Pope John Paul II reigned for nearly 30 years. Much of the abuse that is now coming to light occurred under his pontificate. Moreover, many of the abusers that are being exposed were trained and nourished in the priestly arts while he was pope. A lot of these were flushed down the drain when the abuse scandal exploded in 2002. That year, and those following, the scandal was covered relentlessly by the media and the Catholic Church parted with countless millions of dollars in compensation and legal fees. A slow and shuddering change started to occur – it turns out to be very expensive to harbour perverted animals in your organisation – although many perpetrators remained hidden in the vast spiderweb of the Roman Catholic organisation.
What this means is that of the last three popes, Pope John Paul II sat on the biggest powder keg of them all. He was in charge before the secular authorities began the house cleaning; before the dirty linen started to get aired; before the law came after them. The question legitimately applies to Pope John Paul II. What did the Pope know and when did he know it? All of the evidence seems to indicate that John Paul II presided over a deeply corrupt, money-focused Vatican, and that he not only was disinterested in the issue of child abuse, but would not listen to reports that were sent to him about it.
There is no earthly way Pope John Paul II could not have known. The fact that nothing was done gives us a deep insight into the true nature of the Roman Catholic Church.
JOHN PAUL II – THE CONSUMMATE POLITICIAN
Let’s turn the clock back to 1978. Karol Wojtyla, a youngish Polish archbishop was elected by the conclave of the Roman Catholic Church. He took the papal name of Pope John Paul II. In short order, he proved to be wily and cunning politician.
John Paul II was able to be a good politician because he was a perplexing blend of inconsistent energies. His personality crackled with oddities. On the one hand, he yearned for traditional Catholic family values. He was particularly wont to glorify both the figure of mother and motherhood. He refused to buckle on the issue of birth control.
Yet, despite this staunch conservatism when it came to women he was exceedingly liberal in his views of other religions. He wanted Catholics to join forces with Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and virtually any other halfway sizeable religion in order to influence the world for the better. After all, to engineer social justice you need numbers. If you get a bunch of religions on the same wagon, you have a lot of social justice warriors. And if John Paul II taught anything, it was definitely the Social Gospel.
Pragmatic and calculating when it came to inter-faith alliances, John Paul II was also a decided mystic. It was said that each morning he would crawl around a large map of the world praying for different nations. He is reported to have had “prophetic visions”, and to talk with the Virgin Mary. This tendency is not surprising since he was fiercely dedicated to the cult of the Virgin Mary, even giving her the attribution for saving his life during the assassination attempt by Mehmet Ali Agca:
Could I forget that the event in St. Peter’s Square took place on the day and at the hour when the first appearance of the Mother of Christ to the poor little peasants has been remembered for over sixty years at Fátima, Portugal? For in everything that happened to me on that very day, I felt that extraordinary motherly protection and care, which turned out to be stronger than the deadly bullet.
He was also an exceedingly clever politician.
It was the commensurate political skill of Pope John Paul II – who combined both liberal and conservative impulses in an inconsistent amalgam – that satisfied the two wings of the church for decades and kept them from tearing each other apart.
He achieved this state of Cold War by giving both sides theological morsels in turn. One month, for example, he would thunder out canonical law with the fire of a desert prophet and fiercely condemn liberation theology, birth control, and communism. The traditionalists would throw up their hands and cry, “Great is Pope John Paul II! He is our man.” Yet the liberals would mutter darkly and the shadows would begin to stir.
Then, a few months down the track, John Paul II would issue apologies for past crimes, or beatify national saints (which he did by the truckload), or soften the official stance on liturgical issues. He would talk about world peace, condemn consumerism, and proclaim St. Francis of Assisi the patron saints of ecologists. The liberals would throw up their hands and cry, “All is forgiven! We were in error. Great is John Paul II. He is our man.”
Shortly afterwards, he would simply wash, rinse, and repeat the process.
