Hero or hyena? Pope’s aide in Polish controversy

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 Poles are divided between praise and condemnation of John Paul II’s secretary for publishing the late pope’s personal notes — against his 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 a precious insight into the inner life of the beloved pontiff, who will be declared a saint in April.

The book — “Very Much in God’s Hands. Personal Notes 1962-2003” — comes out in Poland on Wednesday.

Criticism so far has outpaced praise.

“What kind of hyena would disregard the last will of a dead person?” wrote Maksymilian Przybylo in an Internet posting.

The book contains religious meditations that Karol Wojtyla recorded between July 1962 and March 2003 — spanning a period in which he went from being a bishop in Poland to a globe-trotting superstar pope.

The decision to publish does not go against papal infallibility, which contrary to popular belief applies only to matters of church doctrine.

Still some are expressing shock that a trusted aide would disobey the orders of the pope, especially on a matter as sacred as a will.

“A bishop who should be giving us good example is instead showing a lack of subordination toward his superior,” Anna Romejko, a student at the Catholic University of Lublin, said in an online post.

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

Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov’s son Dmitri published his father’s unfinished work “The Original of Laura” — which Nabokov had left instructions to burn — and justified the act by saying he didn’t want to go down in history as a “literary arsonist.”

Dziwisz was prepared for accusations of betrayal.

He was John Paul’s personal secretary and closest aide for almost 40 years in Poland and at the Vatican, where he was said to have actually taken charge in the pope’s waning years. After John Paul’s death in 2005, he was made Archbishop of Krakow, in southern Poland, where he is building a museum memorial to the Polish pope. Proceeds from the book are to go to 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.” He noted the despair of historians after Pope Pius XII’s letters were burnt.

Respected 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 “I am grateful to him for having taken the risk of following his own conscience and not being a meticulous formalist.”

Some ordinary worshippers are also expressing thanks.

“I express thanks to Cardinal Dziwisz for keeping such a great treasure for all the Catholics in the world,” said Angela Neik, weighing in on the lively Internet debate. “I’m ordering the book today.”

Lawyers 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 will executors so the rules are not clear-cut.

Jacek Stokolosa of the Domanski Zakrzewski Palinka Law Firm said that without studying the entire will he was not even sure whether Dziwisz was an executor under Polish law.

The entire hard-cover book of some 640 pages, with photos of the pope and of the notebooks’ pages, contains deeply religious, compact, sometimes cryptic ideas or trains of thought that spring from citations from the Bible. It will make inspiring reading to priests, theologians and philosophers, but may prove hermetic to the general reader.

The Rev. Jan Machniak, who wrote the preface, told The Associated Press 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: reference to world events and the collapse of communism in John Paul’s native Poland, which the pope played a critical role in bringing about.

Two brief remarks about sinful priests, registered in March 1981, perhaps gain new significance under the flood of pedophilia cases against Roman Catholic clergy.

The pope noted that if sin is an act against God and faith, then “sin of a chaplain is especially so.”

John Paul died in 2005 at age 84, after 26 years as pope.