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Polish Church defends John Paul sainthood after abuse claims

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The leaders of Poland’s Catholic Church on Tuesday defended the late John Paul II’s sainthood and fast-track canonization process in response to a Polish TV report alleging that he covered up clergy sex abuses while archbishop in Poland.

The Polish Church figures also said that a commission of experts in various fields — lawyers, doctors, psychologists and historians — will be formed soon to investigate cases of past abuse of minors by the clergy.

A report last week on TVN24, which is owned by the U.S. company Warner Bros. Discovery, named three priests whom John Paul allegedly moved around during the 1970s after they were accused of abusing minors. The report cited communist secret security documents but also included interviews with abuse survivors.

Speaking after a two-day meeting of the entire Episcopate, the leaders stressed that — although unusually quick — the process that led to announcing Polish-born John Paul a saint was done with utmost care and honesty and reflected the general esteem he enjoyed as pope.

John Paul is revered in the predominantly Roman Catholic country for his role in helping bring down communism and ending Moscow’s domination in Poland and the region. The TVN report ignited a heated national debate at a time when the Polish Church has been undergoing a reckoning with its record of clergy sexual abuse.

Archbishop Grzegorz Rys said “every page” in the Church archives during the process that began shortly after John Paul’s death in 2005 and led to his sainthood in 2014 has been examined. Karol Wojtyla served as archbishop of Krakow from 1964 to 1978, when he became Pope John Paul II.

Rys stressed that communist-era documents alleging abuse should be read cautiously, with the knowledge of the times.

Referring to a resolution adopted by Poland’s lawmakers in defense of the late pontiff and statements made by politicians, Rys insisted that John Paul II should not be used in any political disputes or bargaining.

Poland’s bishops appealed in a communique for the memory of “one of the greatest” Poles to be respected in the face of “unprecedented attempts at discrediting the person and the legacy of St. John Paul II.”

“The canonization process leaves no doubt as to John Paul’s II sainthood,” the communique said.

John Paul II isn’t the only pope under scrutiny for dealing with predator priests.

His immediate successor, Benedict XVI, who had a much stricter stance and defrocked hundreds of abusive priests, was faulted for his handling of four cases while he was Munich archbishop in his native Germany by an independent report commissioned by the diocese.

Accusations of having failed to react to cases of abuse by priests in his native Argentina and in Chile, while bishop and then pontiff, have been also addressed to Pope Francis.

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