By this means he kept both traditionalists and liberals in stasis. He had a forceful and charismatic temper which when combined with his contradictory and unsystematic theological views, enabled everyone to claim him as his own. For example, I have an exceedingly liberal grandmother who firmly believed that Pope John Paul II was a great “spiritual man” and a liberal leader who held views similar to her own. By the same token, Father John Zuhlsdorf, a convinced traditionalist who trumpets the value of Latin and wants to revive countless archaic Catholic traditions, regards Pope John Paul II with similar reverence and respect. Zuhlsdorf counts him as a traditionalist defender of Catholic morality and of a tidy Catholic liturgy.
Pope John Paul II also managed to keep the Roman Curia – the secretive bureaucracy of the Vatican – on his side. He did this by never rocking the boat. During his 28 year pontificate, he did little to reform, investigate, or change the curia’s processes or privileges even following the nearly Hollywoodeque Banco Ambrosiano scandal and exposure of the crooked dealings of Roberto Calvi – the Italian known as “God’s banker” – who was connected with the Vatican.
The Banco Ambrosiano, of which the Vatican Bank was a majority shareholder, was used by the Mafia to run a money laundering operation and also by the Masonic Lodge Propaganda Due (P2). Propaganda Due was later found by a parliamentary investigation to be a secret criminal organisation with links to Argentina and numerous corrupt dealings involving banks. Propaganda Due was sometimes called a “state within a state” or a “shadow government” due to the large number of journalists, politicians, industrialists and military leaders who were involved with it.
Roberto Calvi was discovered in 1982 hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London with his clothes stuffed with bricks and cash in three different currencies totalling $14,000 (US). In 2007, Italian magistrates ruled his death a murder – not a suicide as it may have been intended to appear – and said the case was effectively closed and the five people charged with his murder were acquitted. The defence argued that too many people had an interest in his death, such as the mafia and Vatican officials.
The scandal should have torpedoed any remaining illusions that the Roman Curia and the Vatican administrative apparatus was “the most perfect government on earth”, as it has liked to present itself. In fact, it was an episode that should have troubled all but the most hardened consciences. For during the 25 years in which Calvi’s murder was repeatedly investigated by private and public investigators, time and again the Vatican was spoken of in connection to extreme corruption. Vatican business dealings with the Banco Ambrosiano meant that, through the nexus of the bank, they were commercially rubbing shoulders with criminal organisations that were implicated in murders.
One demonstration of its corruption was revealed more recently by Cardinal George Pell (who is awaiting sentencing following a trial for historic sexual abuse). Pell admitted that during his audit of Vatican finances, he had discovered hundreds of millions of euros that had not appeared on balance sheets. Moreover, he also admitted in an interview with the Catholic Herald that one of the problems of auditing Vatican finances was the resistance of each department to transparency. Naturally Pell used the euphemism “independence” but it is clear what is implied. Pell said:
I once read that Pope Leo XIII sent an apostolic visitor to Ireland to report on the Catholic Church there,” he writes. “On his return, the Holy Father’s first question was: ‘How did you find the Irish bishops?’ The visitor replied that he could not find any bishops, but only 25 popes.
So it was with the Vatican finances. Congregations, Councils and, especially, the Secretariat of State enjoyed and defended a healthy independence. Problems were kept ‘in house’ (as was the custom in most institutions, secular and religious, until recently). Very few were tempted to tell the outside world what was happening, except when they needed extra help.
Pell went on to drop a bombshell. Not only were Vatican finances healthy, but large pools of money were washing around the Vatican completely unaccounted for. One must ask the question, “Where did this money come from?” and “Who was profiting from this money while it was sitting unaccounted for?”. Pell, of course, gives no inkling about this:
It is important to point out that the Vatican is not broke. Apart from the pension fund, which needs to be strengthened for the demands on it in 15 or 20 years, the Holy See is paying its way, while possessing substantial assets and investments.
In fact, we have discovered that the situation is much healthier than it seemed, because some hundreds of millions of euros were tucked away in particular sectional accounts and did not appear on the balance sheet. It is another question, impossible to answer, whether the Vatican should have much larger reserves.
