By Paweł Rytel-Andrianik

People who thoroughly research the history of the pontificate of St. John Paul II know very well that the issues of protecting children and youth and counteracting sexual crimes by some clergymen were the highest priority for him, emphasizes Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, vice-president of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE) and president of the Polish Episcopal Conference.

Archbishop Gądecki points out that St. John Paul II saw the future of the Church in young people, therefore he was the first to introduce church legal regulations to protect the weakest, and thus initiated the process of detecting sexual crimes and punishing clergymen who perpetrate it.

“It must be clearly stated that the present state of awareness on these issues and the subsequent guidelines and instructions for proceeding largely result from the decisions and actions of St. John Paul II. These decisions inspired further steps to protect children and young people and help those who have been harmed in the Church” the CCEE Vice-President said in a statement.

Archbishop Gądecki reminds us that St. John Paul II, as early as 1993, told US bishops that, in the case of sexual crimes, canonical punishments, including expulsion from the priesthood, were necessary and fully justified.

“He added that they should emphasize the importance of harm and evil done. The Holy Father, recalling the evangelical words of Jesus, emphasized in a letter to American bishops that “for the one who sows scandal, it would be better to have a large millstone around his neck and drown in the depths of the sea.” In 1994, he issued a special indult for the Church in the USA, and two years later for Ireland, stressing that there can be no tolerance for sexual abuse of minors” points out the CCEE vice-president.

 He added that in 2001, St. John Paul II, together with the introduction of the norms of the motu proprio “Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela” – obliged each bishop and religious major superior to report all sexual crimes committed by clergy against minors under the age of 18. He also pointed out that the attitude of St. John Paul II clearly reflects the position expressed in 2002 towards American bishops: “People must know that in the priesthood and religious life there is no place for those who would harm minors.”

“We must therefore firmly oppose the spreading of unsubstantiated accusations about his alleged negligence in responding to known cases of negative behavior of clergy and laity. It was St. John Paul II who set the course of action in the field of the protection of children and young people, which was later developed by Pope Benedict XVI, and now Pope Francis,” noted Archbishop Gądecki.

He also assessed that the “Report on the Holy See’s institutional knowledge and decision-making related to former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930 to 2017)” clearly proves that St. John Paul II was cynically deceived.

“Prior to McCarrick’s appointment as Metropolitan Archbishop of Washington, St. John Paul II consulted the American bishops on this candidacy. Today we know that he has not received complete information. McCarrick himself – in a letter of August 6, 2000, addressed to the secretary of John Paul II – lied, assuring him that he had not had sexual relations with anyone. Only recently it turned out that not only the popes became victims of the deceptions of the former cardinal who led a double life, but also the presidents of the USA and the Department of State, with whom he cooperated” said the Vice-President of the CCEE.

Archbishop Gądecki expressed his gratitude to Pope Francis for publishing the report on McCarrick, and also for the words: “John Paul II was a man so morally rigorous, of such moral integrity that he would never have allowed a corrupt candidacy to be promoted.” He added that the Church in Poland, together with Pope Francis, expresses once again its deep compassion for those wronged by some clergy.

“It is necessary to fairly judge and punish the perpetrators, and also to constantly care for increasing the safety of children, youth, and adults in the Church and in all other environments. (…) Attack on St. John Paul II – in my opinion – is in fact an attack on the teaching of the Church, which this Pope preached throughout his pontificate” noted the vice-president of the CCEE and chairman of the Polish Episcopate. 

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