Pope John Paul II's Legacy Tarnished by Perceived Failure to Tackle Sex Abuse

Cape Times (South Africa), April 28, 2014 | Go to article overview

Pope John Paul II's Legacy Tarnished by Perceived Failure to Tackle Sex Abuse


BYLINE: Peter Mayer Sapa-dpa

VATICAN CITY: No other pope of the modern era shaped the Roman Catholic Church as much as John Paul II. But his legacy is blemished by his perceived failure to tackle clergy sex abuse cases, casting a shadow over his canonisation yesterday.

During his near-record 26 years as pontiff, he was pivotal in the collapse of communism; condemned unfettered capitalism; reached out to younger generations with World Youth Day meetings; denounced the 2003 war in Iraq; and sought reconciliation with Muslims and Jews.

"By his witness of faith, love and apostolic courage, accompanied by great human charisma, this exemplary son of Poland helped believers throughout the world not to be afraid to be called Christians," Pope Francis said on Friday.

However, John Paul II was also a divisive leader with his doggedly conservative approach to doctrine, characterised by staunch opposition to abortion, extramarital sex, euthanasia, divorce, in vitro fertilisation and homosexuality. He came down hard on Marxist priests fighting military dictatorships in Latin America and was arguably slow to react to paedophilia scandals, most notably in the case of his personal friend, Mexican priest Marcial Maciel Degollado. Maciel founded the conservative Legionary of Christ order in 1941 and was celebrated as a formidable fund-raiser, despite persistent allegations against him of financial misconduct and sexual and drug abuse.

Pope Benedict XVI forced him into retirement in 2006. Maciel died two years later, never facing criminal charges, while the Legionaries were taken into special administration by the Vatican.

"John Paul II perpetuated a toxic environment in which priests were permitted, often repeatedly, to sexually abuse children as long as the criminal behaviour was kept secret, preserving the public image of untarnished leadership," the progressive We Are Church movement said last year.

The Vatican has stonewalled the criticism. Monsignor Slawomir Oder, who led John Paul II's canonisation process, said no evidence of Maciel's alleged crimes had been found. "There is no sign of personal involvement of the Holy Father in this case." Joaquin Navarro Valls, the late pope's spokesman, noted on Friday that investigations on the Mexican priest started during John Paul II's papacy, even if they came to their "very sad" conclusion only after he died. …

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