Poland accuses US-owned broadcaster over claims Pope John Paul II knew about paedophile priests

Foreign ministry invites US ambassador for meeting amid allegations of ‘hybrid warfare’

Poland has accused a US-owned private news channel of conducting “hybrid warfare” over reports on what Pope St John Paul II knew about paedophile priests during his time as archbishop of Kraków.

Poland’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday it had invited US ambassador Mark Brzezinski for a meeting on Friday over the reports aired this week on TVN, owned by the US Discovery network. A previous version of the statement said the ambassador had been “summoned”, a more serious diplomatic term usually reserved for a big bilateral dispute.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs recognises that the potential outcome of these activities is in line with the goals of a hybrid war aimed at causing divisions and tensions within Polish society,” the ministry said.

It said the consequences of the reports were a “weakening of the ability of the Republic of Poland to deter a potential adversary” and a diminished “resistance to threats”.


Poland’s last diplomatic summonses and hybrid warfare claims were directed at Russia.

Earlier this week a TVN documentary – and a new book by a Dutch journalist – have said the Polish pope, as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, was aware of at least three paedophile priests in the 14 years he served as archbishop of Kraków until 1978.

Widely criticised during his 27-year papacy for not acting on clerical abuse allegations in Ireland, the US and Australia, Poland’s Catholic church has always said the Polish pope was unaware of the scale of clerical paedophilia before he left his homeland.

The TVN report calls this narrative into question, suggesting he was not only aware of the problem: in some cases he intervened to move priests or prevent cases coming to the attention of the communist authorities – a powerful enemy of the Catholic church in Poland.

Two cases involving the later pope were previously known but a third case in the TVN report was new, involving a Kraków priest and religion teacher who was a close acquaintance of Karol Wojtyla.

The priest was a known paedophile who, according to secret police files, had “morally corrupted many young boys whom he has abused for sexual matters”. They said the priest had “been stopped on the streets of Kraków by the mothers of these boys, who curse at him and threaten [to speak out] about his abnormal actions”.

After delivering a verbal admonishment, Wojtyla put the priest forward for a position in Austria, making no mention of his paedophilia in a letter of recommendation to the archbishop of Vienna.

Instead the future pope wrote that “the priest wants to devote himself to academic work” on “developmental psychology and the impact of technical civilisation on the child’s psyche”.

An elderly employee of the Krakow archdiocese, asked by TVN who was responsible for the transfer, said: “Well, Cardinal Wojtyla.”

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, facing re-election in September, has rushed to the defence of the Catholic church.

On Thursday night a large image of the late Polish pope was projected on to the facade of Warsaw’s presidential palace.

This is not Warsaw’s first tussle with the TVN network, seen as more critical of the government than the largely state-controlled national broadcaster TVP.

Polish state radio has come under attack for a broadcasting a report which helped identify a 15-year-old man who had been sexually abused by a paedophile. While the perpetrator’s details were not made public to protect the victim, Polish officials said it was because he was an official for the main opposition party, Civic Platform (PO). This week the young man’s mother, an MP for the PO party, revealed he had taken his life.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin