Polish cardinal faces serious allegations

Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, a close associate of Pope John Paul II, has been accused in the Polish commercial media of covering up scandals involving priests guilty of child sex abuse and that during his time in the Vatican he protected perpetrators in exchange for money for his favoured projects.

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Polish commercial TVN24 has broadcast a long film report on Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz. The Cardinal was for many years Pope John Paul II’s most trusted associate in the Vatican. The film entitled “Don Stanislao, The second face of Cardinal Dziwisz“ alleges that the Cardinal has for decades refused to take action against cases of sex abuse of minors in the Catholic Church. He is accused in the film of protecting his friends in Poland and of protecting others abroad for money. The money was used to fund projects close such as schools, churches and monuments (two of them of JPII and the Cardinal).

The allegations

The film alleges that the Cardinal had full knowledge of child sex abuse offences alleged against Maciel Degollado, the founder of the “Legions of Christ” order. Reports say about around 200 victims of abuse.

For many years, victims of the rev. Degollado complained to the Holy See but the Vatican did not react. According to reports, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Dean of Cardinal Collegium in the years 2002-2005, who was elected Pope Benedict XVI, tried to intervene.

“Two people mostly involved in covering up this case [of the rev. Degollado] were rev. Dziwisz and Cardinal [Angelo] Sodano, Vatican’s Secretary of State in John Paul II time,” Jason Berry, an American journalist, the author of books about “Legion of Christ” told TVN24. He added that other charges are also formulated against Cardinal Dziwisz. Degollado is reported to have given Cardinal Dziwisz large sums of money in exchange for access granted to influential people to private Papa masses at the Vatican.

“During the final years of John Paul II’s life, Cardinals Dziwisz and Sodano had been receiving large amounts of money from the Legion of Christ. Dziwisz had been receiving up to USD 50,000 for allowing rich donors of the order to papal masses in the private chapel of Apostolic Palace,” Mr Berry said, adding that one of the Legion’s members called it “elegant way to give a bribe.”

In an interview with TVN24 in October, Cardinal Dziwisz denied the allegations and said that he had never received any money and claimed that for years he was not aware of the “double life” of rev. Degollado.

The Cadinal is also accused of being instrumental in promoting Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was later disgraced for his role in the child sex abuse scandal in the church in the USA. It is alleged that McCarrick had been generous with donations to the Vatican and that this was one of the reasons why he was “protected”.

In his time as Cardinal in Kraków, Cardinal Dziwisz is accused of failing to react to allegations of sex abuse that were brought to his attention. The Cardinal failed to report the matters to the Vatican and did not suspend the individuals involved. Allegedly because at least some of them were his friends.

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Defensive response

The author of the film on several occasions attempted to persuade the Cardinal to grant him an interview so he could put questions concerning the allegations. He was not successful in soliciting an interview. But the Cardinal was questioned by a TVN24 interviewer about some of the allegations on another occasion and answered that either the cases mentioned were not under his jurisdiction in the church or that he was not aware of them.

On Monday, the day of the TVN24 broadcast, Cardinal Dziwisz issued a statement in which he calls for an independent commission of enquiry to investigate the issues raised in the film.

“I care about transparency in explaining those issues. It is not about whitewashing or hiding potential negligence, but a reliable presentation of facts. The good of the victims is the most important value. Children and youth cannot be harmed anymore by the Church, which occurred in the past. I am ready for the full cooperation with an independent commission, which will explain those issues,” he wrote in a statement issued on Monday evening.

Pressure on the Polish Catholic Church grows

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, the head of the Polish Episcopal Conference, expressed his hope that all the accusations of negligence against Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, presented in the reportage will be investigated by the proper commission of the Holy See.

“In reference to yesterday's film of TVN24 ‘Don Stanislao, The second face of Cardinal Dziwisz’ in which Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz is accused of negligence in explaining the cases of sexual abuse by the clergy, I express the hope that all the uncertainties presented in the film will be explained by the proper committee of the Holy See. At the same time I want to emphasise that the Church in Poland is grateful to Cardinal (Dziwisz) for his long service for Saint John Paul II.” the statement reads.

The Episcopate’s statement is internally contradictory. It promises investigation but it thanks Cardinal Dziwisz for the way he served the Pope. The problem here is that many of the allegations concern the period in which Cardinal Dziwisz served the Polish Pontiff in the Vatican.

These allegations follow the recent action taken by the Vatican against another Polish cleric , Archbishop Gulbinowicz, for his role in sex abuse of minors. It is not unlikely that Cardinal Dziwisz may soon be the object of action by the Vatican, as child abuse of minors has become a major problem for the Church.

In Poland anything that impacts negatively on the image of revered Pope John Paul II will cause problems for the Church. Many, some of them within the Church itself, argue that the Polish Catholic Church has failed to deal with its own problems such as sex abuse of minors, priests violating celibacy, clerics living a lavish lifestyle and priests who used to be informers of the communist secret police. Too many of these problems seem to have been swept under the carpet in an attempt to contain embarrassment for the Church.

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The problem is that all these allegations undermine the Church’s moral authority. It is difficult for the Church to be convincing in its teachings on homqsexuality being a sin when its own priests all too often engage in such practices. It is also considered to be hypocritical of the Church to preach that sex should be contained within marriage if there are priests ‘living in sin’ with women.

It is also fair to observe that the Polish Church has not exactly been the most ardent follower of the current Pope’s advice of the need for clerics to live a modest life. Many dignitaries in the Church seem very fond of their creature comforts and social status.

Added to this is the political dimension. The Church in Poland has been no blushing violet in terms of its involvement in public life. This is understandable on moral issues and it has to be remembered that the Church in Poland was an independent voice at time of partition, occupation and totalitarian communism. But some argue that the Church in recent years has become far too close to the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) for its own comfort.

Again, some of this is understandable. PiS have on most issues taken positions that the Church approves of. This has been the case on religious teaching in schools, the presence of the Church in public life, protection of family life and now abortion. But that makes the Church vulnerable to being associated with the whole agenda of the ruling party and any problems that affect it.

However, it also affects the ruling party when the Church is accused of wrong-doing. Any alliance of Church and throne has inevitable costs for both sides. An attack on one becomes an attack on both.

The ruling party has been slow in setting in motion the state commission to investigate cases of sex abuse of minors. It is anxious that the Church is not singled out as the only or the major guilty party. But the controversy that is now engulfing Cardinal Dziwisz is another warning shot across the bowels that the issue needs dealing with.

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