Pell then frankly admits that the Vatican was involved with criminal activity, to such an extent that other European banks would not deal with it. He says:
Many will remember the scandals at the Vatican bank (IOR) in the early 1980s, with Archbishop Paul Marcinkus and the lay bankers Michele Sindona and Roberto Calvi (who was famously found hanged under Blackfriars Bridge), and the Vatican being constrained to pay $406 million (£259 million) in compensation. Comparative quiet then returned, until the international laws against money laundering needed to be applied within the Vatican.
The authorities supervising the Vatican bank did not move swiftly enough, and some tens of millions of euros were frozen by the Bank of Italy, with many European banks refusing to deal with the Vatican. It was a grave situation where the worst was narrowly averted. It was only this November , after years of dialogue and good work, that the €23 million (£18.3 million) were released.
All of this developed under the pontificate of Pope John Paul II who showed little interest in doing much about Vatican finances and this reflected his preference for the dirty linen of the Catholic Church to be kept under wraps – until it exploded.
Given the wretched condition of the Vatican administration under his reign, it is not at all surprising that there are significant numbers of people today who believe that Pope John Paul II was well aware of the abuse that ran like a plague through his church, and yet he did not take concerted action against it.
His supporters argue he did not know. Like the common peasant myth in Tsarist Russia, it was not the king himself who did not wish to act, but rather his evil officials who kept the truth from him. Likewise, supporters of John Paul II have said that had he known – had he been told – he would have vigorously sought to root it out. Unfortunately the corrupt curia prevented the knowledge from flowing through.
Such an argument (if true) confirms the rottenness of the Vatican administration, something that is now acknowledged even by the most ardent Catholics, but it is not really a credible argument. To claim that Pope John Paul II was actively denied knowledge of the prevalence of abuse, or that he had no knowledge of abuse during a 30 year period when literally thousands of abuse cases occurred and were reported, requires a faith that exceeds that of a simple believer in God. You would need to believe in supernatural ignorance, for that is what it would take for this argument to hold.
Contrarily, there is striking evidence that not only did Pope John Paul II know about the abuse, he actively sought to suppress its exposure.
The pontiff “turned a blind eye to the problems that were happening in Los Angeles,” said Joelle Casteix, Western Regional Director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
“The canonization of Pope John Paul II is very traumatic for victims of sexual abuse in the catholic church because they don’t see him as the unifying figure that many other Catholics do,” Casteix said. “They see him as someone who knew about sexual abuse, covered it up, promoted wrong doers and allowed more priests to molest kids.”
It is difficult not to come to the same conclusion articulated by Joelle Casteix, given that the Vatican has virtually drowned in cases of sickening child abuse for nearly two decades.
In February last year, the Business Standard magazine reported the comments made by Thomas Doyle to the Royal Commission inquiry into historical sexual abuse in Australia. Doyle alleges that Pope John Paul II had indeed known about the abuse:
Late Pope John Paul II was aware of priests sexually abusing children, and of efforts by the Catholic Church to cover up the allegations, an American canon lawyer claimed on Tuesday.
Thomas Doyle, an expert on cases of sexual abuse by the clergy, said this while testifying at a hearing here in Australia, Efe news reported.
Doyle is deposing before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in public and religious institutions.
He also said that in 1985 at least four US dioceses sent reports to the Vatican on child sexual abuse by priests.
Doyle went on to describe his personal involvement in trying to solicit support from Pope John Paul II for stamping out abusers within the Roman clergy:
One of these reports were prepared by Doyle himself, who requested a bishop be sent down to Luisiana to deal with cases of paedophilia.
The report was sent by courier to the Cardinal Archbishop of Philadelphia, Cardinal John Krol, who took it to the Vatican the next day, said Doyle.
He added Krol handed the report to the Pope, who read the document and named a bishop for the purpose – AJ Quinn – within three days.
However, Quinn, he said: “turned out to be part of the problem, not part of the solution, because he was trying to figure how to continue with the cover-up.”
After being informed, Pope John Paul II appointed a bishop who proceeded to cover up the abuse. Given John Paul II’s political instincts, it is again questionable whether this could be an accident. If Thomas Doyle can be believed – and there is no reason to question his integrity – there are only two possibilities here. Either John Paul II wanted to minimise the fallout and scotch tape the situation up, and therefore gave implicit or explicit instructions to that effect, or the culture in the Vatican was so noxious that the bishop concluded off his own bat that his sole duty in being awarded the task was to cover it up as best as possible.
