Pope John Paul II helped 'cover up' child abuse in Poland, says book
John Paul II "knew" about cases of child abuse by Catholic priests in Poland and helped cover them up before becoming pope in 1978, a new book claims.
Dutch journalist Ekke Overbeek spent more than a decade combing through archives and interviewing victims and witnesses for "Maxima Culpa", which has sparked an outcry in the pope's native Poland.
"I found evidence that he not only knew... about cases of sex abuse among his own priests in the Archdiocese of Krakow, but he also helped to cover up those cases," Overbeek told AFP before the book's release Wednesday.
Overbeek -- who has been living in Poland for more than 20 years -- had already published a bombshell account of victims of paedophile priests in 2013.
Some of the documents cited in his new book come from the archives of the Communist-era secret police, with defenders of the pope pilloring the author for using them.
However, Overbeek told AFP that "the archives of the Roman Catholic Church are closed for journalists," an obstacle also encountered by others looking into the accusations against John Paul II.
The Polish church has refused to provide documents to the judiciary and a public commission of inquiry investigating cases of church abuse of minors.
Overbeek said he checked his findings with other sources, including the victims, witnesses and their testimonies.
"I was the first person who they talked to about what they have been through as children," Overbeek added, saying survivors were afraid to stand up in public.
"In this country, the victims of clerical sex abuse are afraid... it should be the other way around," he insisted.
A personality cult around John Paul II -- who was made a saint in 2014 -- is still strong in Poland but has been crumbling in recent years, especially among younger people.
Ekke Overbeek's book is likely to deal a further blow to the former pope's image.
- '100 percent sure' -
Among the cases the journalist cites is of a priest accused of forcing 10-year-old girls to perform oral sex.
Overbeek said the priest confessed to Archbishop Karol Wojtyla -- the future Pope John Paul II -- in 1970.
"He admitted everything he did to Wojtyla. And this is described in two documents, even in three," Overbeek said.
"And that means that we know for 100 percent sure that in 1970 Karol Wojtyla already knew about sex abuse."
The priest was later jailed but once he was freed Wojtyla allowed him to continue his ministry, Overbeek said.
"And this is confirmed by a letter written by Archbishop Wojtyla himself."
"One of the most difficult stories to accept," Overbeek added, is of Father Boleslaw Sadus, a close collaborator of the future pope.
"When Sadus got in trouble after being accused of molesting boys, he personally helped him to escape Poland. He organised a new career for him in Austria," Overbeek said.
The journalist said "the big question" is whether Wojtyla told the Archbishop of Vienna about Sadus' criminal past.
For Overbeek, "it seems that the answer is no."
- 'Our dear pope' -
The Polish church reacted with fury to the new claims, with the country's conservative government also hitting out at the book.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki defended Wojtyla, calling him "our dear pope" and blaming journalists for "going beyond civilised debate".
The ruling nationalist and populist party announced it would adopt a resolution "defending the good name of Saint John Paul II" in parliament.
Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Lodz, Grzegorz Rys, said that "no one in the world understands what the Polish people are doing to John Paul II today," referring to the accusations against the late pontiff.
But for Overbeek, "the most troublesome fact is that (the pope) was very forgiving towards priests who did these kind of things, but paid no attention to the victims and their families.
"We are used to this empathetic, warm, sympathetic person" when people think of the pope, Overbeek said.
"But here we see a completely different face of the same person... the apparatchik of the institution of the church."