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Pope John Paul II's confidante caught in controversy over book publication

WARSAW, Poland (AP) - One of the cardinal rules in the Catholic church: obedience to the pope. So it has come as a shock for many in the Catholic world that John Paul II's most trusted confidant has betrayed the beloved pontiff's last will and testament by publishing personal notes he wanted burned.

Deep moral dilemmas were at stake for Stanislaw Dziwisz - between loyalty and conscience, the wishes of the pope and the obligations of history.

John Paul ordered the notes burned after his death and put Dziwisz, his secretary, 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.

"I don't think it is right for a church member to go against the will and authority of the pope, whatever the reason," Ewelina Gniewnik said as she was leaving Savior's Church in downtown Warsaw. "I'm not sure that Cardinal Dziwisz knows what he is doing."

The Polish-language 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. There are plans to publish the book in English and other languages but no details have been fixed.

The decision to publish does not go against papal infallibility, which contrary to popular belief applies only to matters of church doctrine. And Dziwisz was also free to follow his conscience - since the obligation to obey the pope ends with his death or retirement.

Still some are expressing shock that a trusted aide would defy the orders of the pope, especially on a matter as sacred as a will - with the Internet flooded with angry comments against Dziwisz.

The book itself may be a tough slog for ordinary readers. It runs 640 pages and basically consists of deeply religious, compact, sometimes arcane ideas or trains of thought that spring from citations from the Bible. Priests, theologians and philosophers will be inspired - the layperson will find it opaque.

However, one cryptic remark about sinful priests, registered in March 1981, perhaps gains new significance under the flood of pedophilia cases against Roman Catholic clergy.

"The social aspect of sin," wrote John Paul, "it hurts the Church as a community. Especially a sin by a priest."

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 - Vatican experts say - he made key decisions in the pope's waning years. After John Paul's death in 2005 at age 84, he was made Archbishop of Krakow, in southern Poland, where he is building a museum memorial to the Polish pope. The book's proceeds 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 were also supportive.

"The teaching and prayers of our pope are most precious to us and we should study them with attention," said Maria Welgo. "We should be thankful that Cardinal Dziwisz left these notes for us."

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 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.

But John Paul gave an enigmatic insight into his social, and possibly literary, concerns by writing about an "American female writer O'Connor" - an apparent reference to short story writer Flannery O'Connor.

"Lack of emotional approach to the human person - seemingly substituted by the notion of the 'quality of life' - a symptom of our times."

Join the discussion

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unclejonl February 05 2014 at 9:08 AM

A persons' word, is the only thing that he has. If he breaks his word/promise, he has betrayed the
person to whom his word was given. It is very strange to me that, someone would take it upon himself, to judge what should be done, ' for the good of the people', and decide, what the people, have the right, see, and or know . We, the world, have just been witness to such an undertaking,
which STILL, has many nations reeling in disbelief . It is a bad thing, to NOT learn from past mistakes.

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1 reply
grammakat23 unclejonl February 05 2014 at 9:22 AM


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Janet February 05 2014 at 3:15 AM

"Priests, theologians and philosophers will be inspired - the layperson will find it opaque..."
This writer needs to get down off his high horse before he falls off.

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abcstarfox February 05 2014 at 3:39 AM

I don't understand why JOHN PAUL didn't do this himself?

Why leave it up to0 someohne else?
Perhaps this is what he really wanted.

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1 reply
sodohoue abcstarfox February 05 2014 at 6:29 AM

Pope John Paul 11 should not have put such a burden on someone else's shoulders. Besides, the Church is much bigger than any Pope. For a just and better appreciation of his work as a Pope, all its archives should be preserved. Inspite of my admiration to Pope JPII, I did not appreciate the rush to make him a "saint". Only history can prove who any individual really was, and the true value of what they did... Give time to time before you juge any human's achievements, and let us stop being so emotional, when judging other people who are torn between their conscience and their duty... May God have mercy on all of us!

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legacykwst February 05 2014 at 11:33 AM

It becomes a question: Is conscience the whisper of God? If so, or if one suspects that it is, then Cardinal Dziwisz would have to decide whether to obey Pope John Paul's wishes or God's wishes.

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ana February 05 2014 at 11:08 AM

Go, go, go! and publish the book. I want to read. I hope that he has described heaven and hell for all to read. Thank you, thank you. thank you!!!! for your love Archbishop of Krakow.

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amoergosum2 February 05 2014 at 11:07 AM

Openess is the stairway to truth. Thank you Cardinal Dziwisz and thank you JPII.
Burning of books leads to burning of people.

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czeslawmu February 05 2014 at 6:02 AM

who are you?

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kingslane February 05 2014 at 7:14 AM

I feel that the final say of the Pope should be carried out to the letter.

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1 reply
fiftyaround kingslane February 05 2014 at 8:34 AM

yes you are right

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bigfile4 February 05 2014 at 7:16 AM

Pope John Paul ll was a spiritual man and that doesn't come from a bolt of lightning in the sky. Learning about how he viewed life and his various disciplines can lead others to their own 'personal relationship with God'. Superior human beings are developed, not just born.

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beah553395 February 05 2014 at 7:18 AM

I always going to love Pope JP II And I don't think Cardinal Dziwisz did anything wrong.
I also love our new Pope Francis, I believe he is down to earth Pope. God Bless him

Flag Reply +5 rate up
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