April 27th, 2011
11:10 AM ET

Abuse crisis fuels debate over John Paul II’s legacy

By John L. Allen, Jr., CNN Senior Vatican Analyst

Rome (CNN) - John Paul II was a rock star of a pope, arguably the most effective ambassador of religious belief in a highly secular age. Yet in the years since his death in April 2005 an undercurrent of doubt and concern has emerged related to his handling of the problem of priestly sex abuse, the most serious crisis to rock Catholicism in centuries.

New York Times Columnist Maureen Dowd recently articulated the verdict among some detractors of the late pope: “How can you be a saint if you fail to protect innocent children?”

While ambivalence about his record on the abuse crisis may not call into question his personal holiness or his towering accomplishments, it’s become an unavoidable chapter of the John Paul story, representing probably the single biggest question mark as his Sunday beatification - the final step before formal sainthood - approaches.

Critics point both to policies and to individual cases which, they believe, illustrate a pattern of denial on John Paul’s watch.

In the handful of instances during the John Paul years in which local bishops tried to formally expel abusers from the priesthood, in a process known as laicization, the Vatican often urged caution – not to excuse abuse, but to defend the priesthood.

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Key officials in John Paul’s papacy also expressed reservations about policies that would have required reporting abuse to police.

A Colombian Cardinal whom John Paul tapped to head a Vatican office responsible for policy questions about the priesthood, Darío Castrillón Hoyos, actually wrote to a French bishop in 2001 to congratulate him for refusing to report a priest charged with abuse.

Castrillón was also the official behind a now-infamous 1997 Vatican letter to the Irish bishops expressing opposition to their “mandatory reporter” policy.

The case of the late Mexican priest Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of a religious order called the Legionaries of Christ, is often cited by critics. In 2006, the Legionaries acknowledged that Maciel had been guilty of sexual abuse of former members, as well as having children out of wedlock with women with whom he maintained long-term relationships.

Over the years, Maciel was a favorite of John Paul II because of his loyalty to Rome and his success in generating vocations to the priesthood.

A similar case involves Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer of Vienna, Austria, who died in 2003. Groer resigned in 1995 after facing charges of abuse, but was not subjected to a church penalty.

In May 2010, Groer’s successor as Cardinal of Vienna, Christoph Schonborn, said that a top official under John Paul II had blocked the investigation. (Schonborn later apologized for publicly reprimanding a fellow cardinal, but never retracted the charge.)

Defenders of John Paul II generally make two points.

First, they say, the Church has been on a learning curve about priestly sex abuse and that it’s unfair to judge John Paul by today’s standards.

In fact, it was John Paul II who kick-started the process of chuch reform in 2001 by issuing a new set of rules centralizing responsibility for the crisis in the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a powerful doctrinal office headed at the time by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, today Pope Benedict XVI. John Paul also approved an expedited process for weeding abusers out of the priesthood.

If things slowed down from 2001 to 2005, they say, that’s largely explicable by the late pope’s long illness as a result of his Parkinson’s disease – a period in which his primary contribution was no longer governance, but offering the world an example of how to bear suffering with dignity.

Second, his fans argue, the crisis has to be understood in the context of John Paul’s reform of the Catholic priesthood. By 1978, when John Paul was elected, more than 45,000 men had left the priesthood since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

John Paul turned that around, offering a compelling personal example of priestly life and inspiring a new generation eager to stand “in the person of Christ.” Priests who take that charge seriously, defenders of John Paul II say, are less likely to commit abuse.

To focus on individual cases such as Maciel rather than on John Paul’s overall approach to priestly life, according to papal biographer George Weigel, is “grotesquely disproportionate from any serious historical point of view.”

There’s no reason to believe the Catholic sexual abuse crisis is nearing an end. Just days ago, a federal judge in Oregon directed the Vatican to turn over documents in a lawsuit related to a priest accused of abuse who died in 1992. It’s the first time an American court has issued such an order, and it could trigger a diplomatic row, since the Vatican is a sovereign state under international law.

Such ferment will likely keep debate over John Paul’s record alive among victims, lawyers, historians and pundits.

