Friday, June 18, 2010

Parting Gift... or Papal Gaffe?

Just in case anyone thought the succession saga at the Congregation for Bishops was the only volatile backstory going these days... well, there's something else.

Yesterday, prominent reports in the Polish press circulated that, in recent weeks, the Vatican dicastery quietly removed the suspension from ministry of a Polish archbishop who resigned in disgrace in 2002 after allegations came to light that he had abused teenage seminarians in his local church.

While Archbishop Juliusz Paetz has categorically declared his innocence over the last decade, his departure from the helm of the 1.5 million-member church in Poznan was forced after a Vatican investigation concluded that the prelate's misconduct was well known to the degree that, years earlier, Paetz (right) had been banned from visiting his seminary given its rector's finding that, as the latter put it, the archbishop had "not changed his ways."

Though the students declined to press charges, following his ouster the Congregation prohibited Paetz from exercising episcopal ministry, just as other accused prelates around the world have been consigned to secluded lives of prayer and penance, with no public presence whatsoever.

According to one unconfirmed report today, Paetz's successor, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, was said to be so "disconcerted" with the reversal of the sanction that he has moved to resign, another daily relayed that the Poznan curia was "fighting for cancellation of the decision," and several other accounts saying that the news of the reprieve was being communicated to all the parishes of Poland.

Now 75, Paetz worked in the Roman Curia from the late 1960s until 1982, when Pope John Paul II dispatched his fellow Pole -- then a staffer in the Papal Household -- back home as a bishop. He was promoted to Poznan in 1996.

While Pope Benedict's role in revoking the ban is unclear, on the archbishop's 50th anniversary as a priest last year the pontiff sent Paetz a telegram praising the prelate's "fruitful service" and "saving work for the good of the church." At the same time, the archbishop's period in the orbit of the Papal Apartment would've coincided with the rise of an Italian staffer posted just down the hall in the Secretariat of State: Giovanni Battista Re, now winding down his decade as cardinal-prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, which would've granted the restoration. (The latter link has already been presented in the Polish reports.)

The Paetz scandal was one of two major episcopal downfalls to rock the Polish church in the last decade; the other was the dramatic resignation of Stanislaw Wielgus as archbishop of Warsaw in January 2007.

Minutes before his installation Mass was to begin, Wielgus was forced to decline the post after disclosures that, as a young priest, he had collaborated with the Communist-era secret police.

On a related note, last month the longtime papal nuncio to Warsaw Archbishop Joseph Kowalczyk was transferred from his posting to the country's primatial see of Gniezno. The 71 year-old prelate's successor at the nunciature has not yet been named.

SVILUPPO: In an unusual brief filed at mid-afternoon Rome time, the Italian service of Vatican Radio relayed a statement from the Poznan curia denying the reports of Gadecki's resignation. That said, any mention of the reason why the prelate would've sought to quit was conspicuous by its absence.

While the reports have been denied, one Poznan daily has published that the current archbishop saw fit to issue an ultimatum to Rome: "Me or Paetz."

SVILUPPO 2: On Saturday, 19 June, the director of the Holy See Press Office, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, said in a statement that "it is unfounded in this case speak of 'rehabilitation,' given that the issue dealt with in correspondence with Rome exclusively regarded authorisation whether to allow him or not [to] preside at public celebrations following an invitation made by a parish priest, without the necessary authorization from the Ordinary bishop.

"The criteria and restrictions established in 2002 and thus far observed, are not subject to change," the Vatican response read.