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Feb 21, 2024

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Controversy over Pope’s Private Notes

KRAKOW —  Poles are divided between praise and condemnation of the publishing of Pope John Paul II’s personal notes.  This was all done against the beloved pontiff’s personal last will and testament.

John Paul ordered the notes burned after his death and put his trusted confidant, the Rev. Stanislaw Dziwisz, in charge of the task.  To everyone’s surprise, Dziwisz, now a cardinal, said recently that he “did not have the courage” to destroy the notes and is having them published as insight into the inner life of the Polish pontiff.  Blessed John Paul II is still scheduled to be declared a saint in April.  This event is still under controversy as the United Nations just recently blasted the Vatican regarding cover-ups of priests and pedophilia.  John Paul II is front-and-center in this controversy, as he has been criticized for much of the Vatican imposed cover-ups.  Some are saying in Poland that this publishing crisis is also just another cover up and misdirection to deflect from the global priestly sex abuse crimes.

The book, titled, “Very Much in God’s Hands, Personal Notes 1962-2003” is scheduled to be released this week in Krakow.

Some Polish Catholics have criticism for Cardinal Dziwisz.  Currently, the book is only available in Polish.  The contents contain religious meditations that Karol Wojtyla recorded between July 1962 and March 2003.  This is the time spanning from when he was a bishop in Poland to becoming the well-traveled Pope.  There are plans to publish the book in English and other languages but no details have been released.  The decision to publish does not go against papal infallibility, which contrary to popular belief applies only to matters of church doctrine.  Many in Poland and in Vatican City are expressing shock that a trusted aide would disobey the orders of the pope.  Especially on matters as sacred and personal as a last will and testament.  Media outlets in Poland contain many angry comments against Dziwisz.

The book itself may be a tough read for armchair philosophers.  It supposedly runs 640 pages and contains deep religious thoughts.  The Pope wrote in a complicated style and his encyclicals were difficult for laypeople to understand.  Priests, theologians and philosophers may be inspired.

There have been other cases in history in which executors defied instructions of famous people to destroy their work.

Dziwisz was John Paul’s personal secretary and closest aide for almost 40 years, both in Poland and at the Vatican.  Dziwisz made key decisions for John Paul in his waning years.  After John Paul’s death in 2005 at age 84, Dziwisz was made Archbishop of Krakow.  He is scheduled to build a memorial museum to the Polish pope.  He has stated that the book’s proceeds are to go to the funding for the memorial.

“I had no doubt,” he said recently. “These notes are so important, they say so much about the spiritual side, about the person, about the great pope, that it would have been a crime to destroy them.”

A prominent church commentator, the Rev. Adam Boniecki, wrote in a Polish Catholic weekly that he was at first “surprised in an unpleasant way” by Dziwisz’s decision, but after reading the book he said, “I am grateful to him for having taken the risk of following his own conscience and not being a meticulous formalist.”

Lawyers and adwokats in Poland are not sure whether Dziwisz broke the law by disobeying the will — which explicitly said: “Burn my personal notes.”  There is scant tradition in Poland of having a will with an executor, so the rules are not clear-cut.  Without studying the entire will, some are not even sure whether Dziwisz was an executor under Polish law.

The Rev. Jan Machniak, who wrote the preface, told PAP (a news organization in Poland) that the book is intended for readers who need to bring order into their life, or need guidance in their own spiritual growth.  The book may be more surprising for what it does not contain.  There are no references to world events and the collapse of communism in John Paul’s native Poland.  History still has not outlined the secret and critical role that the pope contributed to bringing about these important political events.

 By Raymond Rolak

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