So far, however, that debate doesn’t seem to be putting much of a dent in popular enthusiasm for the former pope. A Marist College/Knights of Columbus poll released this week found that 74% of Americans, and 90% of American Catholics, regard John Paul II as a worthy candidate for beatification.

In Rome, more than two million people are expected to take part in beatification-related activities this week, and there’s a cottage industry of new books, calendars, keychains, documentaries, and other paraphernalia memorializing John Paul II.

The Vatican has always insisted that declaring a pope a saint isn’t to ratify every policy choice of his pontificate. Rather, it means that despite whatever failures occurred, he was at bottom a holy man. When it comes to John Paul II, plenty of people still seem eager to say, “Amen.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Catholic Church • Pope Benedict XVI • Pope John Paul II • Vatican

soundoff (162 Responses)
  1. Alonzo Levins

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    June 30, 2013 at 2:37 am |
  2. Brandon Ross

    Any news about A defector's mysterious disappearance?

    December 6, 2011 at 2:42 am |
  3. Wilfred Jack

    Remember the story in the Bible of the RICH MAN who asked Abraham if he could go back to his relatives and warn them about the true path to salvation. I bet JP2 must be in the same position now and is begging GOD to let him go and warn the Catholics whom he led , regarding the truth of salvation- but then...ALAS..it is just too late. SELAH

    May 17, 2011 at 2:34 am |
  4. Rev. Rick

    What's so funny about all this is that, if Jesus Christ came back to earth today, I doubt he would even recoginze the "church" he started. And I'm not just talking about the RCC – I talking about ANY church. Each denomination has become so top-heavy with a heirarchy, church infrastucture, dogma, and dozens of different versions of the Bible. Add to that the socio-religious distortions and agendas of Islam, and Mormonism. My personal view is that God could care less about "religion". God did not create man in His image. Man created God in dozens of his own images.

    May 16, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  5. AAA

    So Gerald, now you can know that the true reason why the Pope and others who do not know the truth or speak the truth are not in Heaven. To go to heaven you must first be saved. Please read again.
    John 3:5
    Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’

    May 5, 2011 at 12:08 am |
    • AAA

      Now about me being a false wittness. I do not think so because I back up my arguments with word of God. False wittness is when someone lies. I do not lie. The papal system NEVER EVER has preached about salvation and to be born again. How many times have you heard a Priest in a Catholic Church preach about salvation and babtisim as an adult and not as a baby.

      The Pope has gone all over the world to speak WHAT? Seriously! He does not speak the real Gospel. If he did he would not be a Pope. I encourage you to do some reaserch and pray that God may open up your eyes and heart to receive his Holy Spirit so you can understand the true Gospel.

      May 5, 2011 at 12:19 am |
  6. AAA

    Gerald....................The Second Commandment says,
    “Exodus 20:4-6 You shall not make for yourself an IDOL, (any person or thing regarded with blind admiration, adoration, or devotion), in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my Commandments.
    Catholic version of 2nd Commandment
    Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain. (This is really 3rd Commandment.) Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God In vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

    There is idolatry in the Papal system so the second Commandment has been deleted or sometimes it has been absorbed into the first. All remaining Commandments are therefore shifted along one count.
    The Tenth Commandment is split into two to get back to Ten Commandments.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
  7. Pete

    The pope was head of instructing all bishops to insure abused children were threatened from telling. <– fact
    Many children are mentally ill today and others committed suicide as a result of the abuses. And this pope denied them help as the cardinals and bishops did too. No good deeds could ever balance the destruction done. If Hitler were a pope, they'd figure out how to deflect his wrong doings too. (oops, he was catholic and the vatican never stood up against him. In fact they were never bombed, interesting)

    May 3, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • gerald

      Petey, No the Pope did not tell bishops to threaten children. That is not a fact. It comes from obsessive compulsive disorder and a solitary lifestyle. You need to get out a bit more pete. The Pope does not control everything in the Church. Diocese are autonomous except when there are disputes. The Pope is not a dictator. He is more first among the many bishops. He makes rules and expects them to be followed but does not know every priest and every bishop and what they are personally doing all over the world. And if they are not following the rules they are most certainly not going to tell him. There is little if any evidence John Paul II had any direct knowledge of abuse.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
    • AAA

      Pete you are right! They are all under a promise and have sweard not to ever speek the true Gospel or say what happends in their church. I have a great testomony of an ex priest who repented and is now preaching the truth. He says that they are sevierly punished if they ever talk.

