WARSAW (Reuters) – The Catholic Church on Monday marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Pope John Paul II but questions remained about whether he did enough against sexual abuse.
Nurses in protective masks attend a ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of late Pope John Paul II next to his monument in Wadowice, Poland May 18, 2020. Jakub Porzycki/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS
John Paul was in 1978 elected he first non-Italian pope in 455 years, becoming Poland’s most famous son in modern times.
He reigned for nearly 27 years and Poles looked to him for guidance during communism and in the years following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. He died in 2005 and was declared a saint in 2014.
“John Paul II changed world’s history. Thanks to him, thanks to Solidarity, communism collapsed and we were able to build a free Poland,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said, referring to the free trade union.
Most historians concur that the changes would not have come as quickly without the pope’s backing for Solidarity.
On Monday Pope Francis honoured his predecessor by saying Mass at John Paul’s crypt in St. Peter’s Basilica and the Angelicum, the Rome university where the future pope studied as a young priest, opened a culture institute named after him.
In Krakow, the city where he was bishop, archbishop and cardinal for 20 years, dozens of people prayed, lit candles and left flowers below the window of the residence from where he addressed crowds during his return trips as pope.
“When I was a small girl I attended a papal Mass. I feel a bond with him,” said Karolina Malik, 40.
But critics said his legacy was cloudy.
They have said it was still not clear how much John Paul knew about Marcial Maciel, accused of being one of the Church’s worst paedophiles. He abused even the children he had fathered secretly while living a double life and being feted by the Vatican and Church conservatives, according to a report from the Legionaries of Christ Catholic religious order.
“John Paul ignored and dismissed reports of sexual abuse by clergy. He defended some of the most notorious predators of the abuse crisis, including Maciel,” Anne Barrett Doyle of the U.S.-based abuse tracker BishopAccountability.org, said on Monday.
Although allegations against the founder of the Legionaries of Christ religious order surfaced as early as 1954, the Vatican only began slowly acknowledging Maciel’s abuse in 2006, when Pope Benedict ordered him to retire to a life of “prayer and penitence”. Maciel died in 2008.
Former Legionaries say Maciel gave huge contributions to the Vatican during the papacy of John Paul, who admired the Legionaries’ orthodoxy and ability to produce vocations.
The official who was in charge of John Paul’s sainthood cause, Polish Monsignor Slawomir Oder, told reporters on Friday that the commission that investigated his life found no evidence that he neglected or covered up abuse scandals.
In Krakow, Natalia Zembrzycka, 52, said she just wanted to pray.
“As far as paedophilia is concerned – John Paul II did so many good things for so many people and for the Church, that we want to remember him this way, and we don’t want to reflect on these dirty issues,” she said.
Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Additional reporting by Wojciech Zurawski and Philip Pullella; editing by Philip Pullella and Lisa Shumaker