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Interview with Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, for 27 years personal Secretary of Pope John Paul II

25 lutego 2019 | 15:45 | Paulina Guzik | Roma Ⓒ Ⓟ

Sample Fot. © Mazur / episkopat.pl

For Polish Television TVP and CRUX / author: Paulina Guzik, Published Saturday Feb 23, 2019

Paulina Guzik: How did Pope John Paul II react to information about cases of sexual abuse of children and youth by clerics?

Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz: First of all, when he found out that the accusations were true, he was horrified. He always lived very much the affairs of the Church: he enjoyed the good things about the Church and felt saddened by all manifestations of evil. The news that priests and religious, whose vocation is to help people in meeting God, were the cause of so much suffering to young people and scandal for everybody, hurt him very much.

– What were the decisions and specific actions of John Paul II in sex abuse scandals at his time?

– He clearly expressed his approach in a speech he delivered to the American cardinals and bishops in April 2002, after the first wave of disclosures and as soon as the bishops told him the accusations were true.

Even then, the Pope saw that the problem was not only the human drama of the victims, but also the wrong reactions of the superiors. He saw that although there were church laws and procedures, they were not always applied by bishops. He then changed the Church law and stablished the obligation to report each case directly to the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then headed over by Card. Ratzinger, to whom John Paul II had the utmost confidence. The introduction of this „control mechanism” was meant to be an element of preventing the temptation to sweep these painful matters under the carpet.

He knew that the huge dimensions of evil requires radical decisions. I remember his words , “there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who hurt minors”, which I’m really glad were brought by the ongoing summit, and that it must be clear to people in the Church and in society – meaning they need to know. It was a call for decisive action and then open communication. In this sense, I see the recent decision to remove McCarrick from the College of Cardinals and from ministry completely in line with the direction John Paul II designated.

The Pope was clearly aware that the crisis of sexual abuse of children affects not only the Church, but also the entire society and that it is related to the deep disorder in the area of sexual morality. He diagnosed this problem very early in his pontificate and he addressed it setting the philosophical root of the problem in the book „Love and responsibility”, and then through a series of catechesis called „theology of the body”. The only way to face this crisis and its causes is bringing up a mature and responsible experience of human love and sexuality.

Pope John Paul saw evil but never lost hope. He looked at everything with a strong faith that God, from the greatest evil, can bring good. He believed that where sin increased, grace might flow more abundantly. He publicly said that this crisis could help the Church to purify herself and strengthen her in holiness.

– Was there a „culture of silence” in the Vatican during the times of Pope John Paul II that promoted and hid abuse?

– The Pope himself was a very clear and unambiguous person. Whoever met and collaborated with him knows well that in him there was no conscious acceptance or compromise with any evil. John Paul II believed that the Church needs transparency in her life, but also responsibility in treating every human person in respect of his or her dignity.

He was aware of the value of discretion, which is needed, for example, to give admonition with love and to accept it fruitfully. The Pope always tried to act prudently. This, of course, means no conscious hiding or cover-up of abuse, but creating conditions for effective elimination of evil. On the other hand, the Pope was convinced that as Catholics we absolutely need transparency in life and action to be credible in their mission of evangelization in the world. He said that in our time the Church has to make every effort to be like a „glass house” and that this is the right action.

– Some people said that John Paul II was more concerned with pastoral work and less with administration. Has this style of exercising authority generated no negligence in responding to cases of abuse?

– Pastoral work was a priority for him and administration work was in the service of his pastoral work.
First of all, John Paul was quite demanding with himself. He learned this by observing his father from his early years, his hard work and his zealous prayer. Hence, he understood the exercise of power above all as a personal example of dedicated service and diligence for others.

– What was your role and other close associates of John Paul II? Were there any cases that, due to the Pope’s health, he was not informed of something important?

– The Roman curia naturally had its weaknesses, but there was no conscious consent to evil. John Paul II trusted people. He was a strategist who sets a goal, shows the way by walking the walk, inspires with his personal example of how to repair, but leaves the details of performance to the coworkers.
John Paul II was a man of the Council. Collegiality was for him a basic rule in the Church. His cooperators, especially those that were leading Vatican dicasteries had a personal contact with the pope and could always talk to him personally. Important matters were decided jointly at the meetings of superiors of dicasteries. The Secretariat of the Holy Father never substituted the dicasteries of the Roman Curia. John Paul II, until the rest of his life led the Church in a fully conscious and responsible way.

We were not aware of the whole scale of this phenomenon of sexual abuse or its global nature, as we clearly see these matters today.

– Did you follow the summit in Rome? What do you think of this idea?

– This event stands in the line of the actions of John Paul II. Throughout his pontificate he was close to those who suffer I and he was trying to stand in their defense. It includes the people who were hurt by the people of the church. It is good that the heritage of Jon Paul II is so many times recalled during that summit. I know that the document Sacramentorum Santitatis Tutella is still an important point of reference. It is good that cardinal O’Malley and archbishop Scicluna reminded the words of John Paul II that there is no place in priesthood for those who harm the children. There is no doubt that this strong statement of John Paul II helped to realize how hurtful the problem is in the Church and in the society.

– Your name is mentioned in the book about homosexuality in the Vatican – what would you answer to that?

– In my opinion, that that book gathers many irresponsible words and hurtful opinions.

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