Young Pope John Paul II
© Polish Railways (Wikimedia) / Wikimedia
Young Pope John Paul II in 1958.
A Dutch journalist based in Poland revealed evidence on Friday that Pope John Paul II was involved in covering up the abuse of minors while he was the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Krakow. The journalist, Ekke Overbeek, spent the last two years combing through archives in Poland, where he resides, and found several cases where the prominent Catholic Church figure knew about priests who abused children and helped them evade punishment, including transferring them to other parishes.

"I found concrete cases of priests who abused children in the Archdiocese of Krakow, where the future pope was archbishop. The future pope knew about it and nevertheless transferred those men. That led to new victims," Overbeek said to Nieuwsuur. The journalist studied publicly available documents from the secret services about the future pope from during his time living and working in Poland. He wrote a book about his findings, Maxima Culpa, which will be published next year in Polish.

"The documents that have been collected directly about Wojtyla have almost all been destroyed, but he is mentioned very often in other documents that have survived. And if you put them all together, they are puzzle pieces that form the picture of how he handled child abuse by priests, and how that has been dealt with."

Born Karol Józef Wojtyła in Wadowice, Poland in 1920, Pope John Paul II was canonized as a saint after his death in 2005. He began studying to become a priest in a hidden seminary during World War II, and was ordained as a priest in 1946. Within eight years, while working in and around Krakow, he earned his doctorate as a student and teacher of ethics.

He climbed the ranks of the Catholic Church to become an auxiliary bishop in Krakow in 1958. He was appointed archbishop in 1964 and became a cardinal a few years later. By the time he became pope in 1984, the Catholic population of the Krakow Archdiocese had grown from over 1.2 million to over 2.1 million.

It was believed that he only first learned about sexual abuse cases within the Catholic Church after receiving a report from an American priest in 1985. But Overbeek found documents from decades earlier about a priest named Eugeniusz Surgent, who was accused of abusing children.

"For example, a report written on the basis of a cellmate of this priest, who had already been arrested for abuse at the time. The cellmate describes that the priest asked for forgiveness in a letter to Bishop Wojtyla, after he promised that it would never happen again. But then he did it again," Overbeek said. Another priest who abused boys spoke under questioning about Cardinal Wojtyla, saying he discussed his acts with him.

Experts shown the documents, including University of Warsaw professor Stanislaw Obirek, believe the documents to be authentic. So does Tom Doyle, the American priest who wrote the 1985 report. It is said that Pope Francis was warned about the possibility that Pope John Paul II knew about abuse and helped covered it up, but Francis canonized the man as a saint anyway.

"We now know that Wojtyła actively covered up pedophile crimes committed by priests under his jurisdiction," Professor Obirek told Nieuwsuur. "That is a new chapter, a first step. We will see how the church will react."

"The reasoning of the church - of the defenders of the pope - boils down to the fact that he could not have known. That he learned of the seriousness of the situation very late and that he first thought it was America's problem. All those arguments can now be dismissed," Overbeek said. "They were in a great hurry to canonize John Paul II. And now you see facts emerging from those Polish archives that are very incriminating and can therefore actually cast doubt on his sainthood."

Nieuwsuur said that the Catholic Church declined to answer their questions about Overbeek's reporting. Separately, Polish media reported this week that the Vatican intends to investigate the period when Pope John Paul II worked in Krakow.