      May 5, 2011 at 12:24 am |
  8. AAA

    I hope my posts have helped everyone seek the truth and realize God's truth. God Bless!!!!!

    May 3, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • gerald

      Well if you read my responses the answer would have to be a resounding no for anyone who cares to do just a little research and find out that you have born false witness. I don't think you have left that commandment out.

      May 3, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      We are getting sidetracked. The Pope protected child rapists and knew what he was doing. He will burn in hell as most if not all Catholics. Repent and turn to Jesus and live a life of a real Christian.

      May 3, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • gerald

      Heavensent, whichever one you are see my not to Pete. Ditto to u.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
  9. AAA

    Catholic Church has removed the 2nd Commandment. It is very important you seek the truth. This website explains everything. http://www.the-ten-commandments.org/romancatholic-tencommandments.html Rome is under a promise that they will never speak the truth. To whom is the promise? Well, certainly not God.
    The bible says in (Hosea 4:6) "My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. "Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children".
    Apostol Paul says in (Galations 4:16) Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?.
    My prayer for you today is that you get a desire to seek the truth. Catholic bible does not have many of Gods word.
    (Deuteronomy 4:2) Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.
    (Galatians 1:9) As we said before, so say I now again, If any [man] preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • gerald

      Nothing at all is removed AAA. We simply include the words "thou shall make no image" in the first command because such an image would be a "god" and therefore it is a redundant violation of the command to have no other God's before the one true God. It is explicitly stated in our Catechism and is completely in our bible. You bear false witness. That's a command too.

      May 3, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  10. AAA

    Beatified or Canonized dont make a difference. All is abomination to God. I recommend "Caholics" to seek the truth for themselvs and not what some old man with a dress says. John Pual 2 si not in heaven, his soul is crying for mercy to God while millions of BLIND people worship him. Read the 2nd Commandment (NOT THE CATHOLIC VERSION). Exoudus 20:23 syas, "Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold." Includes Saints! (1 Timothy 2:5) For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,

    May 2, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • gerald

      AAA – Umm we don't say that JP II is a God. We only say he is in heaven with God. You do believe in heaven apparently. You do believe people go there correct? Do you believe the passage "by their fruits you shall know them"? i.e. those who are in heaven? As for the commandments. Exodus in our bible reads the same as yours. We just not that the 1st commandment of having no other Gods before the one God, making no graven image of one, cannot possibly mean that we cannot have any statues at all. If it did it is funny that God commanded the making of cheribum over the mercy seat in Ex 25, the Bronze Serpent in Num 16, etc. etc.

      May 3, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  11. Dave

    I hope they excommunicate me like they did the entire nation of Scottland! The arrogance and stupidity of catholics amazes me.

    May 1, 2011 at 5:05 am |
  12. AJ

    HE IS NOT BECOMING A SAINT TODAY! He is going to be Blessed Pope John Paul II not Saint " "

    May 1, 2011 at 3:41 am |
  13. paul

    I thought only God could make someone a saint.

    May 1, 2011 at 3:14 am |
  14. Mary

    You are freaking stupid. He is NOT being made a saint on sunday. He is being beatified, not canonized. If you don't know the difference, please do the world a favor and don't report on it. Learn the first thing about the Catholic Church's path to sainthood before you report falsely on it.

    May 1, 2011 at 3:10 am |
    • Obviously

      Absolutely right, Mary. We need to show everyone how human beings create divinities. These idiots need to know about the miracles that John Paul performed, well, the ones people say he did, and how that lets people decide he is actually a form of lesser god, even though Christianity does not approve of any other gods than God.

      May 1, 2011 at 3:18 am |
    • July Faction

      I'm sorry Mary but, Who cares?? The Catholic Church's "path to sainthood" is a lie. Why on earth should anyone learn about it? It doesn't really inspire anyone in the world particularity, the way you think it does. I don't think this is news. The whole order and hierarchy of organized religion is nonsense. It simply doesn't make sense because it requires a suspension of disbelief. America, Please: Lets Throw out pseudo-moral teachings and the backwards ways of thinking that are the bread and butter of these religious lunatics and day-to-day lukewarm spiritualists.

