ontario news watch

Parliamentary elections in Poland will be held later this year. Few would have predicted that one of the earliest campaign issues would have involved Pope Saint John Paul II.

The late Pontiff’s name recently – and unexpectedly – became part of the current news cycle. This was due to two separate claims that he had covered up sexual abuse cases involving Catholic priests when he was Archbishop of Krakow.

Ekke Overbeek’s book, Maxima Culpa, and a TVN24 report by Marcin Gutowski, “Franciszkańska 3,” are at the heart of this controversy.

Overbeek, a Dutch journalist living in Poland, suggested John Paul II covered up and transferred at least two priests who were later convicted and imprisoned for sexual abuse of minors. “He was aware of the problem from the very beginning,” she told Reuters, “and that sheds a completely different light on his pontificate.” Gutowski, a television journalist, spoke with victims of priests from the 1960s who were subordinate to John Paul II when he was known as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. “Among them are letters of the cardinal personally signed by him, which testify, leaving no doubt, how he acted as the Metropolitan of Krakow against abuses in the church and what he did with pedophile priests,” he told TVN24.

Poland has been up in arms ever since.

Thousands marched in several cities, including Warsaw, this past Sunday to protest what they perceive as false allegations. The Law and Justice Party (PiS) and its chairman, Jarosław Kaczyński, have strongly defended John Paul II as a hero of Poland, opponent of Communism and champion of freedom. The right-leaning government adopted a resolution in the Sejm, or lower parliament, “strongly condemning the disgraceful media campaign…against the Great Pope, Saint John Paul II, the most eminent Pole in all of history.”

Frustration has crossed ideological lines, too. Political scientist Michal Sutowski, who was described by France24 as being “associated with the left,” said John Paul II “is considered an icon of Polish identity and the attacks on this ‘great Pole’ are seen as attacks on the very essence of this identity.”

The Catholic media has also weighed in on this controversy. They’re none too impressed, as one might imagine.

Robert Mixa wrote in The Catholic World Report on April 2, “while many esteemed Polish journalists and historians have investigated the same archives as the documentary makers without finding evidence to accuse Wojtyła of wronging, the smear campaign of the Polish leftist news outlets continues on…the attempts to destroy Poland’s love for John Paul II have not worked. Many Poles have rushed to his defense, praying for his intercession in these trying times.” Meanwhile, Polish journalist Tomasz Rowiński made this assessment in Catholic Herald on April 4, “The factual deficiencies in their narratives are supported by both authors with categorical statements such as “we know without any doubt”, “it is more than circumstantial evidence,” “Wojtyla knew about the sexual abuse of priests and hid it in Poland before he became Pope”…beyond these declarations, there is nothing to indicate that this was the case. Historians of various political profiles have torn both the book and the film to shreds.”

What should we make of all this?

It’s indisputable that the Roman Catholic Church has dealt with the ignominy of sexual abuse cases involving children. Catholic priests, nuns and other religious figures have been accused, charged and jailed for these terrible crimes. The number of recorded instances, especially in the U.S., has been a source of embarrassment for the Vatican.

The two recent attempts to rewrite history and point blame at John Paul II are highly questionable, however.

John Paul II spoke out on numerous occasions against priests having sexual relations with minors. Mary Ann Walsh’s John Paul II: A Light for the World, Essays and Reflections on the Papacy of John Paul II (2003) contained this notable line by the Pontiff, “there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young.” In a 2004 Vatican study on sex abuse, the Pope’s April 30, 2001 letter issued motu proprio (on his own initiative) was included. The letter stated it’s a “sin against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue by a cleric with a minor under 18 years of age is to be considered a more grave delict, or ‘delictum gravius.’”

You can discuss, debate and argue why he made these lines until you’re blue in the face. His position and comments were consistent, and remained consistent until he took his final breath.

Columnists, journalists and analysts, both Catholic and non-Catholic, have also read the massive amount of papers and materials that’s linked some Church officials to the sexual abuse cases. These individuals came from different walks of life, and had ideas and opinions that didn’t necessarily mesh with the Catholic Church. Yet, as Mixa, Rowiński and others correctly noted, there’s been absolutely no evidence linking John Paul II to any sort of a historical cover-up or hush campaign.

If Overbeek and Gutowski used these exact same sources, how could they have both found something unique that didn’t raise a red flag for virtually everyone else?

Many Poles would also like to know this answer. It would help protect Pope Saint John Paul II’s name and legacy, and ensure the forthcoming Polish election tackles real issues instead of faux controversies.

Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

The ‘phoney’ election campaign starts in Ontario

Ontario’s main parties have launched their first advertising wave in the run up to the 2022 provincial election.

