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  • John Thavis

Ten years after John Paul II’s death, focus in Poland shifts to Francis

Updated: Feb 19, 2020

I’ve been in Warsaw for the last few days, doing interviews for the launch of the Polish edition of The Vatican Diaries. As expected, there were many questions about Pope John Paul II (and about Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who is seen as the protector of the late pope’s legacy.)

The most common question was how John Paul II could be a saint, considering the sex abuse scandals that came to light only late in his pontificate. One of the chapters of my book details the painfully slow Vatican response to accusations against Legion of Christ founder Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, who was given strong support by Pope John Paul. Only in late 2004 did the Vatican reopen an investigation that eventually confirmed Maciel’s sexual abuse of seminarians and a lifetime of lies.

Clerical sex abuse remains a current topic in Poland, where some 27 priests have been convicted in recent years, in cases that have drawn much publicity and generated much criticism of the hierarchy.

But my Polish interviewers also inevitably came around to Pope Francis – his agenda, the resistance he faces and his chances for success. It was in Poland that I realized that it was 10 years ago this month that John Paul II’s illness took a serious turn for the worse, leading to his death several weeks later. For many younger Poles, he is a figure from the past, someone they never knew. Pope Francis is the name on everyone’s lips.

In Poland as elsewhere, there’s been open criticism of Pope Francis and some of his more controversial statements by conservative commentators. These are primarily Catholics who felt empowered under Pope Benedict and his Catholic identity focus, and who feel disoriented under Francis and his “who am I to judge” approach. I’m convinced they are a minority, but they are a minority with a voice.

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