There have been no eye-catching headlines or sensational leads in Dutch media such as those that have emblazoned Polish media promoting Ekke Overbeek. And his “irrefutable,” “nuclear” proof incriminating the pope was treated reservedly, even critically.
Before the Dutch journalist and Polish correspondents for the ‘Trouw’ daily’s book, ‘Maxima Culpa. What the Church is hiding about John Paul II’ was published in Poland, debate on the subject of his main thesis – that the Metropolitan of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, covered up cases of paedophilia in his diocese – was held in the Dutch media. For a predominantly Protestant, anti-pope country in which only a little over 2 percent declared Catholics still regularly attend church, Dutch newspapers approached Overbeek’s revelations – announced on December 3 in the Trouw daily – in quite a restrained way.
There was no shortage of critical voices pointing out the specific situation of the Polish church under communism, or controversies related to Overbeek’s use of materials created by the communist security services.
These revelations were not supported by any serious researcher of Church history in the Dutch media and most media limited themselves to publishing longer reports that – according to Overbeek – Karol Wojtyla knew during his Krakow years about child abuse by priests in his diocese but decided to protect the perpetrators.
There were also no bombastic headlines or leads, which the Polish media promoting Overbeek are touting today, announcing that he presents irrefutable “nuclear” proof incriminating the pope. Overbeek also appeared on the Nieuwsuur TV programme where he talked about the “sexual predator” Father Eugeniusz Surgent, who, according to him, represents the strongest evidence of the Polish pope’s guilt.
A few days after the article in ‘Trouw’, the Christian daily ‘Nederlands Dagblad’ published interviews with Overbeek and Tomasz Krzyzak, a ‘Rzeczpospolita’ journalist, who by studying materials created by the Security Service during the times of the Church’s persecution, arrived at a different conclusion to the Dutchman. However, the ‘Trouw’ daily decided not to publish a polemic from its author, known for biased reporting from Poland. It was written by Dierdik Wienen, who in 1988-90 studied at the Catholic University of Lublin and still has a good command of Polish. Wienen provided that text to a PAP journalist and agreed to it being made public.
In an essay entitled “Rol paus vraagt meer onderzoek” (The pope’s role demands further research), he argues that Overbeek’s conclusions are premature and draws attention to the fact that Tomasz Krzyzak and Piotr Litka had written earlier about the case of Father Surgent (‘Rzeczpospolita’ November 26 and December 2, 2022), but had come to completely different conclusions than Overbeek, especially when it came to Karol Wojtyla.
“Overbeek seems not to understand the situation of the Polish Church under communism”
According to Wienen, Overbeek seems not to understand the situation of the Polish Church under communism or the way it functioned. He also expresses doubt as to whether such serious accusations can be built for example from a conversation with a parishioner, according to whom Wojtyla was supposed to have considered Surgent’s return to work. “Fifty years later, and with no possibility of verification, this source is dubious,” Wienen writes.
In addition, he notes that in two other articles published in ‘Trouw,’ Overbeek claimed that abuse cases in the Krakow archdiocese were far more frequent and that Wojtyla systematically ignored them, but does not support these claims with any arguments. In Wienen’s view, the available sources suggest that Wojtyla actively reacted to cases of the sexual exploitation of minors and monitored what was happening to the perpetrators.
“By the standards of our time, Wojtyla’s behaviour is insufficient, but in comparison with similar cases in those days, his behaviour seems quite vigilant,” Wienen states, giving examples of what happened at the time in the Netherlands, where leading politicians advocated allowing adults to have sex with minors. Wienen also undermines the value of “evidence” coming from the secret services in communist times and concludes that “cooperation is now necessary with the Polish Catholic Church on further investigations and the opening of its own archives.”
A Dutch priest, provost of Alkmaar Jann-Jaap van Peperstraten, also addresses the case of Fr. Surgent described by Overbeek. On his social media blog (Twitter), he writes that he does not understand why the mainstream media accepted Overbeek’s arguments almost uncritcally and did not ask questions, for example, about the ahistorical nature of his claims. “With no quotation marks or further qualification, it was announced that it had already been conclusively proven that Archbishop Karol Wojtyla – later the pope – knew everything and did too little,” Fr Peperstraten writes, summing up that Overbeek’s narrative – and its uncritical repetition by the media – serves only to accuse the pope, in order to knock him off his pedestal and “does not do justice to the facts and therefore does not do justice to the victims.”
“Deficiencies in the methodology of a journalist who draws his ‘hard’ evidence from SB documents”
On the right-wing website reactionair.nl, the essay’s author also draws attention to the journalist’s methodoligical deficiency, which derives its “hard” evidence from SB (Security Service) documents – Overbeek explains many times in Dutch media that “the SB maybe did not have pure motives, but often informed thoroughly.”
