Anniversary of JP2 attack marked as Poles grapple with abuse

ROME — The Vatican marked the 40th anniversary of the attempt on the life of St. John Paul II with a Mass on Thursday, amid muted commemorations in Poland where the Catholic hierarchy is grappling with a legacy of failures to confront clergy sexual abuse.

Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul’s closest aide, celebrated the morning Mass at the tomb of John Paul inside St. Peter’s Basilica. Dziwisz recalled how John Paul fell into his arms after he was shot during an audience in St. Peter’s Square by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca on May 13, 1981.

John Paul survived, forgave Agca and met with him in prison.

Dziwisz, John Paul’s private secretary and later the archbishop of Krakow — now retired — noted in his homily that Rome has often witnessed hard-to-understand aggressions or attacks on the church — a possible reference to the criticism currently being leveled against the Polish hierarchy.

Pope Francis has removed or given early retirement to a handful of Polish bishops who were accused of covering up sex abuse by their priests. Just this week, Francis accepted the resignation of the bishop of Bydgoszcz, Jan Tyrawa, after an investigation into allegations of negligence handling abuse cases.

Tyrawa was mentioned in TV documentaries in Poland about alleged sex abuse by priests and cover-up by their superiors. The allegations have come as a shock in the predominantly Roman Catholic country.

Dziwisz has strongly defended John Paul against claims the Polish pope was slow to grasp the gravity of abuse in the Catholic Church.

Francis, for his part, noted the anniversary during his Wednesday general audience. Addressing Poles, Francis recalled that John Paul repeatedly said he owed his life to the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima, to whom he was particularly devoted.

“This event reminds us that our lives and history are in God’s hands,” Francis said.