Polish bishops defend John Paul II after McCarrick report

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FILE - In this Feb. 21, 2001 file photo, Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick, archbishop of Washington D.C., wearing the three-cornered biretta hat, embraces Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. In a sunlit ceremony of ancient ritual in St. Peter's Square, Pope John Paul II installed a record number of cardinals - 44 new princes of the Roman Catholic Church. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)

WARSAW – Polish bishops defended St. John Paul II on Friday against evidence that he rejected reports that ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick slept with his seminarians, seeking to salvage a papal legacy that has been badly tarnished by his inaction on clergy sexual abuse.

The head of the Polish bishops conference, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, said in a statement that John Paul had been “cynically deceived” by McCarrick as well as other U.S. bishops.

It was the Polish bishops’ first response to the publication this week of the Vatican’s two-year investigation into McCarrick, which implicated John Paul and his secretary in covering up McCarrick's sexual abuse.

The criticism of John Paul’s legacy has hit a nerve in overwhelmingly Catholic Poland, whose most famous native son has long been held up as model for his role in bringing about the fall of communism and for keeping the faith and Polish values alive. But John Paul's 1978-2005 papacy has come under increasing scrutiny in Poland and abroad, amid a growing scandal over abusive priests and bishops who covered up for them.

Pope Francis defrocked McCarrick, 90, last year after a separate Vatican inquest determined he sexually abused children and adults, including during confession, and abused his power over seminarians. Francis authorized the more in-depth study into McCarrick's rise and fall in the church amid evidence that the Vatican and U.S. bishops knew of his abuses but turned a blind eye.

The 449-page report determined that John Paul had received credible reports about McCarrick's misconduct from authoritative prelates in the late 1990s. Yet even after commissioning an inquiry that recommended against a promotion, John Paul in 2000 named McCarrick archbishop of Washington D.C., and later a cardinal.

The report said John Paul apparently was swayed by a last-minute, handwritten letter from McCarrick addressed to the pope's trusted secretary, then-Bishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, insisting he never had “sexual relations” with anyone. Dziwisz's role in the cover-up has also drawn scrutiny, and he has said he welcomes proposals for a commission to look into his own tenure.

Gadecki’s statement came on the same day that the U.S. Catholic newspaper, the National Catholic Reporter, called for the “suppression" of the devotional cult of John Paul as a response to the Vatican report.