.
The judicial vicar of the ordinary tribunal of the Diocese of Rome and postulator of the cause of canonization of Saint John Paul II, Oder spoke during a May 15 virtual press roundtable marking the centenary of John Paul II’s birth May 18.
John Paul II, who was canonized by Pope Francis in 2014 and was a vocal advocate for young people, has come under fire over the past year for his record not only as an ardent supporter of the late Mexican Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ who was sentenced to a life of “prayer and penance” by the Vatican in 2006 over abuse charges, but also for John Paul’s role in promoting ex-cardinal and ex-priest Theodore McCarrick.
If was John Paul II who gave McCarrick all three of his episcopal assignments in the United States – Metuchen, New Jersey, in 1981; Newark in 1986; and Washington, D.C. in 2000 – as well as making him a cardinal in 2001.
Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, who served as personal secretary for John Paul for 12 years in Krakow before accompanying him to the Vatican for the 27 years of his pontificate, has also has featured in questions into how McCarrick continued to rise to power as rumors of alleged sexual misconduct swirled in hushed voices throughout the Church.
There has long been speculation that key aids of John Paul II, including Dziwisz, who valued the support McCarrick delivered to the Solidarity movement in Poland, had a hand in McCarrick’s ecclesial career. The theory is that those architects of John Paul’s papacy chose to ignore question marks about McCarrick since he was useful to them in other areas.
Some Vatican-watchers have suggested the Vatican’s slow progress on investigating the McCarrick situation is due to the fact that the outcome could stain the legacy of John Paul and key aides such as Dziwisz and Cardinal Angelo Sodano, John Paul’s Secretary of State, both of whom were in power as McCarrick made his way up the ladder.
In his comments to journalists, Oder said that extensive research had been done in the Vatican archives on John Paul related to abuse.
“I can assure you”, he said, “no element existed that would make it possible to cast a shadow of guilt on the part of John Paul II.”
Oder said investigators for the sainthood cause did not have direct access to the relevant Vatican archives, which “were and remain closed to this day,” since documents pertaining to a pontificate typically remain sealed until 75 years after the papacy ends.
However, he said it was still possible “to formulate questions pertinent to the topic,” and the research was done by “those authorized by the Secretariat of State,” referring to the Vatican’s central organizing agency.
Oder said the cause’s historical commission – which forms part of the tribunal that brings in witnesses and reads through documents about the candidate’s life – faced questions on John Paul’s record on abuse, but found that evidence “doesn’t exist that could in some way impugn the conduct of John Paul II.”
“Certainly, it’s a phenomenon that needs to be studied for some time,” he said, noting that the archives from John Paul’s papacy will eventually be opened. In the meantime, he assured that due diligence was done during the cause, “and we did not find anything that could in some way block the cause of John Paul II regarding abuse.”
Oder also lamented that there is a tendency in some circles of the Church to place popes into ideological camps, often pitting John Paul II against Pope Francis.
Speaking in a personal capacity, Oder said “it hurts me” when he hears these things.
The Church “is guided by the Holy Spirit. We have a pope guided by the Holy Spirit, chosen by Christ to lead his Church,” he said, noting that the approach a pontiff takes can be different from his predecessors, but “this shouldn’t cause scandal.”
“Each can lead according to their experience and their preparation, it’s something normal,” he said, insisting that he doesn’t like to hear “gossip that destabilizes” the life of the Church.
“There always exists a development of thought,” he said, adding that any views to the contrary, in his view, “ignore the presence of the Holy Spirit, who inspires choices.”
“I love the church, I pray for the church,” Oder said, noting that he sees that there is “continuity of faith, charity, hope” among the pontificates.
Noting that the cause for canonization of John Paul II’s parents was opened in Poland last week, Oder said the lesson they can offer to modern families is one of “a very simply spirituality,” where honesty and contentment prevailed in an economically modest household.
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