Cheering for John Paul’s Sainthood–and Ignoring His Ties to Abuse Scandal

“John Paul II’s Beatification Cheered” was USA Today‘s headline (5/2/11)–followed by 19 paragraphs of cheerleading for the accelerated process of declaring the late Pope John Paul II an official saint: Various sources in Eric Lyman’s article called the event “an important day and a wonderful opportunity to recognize a great man,” “a man of God who inspired countless people” with “the strength of a titan, a strength which came to him from God.”

The only hint of dissent came in the last two paragraphs of the piece:

Not all were pleased about the beatification.

“John Paul was a great man, a sincere man, and he was well-loved,” said the Rev. Paolo Farinella of Genoa. “This whole beatification is a pure public relations move aimed at revitalizing the church’s fortunes at a difficult time,” he said, referring to sex scandals involving local priests.

So the worst people have to say about John Paul was that he was a “great,” “sincere,” “well-loved” man whose memory is being exploited? Well, not exactly. As a London Times article (4/4/10) noted last year, some people have had far harsher things to say:

The most serious claims related to Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, an Austrian friend of John Paul’s who abused an estimated 2,000 boys over decades but never faced any sanction from Rome. Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, Groer’s successor, criticised the handling of that scandal and other abuse cases last week…. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger–who became Pope Benedict–had tried to investigate the abuses as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, according to Schonborn. But his efforts had been blocked by “the Vatican,” an apparent reference to John Paul.

John Paul also faced criticism last week from Poland for protecting Archbishop Juliusz Paetz, who was accused of abusing trainee priests. Letters detailing the charges were sent to John Paul’s office and to Ratzinger in 2000 but were ignored. Paetz resigned in 2002 when the allegations became public….

In America, critics pointed out that although Benedict has borne the brunt of criticism over ignoring the scandal of Father Lawrence Murphy, accused of molesting 200 deaf boys at a special school in Wisconsin, Ratzinger had acted on the authority of John Paul.

Another beneficiary of John Paul’s discreet approach was Marcial Maciel Degollado, a Mexican priest known as Father Maciel, who founded a conservative religious order. He was accused by former members of abuse in 1998. John Paul blessed Maciel in the Vatican in late 2004, at a time when Ratzinger was investigating him….

John Paul was also accused of ignoring controversy over John Magee, a former private secretary to three popes including the Polish pontiff, who named him Bishop of Cloyne in 1987. Late last month Magee was forced to resign after an independent report found that his diocese in Ireland had put children at risk.

You’d think you might mention these serious allegations in an article about the beatification of John Paul–if your goal was reporting and not cheering, that is.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.