Lots of sound and fury on radio, tv and digital media platforms… but signifying exactly what?

Conventional political wisdom suggests that, apart from partisans,  most Ontarians [ more than 60%] are unlikely to be paying any attention at all to these messages. This is particularly relevant when citizens are still recovering from the message carpet bombing of the federal campaign.

So what justifies two parties flush with fundraising dollars and facing imminent legislative constraints limiting what can be spent in the lead up to the election call to launch such a flurry of activity.

There are legitimate rationale for seeking to frame the provincial race this far in advance of the fixed election date but they rest in seeking to address different political challenges.

Like its federal counterpart, the key to the Ontario election will be all about voter splits.

Government and NDP are seeking to define Liberal leader Steven Del Duca in the public mind as Wynne’s ‘right hand man’  before he can successfully establish his own desired mark. A proven strategy. Federal Conservatives tried to label Justin Trudeau as not ready for prime time; his predecessor Michael Ignatieff was effectively attacked ‘as not coming back for you’.

Del Duca, who candidly admits to a charisma deficit, had been preoccupied with internal Liberal rebuilding:  successfully paying off the massive provincial party debt from the last election, revitalizing the party organization and recruiting a solid candidate base with 50% women and 30 candidates under 30 years of age. As critical as these tasks are in the run up to the election, they had done little to define his ‘invisible’ public persona which also suffered from not being an elected member in the Legislature.

This past weekend’s Annual General Meeting allowed Del Duca an opportunity to use a policy focus to begin this next phase, given that virtual meetings severely constrain the volunteer excitement generated by in person gatherings.

His efforts to frame himself as a ‘positive’ leader willing to acknowledge policies from other parties puts him in stark contradistinction to the early approach taken by the other leaders. Combined with his focus on reestablishing the voters’ trust, the strategy serves as a step to inoculate himself from likely attacks about his reputation for hard nosed politics.

Both approaches also appear likely to appeal in any future minority government scenario.

Andrea Horwath’s attacks against Del Duca reflect the NDP’s ongoing political preoccupations. Entering her fourth election as leader, her critics repeat the view that she has not been able to convert personal popularity into electoral success; most recently, in 2018, she failed to overtake the Conservatives when the Liberal support had collapsed and the Conservatives were led by an unpopular leader.

In short, the NDP attacks show they are worrying about securing their Opposition flanks against a Liberal revival as much as securing a victory against the Ford government.

In the context of Ontario’s federal vote, both the provincial Conservatives and the NDP’s preoccupations with a Liberal rejuvenation have some merit. The Liberal base in Ontario’s biggest urban areas held fast, with vote splits defeating determined efforts by both federal parties in an otherwise favourable election cycle for them.

The latest Leger Post Media provincial poll taken October 8 to 10 reconfirm a similar reality. While the PC’s lead with 35% , the Liberals have overtaken the NDP for second, recovering to early May levels. The NDP sit some 10% behind the first place Ford Government.

Some strategists are content to argue that the flurry of advertising is an investment in buoying the spirits of the PC and NDP partisan base licking their wounds after the federal defeat.

The PCs have likely banked their biggest campaign promise, a tax cut, for release closer to the election. In an early summer 2021 study, the FAO flagged that future Ontario revenue forecast in the budget is lower than the government’s economic outlook, suggesting possible unannounced tax cuts in the future.

The Ford government has also laid the ground work for not balancing the budget any time soon, thereby alleviating the need to explain where proposed spending cuts would be made.

Another explanation for the flurry of activity is that the parties are test driving their election messaging, trying to determine what will stick. Both Premier Ford and Opposition Leader Horwath have laid out a number of policy areas, from Highway 413 to long term care, with which they wish to be identified.

The PCs effort to position Mr. Ford’s government as willing to respond positively- the ‘yes’ party- leaves them open to two lines of attack.

The first criticism is that Mr Ford’s government is willing to satisfy large interest groups at others’ expense. Following revelations MLSE helped the government get its Covid QR  app working [a worthy initiative in its own right], there have been unproven allegation that a quid pro quo was offered to benefit large sporting venues at the expense of smaller businesses.

A second challenge to the PC ‘yes man’ strategy is that it may remind voters of unprincipled people who will agree to virtually anything to curry favour. This type of criticism has been hurled before at Premier Ford during his management of the COVID crisis and carries worrisome political baggage.

With more than 8 months to go, this phoney war will soon pass.

From my perspective, the first campaign investments should be in the constituency ground game- identifying voters, recruiting local volunteer base, and building electoral infrastructure in winnable ridings. The recent federal campaign showed the value of such a ‘vote efficiency’ focus in the latest Liberal victory.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.