      May 1, 2011 at 3:21 am |
    • AAA

      To Mary and Obviously read the 2 posts I placed in this blog. (AAA) I hope it encourages you to seek the truth. GOD BLESS!!!!

      May 3, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • gerald

      AAA and Mary, read my response to AAA and you will find that he bears false witness against the CC while claiming to uphold the commandments. Funny. Not.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
  15. drahcir61

    There might be a creator of this universe (& I stress "might be") but there is no God as man has depicted such. With the extreme vastness of space is it even plausable that "God" is in a human form? Not only is that absurd, it's insane! God is always portrayed as a man ... are women not equals in "God's mind"? If you believe in a God, then who created God? Be honest with yourself, WHO CREATED GOD??? If you contend that God somehow created itself, then it logically follows that the universe could create itself WITHOUT God.

    ALL religious text were written thousands of years ago ... when 99% of men COULD NOT read or write, they just believed things they were told, they believed stories & myths. Back then Man believed the Earth was flat, Man believed the stars were Gods, Man believed in many things which seem absurd today. God did not create man, man created God.

    May 1, 2011 at 3:05 am |
    • Get Philosophy

      Wow, I love atheists who don't know there own religion well, that being, academia. You're no better than the religious zealots in this country. Shooting jabs blindly. Some of the most airtight philosophers, NOT theologians mind you, drew the conclusion that there MUST be a God within the universe. It's also common sense that a human paradigm being confined to humanocentric thinking would draw the image of god according to his own image. Get an education you unsophisticated social leech. Take the other atheists with you while you're at it and please don't bring down people like Stephen Hawking's image by casting yourselves in it. Moron.

      May 1, 2011 at 3:43 am |
    • Hmmm

      Well let's just put in a little statement. The laws in science claim that matter cannot be created and cannot be destroyed. Therefore it always has been and always will be. You argue against God because he would have "created himself." Yet apparently the universe created itself.

      May 1, 2011 at 6:01 am |
    • db

      Do you know who built your house. I happen to know it was a result of an explosion in a lumberyard. That is much more likely than the universe created itself. By the way the bible says that God has allways been. Something had to allways be why not God. Makes much more sense than all things and all life self generating. Be real, those who don't want to believe in God don't want the resposibility of having someone to be resposnible to.

      May 1, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • gerald

      Hmmm – Wow you have found an uncauesed cause. Your amazing. You were there in the beginning and can tell us that matter always existed in definitive terms. No Hmmmm.... you are not the smartest person in the world that has it all figured out. You are a prideful human who can't grasp that the universe is huge and you are very small and even all of mankind does not comprehend 1% of the wonders of the universe with all of our science. We cannot creat life as simple as an ameba, let alone a human being. No Hmmmm... You haven't got it all figured out. You can't see the infinite around you and will keep denying it with your limited mind.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
  16. Jesu

    he looks like a f+g in that pretty little dress. foolish small minded fear mongerers.

    May 1, 2011 at 3:02 am |
    • gerald

      And who is small minded? Read your post objectively.

      May 3, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  17. David

    what would jesus do....

    May 1, 2011 at 2:54 am |
    • jimtanker

      For a Clondike bar?

      May 1, 2011 at 3:30 am |
  18. Jesu

    are you serious? is this really news? Why don't you do a story on Dr. Zeuss or the Tooth fairy?

    May 1, 2011 at 2:52 am |
    • JB

      Really? You're whining about why a news article is on here when you took the time to read it? Grow up instead of taking every opportunity you can to insult millions of people.

      May 1, 2011 at 3:48 am |
    • Aristocles

      It is important to 1.1 billion people, at least. That's why. It's far more important than the latest iThing or the breaking news on a celebrity meltdown.

      May 1, 2011 at 3:54 am |
    • gerald

      And I suppose you would like to see articles about the non-existence of God. Isn't that funny. Such articles would be as much about nothing (if he doesn't exist why talk about his non existence). But you would be all for them.

      May 3, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.