Debate on investigation John Paul II


Southern Europe


A file picture dated 24 March 2004 shows Pope John Paul II during the General Audience in Vatican City. Photo EPA, Claudio Onorati

There has been criticism of Dutch journalist Ekke Overbeek’s investigation into the actions of the later Pope John Paul II concerning the abuse of children by Roman Catholic clergy in his homeland of Poland. Overbeek rebounds. “The Polish secret service did not have pure motives but often reported accurately.”

Earlier this month, Overbeek, a journalist from the Netherlands living in Poland, said he had found “concrete cases of priests abusing children in the Archdiocese of Krakow, where the future pope was archbishop. The future pope knew about it and transferred them anyway, which led to new victims.” Overbeek spent years digging through thousands of documents in the archives of the SB, the Polish security service, during the era of communism, which existed until 1990.

However, there is criticism of how Overbeek did his research and presented it, the Dutch Christian daily Nederlands Dagblad writes. “We did research at the same time as Overbeek, with questions and problem sets that are similar to his. But our findings are different, less absolute. His conclusions are too firm, too short-sighted,” argues Tomasz Krzyzak, chief interior editor of the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita. He and a colleague published stories on the same subject in November. “Overbeek writes that Wojtyla knew everything from the beginning and had a hand in clerics. We formulate that much less drastically.”

Overbeek feels that Krzyzak’s criticism, in particular, is too strident and short-sighted, especially without knowledge of Overbeek’s forthcoming book on the subject, which will be published next year. “What I note is that as Archbishop of Krakow, Wojtyla was confronted with child sexual abuse committed by his priests long before he was elected pope. I place those individual cases in a broad context. In it, it is extensively discussed that the SB used sex crimes as compromising material to blackmail priests with and recruit them as informants.”

Key question

According to the Nederlands Dagblad, the key question in Overbeek and Krzyzak’s historical research is which documents are still available and how people should value them. Church archives in Poland are locked. The archives of the Polish secret service SB were for 90 per cent destroyed in the last years before the 1989 revolution. The 10 per cent that remains is at the Polish Institute of National Memory (IPN) and available to historians and journalists. According to the German Roman Catholic news site Domradio, Overbeek and the Polish journalists look at Wojtyla’s actions and inactions “fundamentally different”.

Speaking to the Dutch broadcaster NOS, Overbeek says: “The documents collected directly about Wojtyla have almost all been destroyed. But he is very often mentioned in other documents that did survive. And if you put them all side by side, they are puzzle pieces that form the picture of how he dealt with child abuse by priests.”

Krzyzak is sceptical about the SB documents. “We know, historians established long ago that the secret service used every shred of information about clerics to recruit them as informants. That could be anything: secret lovers, abuse.”


In the last period of his papacy, John Paul spoke out increasingly openly against child abuse, but mainly in Western countries. This is explainable, argues editor-in-chief Anton de Wit in the Dutch Catholic newspaper Katholiek Nieuwsblad.

The Polish pope was aware of the Second Vatican Council, which from 1962 radiated mercy, grace, love and forgiveness, apparently also to priests who had something on their record. “At that time, we were too understanding of priests who went wrong on sexuality,” Hendriks argues.

And “JPII” knew the tricks of the communist whip like no other; disinformation, blackmail, and politicisation of opinions and actions, argues Hendriks. Karol Wojtyla distrusted every SB report on the misdeeds of priests. He did not look away; he simply did not believe it.

Overbeek has to “smile a bit at that”. “Thus, it seems as if Archbishop Wojtyla took information about his priests from SB reports. Of course, that was not the case. He gathered information about his priests himself. The fact that Wojtyla did not believe allegations of abuse committed by priests is a classic argument used by defenders of the pope, which my investigation calls into question.”



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