Poles Turn Out in Defense of John Paul II

Marchers object to documentary with allegations about sexual abuse coverup
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 2, 2023 11:45 AM CDT
Poles Object to Documentary on John Paul II
People take part in a march in defense of the late pope, St. John Paul II, in Warsaw.   (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Thousands of Poles joined marches Sunday in defense of the late pope, St. John Paul II, in response to a TV documentary that alleged he covered up child sex abuse involving clergy in his native Poland before being elected pope. The marches, which took place in Warsaw and other cities on the 18th anniversary of John Paul's death, were organized by an anti-abortion group under the slogan: "You awakened us, we will defend you." Participants prayed before marching behind relics of John Paul in the capital, led by a popemobile John Paul used on his visits to Poland, the AP reports. Because the anniversary fell on Palm Sunday, marchers carried pussy willows and other tree branches, a Roman Catholic tradition on the Sunday before Easter.

The investigative documentary was aired last month by TVN, an independent broadcaster often critical of Poland's conservative government. It coincided with the publication of a book, Maxima Culpa, by a Dutch journalist, Ekke Overbeek, alleging that John Paul II helped cover up cases of clerical abuse before becoming pope. Many Polish Catholics saw it as an attack on the legacy of a man they revere as one of the greatest figures in the nation's history and venerated as a saint, given the Vatican's fast-track canonization after his 2005 death. The issue has taken on political dimensions in Poland, particularly since the country is due to have a parliamentary election in the fall. The government has called the documentary an attack on the nation's identity and ideals by the liberal political opposition.

In Warsaw, marchers carried Polish national flags and the flag of Solidarity, the trade union that John Paul inspired after he was elected pope in 1978. It played a crucial role in toppling communism across Eastern Europe a decade later. One couple marching, Eleonora and Stanislaw Sochal, said they were furious at TVN for producing a documentary they regard as defamatory to the late pontiff. They remembered communism as a dark time when the nation was controlled by the Soviet Union and described John Paul as the person who inspired the resistance that led ultimately to the country regaining its sovereignty and freedom. "TVN slanders our authorities. It slanders John Paul and it slanders all of our values," said Eleonora Sochal, 76.

(More Pope John Paul II stories.)

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