Poland summons US ambassador over film alleging ex-Pope’s pedophilia coverup

Battle to win hearts and minds in runup to autumn election in Poland has started, with media and church in thick of it

Jo Harper  | 10.03.2023 - Update : 10.03.2023
Poland summons US ambassador over film alleging ex-Pope’s pedophilia coverup


Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the US ambassador Thursday “in connection with the activities of one of Poland’s television stations which is an investor in the Polish market.” 

Several minutes after the announcement, the ministry changed the word "summoned" to "invited."

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs recognizes that the potential effects of these actions are identical to the goals of a hybrid war aimed at creating divisions and tensions in Polish society," said the release.

The ministry did not specify which station it was referring to and what specific allegations had been made.

The announcement follows a report broadcast Monday by TVN24 - belonging to the US Discovery Group – by journalist Marcin Gutowski.

His film Franciszkańska 3 alleged that the then Metropolitan of Krakow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, who later became Pope John Paul II, was aware of cases of pedophilia among the clergy under his authority in the 1960s and 1970s.

John Paul II is a Polish icon who was pope during the last decade of the Cold War and is widely credited with boosting the success of the Polish anti-communist Solidarity movement in the 1980s.

The broadcast has been widely attacked by Polish nationalists and members of the clergy, some of whom accused TVN and other independent media of “anti-Polonism,” a common refrain since the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party came to power in 2015 when faced with allegations of Poles’ culpability in the murder of Jews in WWII, among other sensitive national issues.

PiS wants the lower house of parliament to adopt a resolution in defense of John Paul II following the broadcast.

"They fought against John Paul II when he was alive, and they have been fighting since his death," Rafal Bochenek, the PiS spokesman, told the Polish news agency PAP on Thursday.

"John Paul II is a great figure in the history of our nation," Bochenek said. "Today he has again become the target of an unprecedented attack by a TV station that was established by collaborators of the communist-era security service."

In the heavily polarized Polish media landscape, state-controlled broadcaster TVP this week came under fire after the 15-year-old son of an opposition MP molested by a pedophile killed himself after a news report made it possible to track his identity. Radio Szczecin, part of the public media system controlled by PiS, ran a story about an alleged “pedophiliac scandal” in the ranks of the Civic Platform (PO) opposition party.

TVN and its flagship news channel, TVN24, have been critical of the right-wing populism of the PiS due to its stance on abortion, gay rights and allegations of undermining democracy and judicial independence. In January, Poland’s broadcast media regulator opened an investigation into a documentary TVN broadcast which reported new revelations about the 2010 Smolensk air disaster, when a Tupolev Tu-154 aircraft operating Polish Air Force Flight 101 crashed near the Russian city of Smolensk, killing all 96 people on board.

TVN has long been a target of efforts to “repolonize” the country’s media landscape, which critics say is code for turning the national media into government propaganda outlets.

The station has faced economic, legal, political and regulatory pressures in recent years. In late 2021, PiS tried to pass a media bill aimed at forcing Discovery to sell its controlling stake in TVN. The bill was vetoed by the president.

Today's move comes barely two weeks after US President Joe Biden’s surprise visit to Kyiv and Warsaw, which US Ambassador to Poland Mark Brzezinski hailed as “historic.”

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