Doyle went on to say:
Doyle’s claims came a day after a detailed report by the Australian Catholic Church that revealed around 4,500 people reported cases of child sexual abuse by members of the clergy between 1980 and 2015.
Presented by Gail Furness, the counsel assisting the commission, the report said between 1950 and 2010, 1,880 alleged perpetrators were identified — 572 priests, 597 religious brothers, and 96 religious sisters and others.
These figures are mind-blowing. The numbers provided by the Australian Catholic Church themselves, indicate that in the space of 60 years there were 1,880 perpetrators of sexual abuse. Given that each perpetrator probably offended many times, and despite the fact that perpetrators would not have been identified in consistent batches, it still provides an average of 31 offenders per year over a 60 year period. Or, to word it another way, it means that on average two clerics began to abuse children in the Roman Catholic Church every single month across a 60 year period.
This is not including the physical abuse that was documented by the Royal Commission, or the frequent efforts to get justice from the victims.
Even supporters of Pope John Paul II admit that his response to endemic levels of horrific abuse was “slow”:
Supporters of the late Polish Pope say he was slow to wake up to the enormity of the sex abuse scandal because in his homeland he had witnessed the Communist authorities use trumped-up allegations against the clergy to attack the Church.
They also claim that his aides may have known of the scandals but kept them from the Pope – an argument discounted by victims’ groups.
The Telegraph article continues:
In Austria, the Church has paid token compensation to 1,800 victims of sex abuse in return for their silence, and not a single priest has been defrocked or removed, he said.
Nicky Davis, 50, from Australia, another member of SNAP and a former victim, said: “All of us here were abused because John Paul II chose not to act in the way that the Vatican claims he acted. We don’t believe it’s saintly behaviour to allow sex abuse to continue for a 27-year reign. He could have used his enormous power to save children but instead he decided to save the reputation of the Church.
And victims ominously comment on Pope Francis’ response as far back as 2014:
Victims’ groups are also highly critical of Pope Francis, saying that he has taken no tangible steps during his 13-month papacy to crack down on abusive clergy, instead simply forming a committee to address the issue.
In an interview in March which prompted outrage from survivors of sexual abuse, he claimed that “no one else has done more” than the Catholic Church to root out paedophilia.
The Church was “perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility,” he told Corriere della Sera, the Italian newspaper. “Yet the Church is the only one to have been attacked.”
Mrs Blaine said: “Francis is cleaning up the Vatican bureaucracy and demoting bishops who live in luxurious mansions but he has taken no action to protect children. Sexual predators remain in the Church today. Rather than turn them over to the police, and release the Vatican’s documents on predators priests, he has just set up a commission.”
Pope John Paul II also seemed to keep company with some very shady characters, some of whom were later found to be abusers of children and rank hypocrites, even by the rock-bottom standards of the Roman Catholic clergy. One of these was the leader and founder of the Legion of Christ, a Mexican priest by the name of Marcial Maciel Degollado. He was eventually exposed as once being addicted to drugs, being expelled twice from seminary as a young man, and having kept two mistresses – one of which was given a luxury apartment in Madrid with funds not disclosed. He is also known to have fathered six children – although there could well be others – and to have abused possibly a hundred children, two of them his own.
Bizarrely, the order he founded – the Legion of Christ – was meant to form the character of priests and seminarians. It is little wonder it has come under scrutiny given the consistently weak moral calibre of its founder. Nonetheless, the Legion of Christ now describes Macial’s actions as “reprehensible”. The Vatican also has described him as “immoral” and labelled his behaviour “true crimes”. Yet, for all of this outrage and fury, the Vatican was well aware of the accusations of child abuse that accompanied the man wherever he went.
In 2013, GlobalPost did a feature expose on Macial:
Dozens of victims in multiple countries made sexual abuse allegations against Maciel over the course of several decades, dating back to the 1950s.
Though he was suspended in 1956 from his leadership of the Legion by Pope Pius XII after being accused of abusing youths in Mexico, Cardinal Clemente Micara, the Vicar of Rome, reinstated him in 1958 after his predecessor’s death and Maciel enjoyed a long and prosperous career despite the claims of as many as 100 victims.
As the claims mounted, Pope John Paul II knuckled down. He offered praise and protection for a man about which there was no possible way he could not have be aware of the allegations against him. How are we to understand this gaping lapse in judgement?
It could be understood as an instance of Pope John Paul II’s pigheadedness, as his supporters claim. The pope was a stubborn old man, and like many stubborn old men could not be told. Maybe he was just firmly placing his head in the sand, and that because he had come to believe the best of Maciel he would not hear a word spoken against him. If this is true, then the pope was strikingly naive to the point of utter stupidity. Had his long pontificate with the thousands of accusations of child abuse against “upstanding” clergy not taught him anything?
Or, is it more likely that this is a case of Pope John Paul II’s razor-sharp pragmatism at work? After all, Maciel sent streams of money to the Vatican. Was toleration of a serial child abuser the price that had to be paid for the church coffers to be filled?
The Globalpost goes on describing an extraordinary pattern of apparently inexplicable protection, which involved not just the pope but the Vatican administration as well:
A man of great charisma, and the greatest fundraiser of the modern church, Maciel cultivated a relationship with John Paul II, using scenes of the two men in video-tapes that the Legion distributed to its growing base of benefactors. Maciel accompanied John Paul on papal visits to Mexico in 1979, 1990 and 1993, and in 1994 he was celebrated in “an open letter by Pope John Paul II celebrating Maciel’s 50th anniversary as a priest, appeared in major newspapers of Mexico City, as a paid advertisement, celebrating Maciel as ‘an efficacious guide to youth.’”
In 1997 a Hartford Courant investigation by Gerald Renner and Jason Berry identified nine seminary victims of Maciel in on-the-record interviews. The Vatican refused to comment. In 1998, the ex-Legionaries filed a recourse in Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s tribunal seeking Maciel’s ouster. But John Paul continued praising him, and the canon law case went nowhere.
Letters sent directly to the Vatican in a diplomatic bag were never acted upon:
Vaca entered the Legion in Mexico in 1947, at age 10. Repeatedly abused by Maciel in Spain from age 12 through adolescence in Rome, the young priest went to Orange, Conn., as the Legion’s U.S. director. In 1976, when Vaca left the Legion, joining the Diocese of be Rockville Centre, Long Island, N.Y., he sent a blistering 12-page letter to Maciel, naming 20 other victims.
With support of Bishop John R. McGann, he sent the letter to the Vatican in a formal protest, which achieved nothing. With McGann’s support he petitioned the Vatican to punish Maciel again, sent via diplomatic pouch from the Vatican Embassy, without action. His final attempt in 1989, again through Vatican channels, included an impassioned cover letter to John Paul specifying what Maciel did.”
According to a Newsweek feature article published in 2013, Marciel was swimming in cash, regularly carrying $10,000 on his person:
Meanwhile, he held great prominence in Rome. Cardinals relished the grand dinners with a mariachi band at the Legion college. He traveled relentlessly, each time taking $10,000 in cash with no questions asked from his subalterns.
He also cleverly directed cash into the right pockets, not only giving insight into the calculated nature of his corruption, but into the corruption that exists at the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Church amongst people who are supposedly charged with the oversight of the eternal souls of other people. Newsweek reports:
Gaining access to the small chapel in the Apostolic Palace turned on a flow of donations Maciel allegedly orchestrated to Monsignor Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Polish assistant to John Paul and gatekeeper of attendance at the private masses, who admitted only a few world leaders.
In 1995, according to former Legion insiders, Maciel sent $1 million via Dziwisz in advance of a papal trip to Poland. In 1997, according to a priest who left the Legion and spoke on the condition of anonymity, a wealthy family from Mexico gave Dziwisz $50,000 to attend a private papal mass. Dziwisz, now a cardinal in Kraków, did not answer my questions about the incident, sent by fax in 2010 and translated into Polish. “This happened all the time,” the ex-Legionary told me. “It was always in cash. And in dollars.”
While the Vatican has no constitution or statutes that would make such transactions illegal, a second priest who says he gave funds to Dziwisz said, “You don’t know where the money is going. It’s an elegant way of giving a bribe.”
He targeted powerful cardinals:
In Rome, Sodano was a “cheerleader for the Legion,” as several ex-Legion priests told me. “He’d come give a talk at Christmas, and they’d give him $10,000,” said one. Another recalled a $5,000 donation to Sodano. (Sodano has also declined my interview requests.)
And when he finally was kicked out of his position, he left an organisation that was worth more than the economy of several small island nations combined:
The Legion had a $650 million annual budget and $1 billion in assets by May 2006, when Ratzinger, as Benedict, banished Maciel to “a life of prayer and penitence.” The Vatican communiqué did not stipulate what he had done. But Maciel had “more than 20 and less than 100” victims, according to an unnamed Vatican official quoted by John Allen in the National Catholic Reporter.
The abuser was never punished by the Roman Catholic Church, unless retiring to a villa to pray is considered a form of punishment:
Maciel retired to Jacksonville, Florida, and a house with a pool in a gated community the Legion bought to comply with Rome’s penitential order. He died January 30, 2008, surrounded by several priests, his daughter Normita, and her mother, Norma Hilda Baños. Several days later he was buried at a family crypt in his hometown, Cotija de la Paz.
His son Raul watched the news on TV in Cuernavaca; several years had passed since he had been heard from, though Raul in subsequent interviews said he never forgot how the man he knew as dad sexually abused him through adolescence, a charge now pending in a civil lawsuit against the Legion in Connecticut.
The Legion website announced that Maciel had gone to heaven. It took them another year to disclose his paternity, which sent shock waves through the movement, at which point top Legionaries began apologizing to the pedophilia victims whom they had attacked for years as participants in a dark conspiracy.
At that point the Vatican, which had known about the daughter for four and a half years, announced an investigation of the Legion. In 2010 the Vatican took the scandal-battered order into receivership, something unique in the modern church.
According to Raul Gonzalez, his father seemed well aware that his time would be up after John Paul II died:
“My dad told my mom that when John Paul II dies, he was going to be in trouble,” said Raul Gonzalez, who filed a lawsuit in 2010 claiming that he is one of Maciel’s children and alleging the late priest molested him beginning when he was 7 years old.
If true, this suggests a deep and disturbing relationship between the pope and Marciel.
The Roman Catholic Church now faces the circling wolves of secular authority. Governments around the world have come to the conclusion that the Roman Catholic Church is incapable of restraining the bestial impulses of its clergy and cannot be trusted to act properly toward victims when their cases come to light. In other words, government authorities no longer have any confidence that the authorities of the Roman Catholic Church can be counted on to do much more than cover up evil behaviour.
In Australia, state governments are determined to pass laws that would force priests to divulge the secrets of the confessional to the police when they hear confessions involving sexual abuse. This would mean that priests would have to violate the much-ballyhooed “seal of the confession” which forbids priests from revealing anything mentioned in the confessional booth on pain of excommunication. The Roman Catholic Church is quite robust in its rejection of the new laws; more robust, indeed, than it ever has been in rooting out and disposing of the evil people who have infested its hierarchy.
To some extent, the new laws are symbolic because they are unenforceable. If something is revealed in the confession, who would know? And if a confession is anonymous, how can it be reported? It has also been pointed out that sexual predators do not generally confess their sins to priests because they have no conscience. They have rationalised their abuse and justified it to themselves. Finally, the popular image of Catholics regularly going up to a confessional booth to spill the beans to Father McHellfire is far from the reality for most modern Catholics in the Western World. Confession is no longer the norm for most Catholics.
But Australian state governments are – understandably – determined to send a message to a church that has been gravely implicated in scandals involving children. The message is this: the days of your power are fading and like it or not your church will be ruled by secular law because you clearly cannot govern your own. It is, in one sense, the assertion of the primacy of parliament over the Catholic church. And if there was any hesitation on the part of lawmakers about implementing these laws, the disgraceful spectacle over the last few weeks will have dispelled any doubt.