“‘Trouw’ says it really has ‘hard’ evidence, which turn out to be statements of the secret serives (infiltrated by the KGB) during the communist dictatorship in Poland” states an essay entitled ‘Trustworthy KGB information source?’ “The question arises: since when have the claims of the then Polish special services against enemies of the regime been an objective, independent alternative to the police, prosecutor or a judge? (…) Is it possible to retroactively evaluate which clergymen actually committed abuses without due process? (…) Do ‘Trouw’ and ‘NOS’ (Ducth broadcaster Nederlandse Omroep Stichting – PAP) sanction communism, dicatorship, totalitarianism and anti-Catholic persecution, considering the regime in Poland at the time to be a credible expert?” asks the essay’s author, hiding behind the pseudonim Sanura. In the Dutch debate over Overbeeks claims, no serious, impartial authority emerges supporting him.
Media writing about Overbeek invoked only the opinion of former Dominican Thomas Doyle. For example, the nltimes.nl website wrote that Thomas Doyle, like (former Jesuit) Prof. Stanislaw Obirek, believes in the authenticity of the documents overbeek cites. However, it is difficult to consider Doyle and unbiased expert. In conservative US media, despite his merits from several decades ago (in 1985 he gave Pope John Paul II a report on sexual abuse in the American Church), he now has a bad reputation.
Those media underscore that he has a fierce and exceptional aversion to the Church and that his views are closer to those of the radical left, as described in detail by, among others, the themediareport.com website, following debate on sex scandals in the Church in the USA. Father Gerald E. Murray of New York’s Holy Family parish, a known commentator on Church matters in the USA who advocates the declassification of all Church documents in America concerning the molestation of children by the clergy, is of the opinion that Doyle’s voice on the subject of Overbeek’s book does not lend it credibility. – The former priest Doyle cannot comment on the credibility of documents in the files of the communist police and intelligence service, which in addition he himself has not studied.
However, Polish journalists who have familiarised themselves with these documents can compare them with other available evidence to verify the credibility of claims contained in the book – Fr Murray argues in a mail sent to PAP. Fr. Murray is a priest who can hardly be accused of keeping quiet about sexual crimes. In 2018, he published an open letter on the thecatholicthing.org website to former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, calling on him to reveal the whole truth about abuse by clerics, which he was accused of allowing.
The letter was very well received by the faithful and the clergy. Ekke Overbeek has lived for years in Poland and is a correspondent of the ‘Trouw’ daily (he has also written for Belgium’s ‘De Tijd) but is not among the well-known, award-winning journalists invited to debates on Poland in his native Netherlands. As can be read in the www.raamoprusland.nl (Eye on Russia) blog, in which Overbeek has published a number of texts on Poland, he studued philosophy and the Romanian language.
In 2014, he published his first book on thebsubject of sexual exploitation in the Catholic Church in Poland, titled ‘Be Afraid.’ A year later, his biography of Donald Tusk came out in the Netherlands under the title ‘Eurotopper Tusk; het nieuwe Polen in Europa’ (Top Eurocrat Tusk. The New Poland in Europe). Even a cursory glance at his texts on Poland shows that Overbeek practises a journalism marked by a clear aversion to conservatives and referring to only one side to the political dispute – the liberal-left one.
In Overbeek’s text entitled ‘The Russophobic Poland: noisily anti-Western, silent support for the Kremlin,’ posted on the raamoprussland.nl website in November 2017, he wrote for example that the Russophobic (United Right) government increasingly allows itself to be used by Russia. The author himslef sees the internal contradiction of his thesis, but explains it away by saying that Poland “on the one hand loudly opposes the liberal West, but at the same time conducts a policy entirely in line with the wishes of the Kremlin.”
Overbeek cites opposition politicians and journalist including Gazeta Wyborcza’s Pawel Wronski, Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz and Tomasz Piatek, while presenting politicians of the right in an exclusively negative light. In an Overbeek text, even the Territorial Defence Force is under attack because according to “many military people” it is a waste of money, as “volunteers who train for a few weekends a year will not hold off the Russian army.” Earlier, in April 2017, Overbeek published a text in which, among others, appeared an opinion of alledged similarities of Jaroslaw Kaczynski to Putin and of Poland’s (and Hungary’s) drift towrds an authoritarian “Russian model,” with the difference that in contrast to Orban, Kaczynski, according to Overbeek, does not openly support Putin, but merely “reluctantly also conducts a policy that plays to Moscow’s benefit.”
There are no voices in the article of the right side of the political spectrum in Poland, which he accuses of violating the rule of law. Overbeek concludes that thanks to the government in Poland, (and in Hungary) – not in Russia! – the East is getting dangerously close to the West and the free world is shrinking. The author of the book ‘Maxima Culpa,’ which alledgedly provides irrefutable proof of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla’s guilt, has also often departed from the truth in his reportage, as explicitily stated by, among others, PAP correspondent in the Netherlands Andrzej Pawluszek.
“I remind you that the author of the book about JPII, Ekke Overbeek, lied in 2016 that the number of antisemietic incidents was growing in Poland. I straightened this out in an opinion piece which was published in the daily @trouw. The Dutch journalist easily forms opinions that are not supported by facts,” Pawluszek wrote on Twitter on March 8. It is therefore difficult to resisit the view that Overbeek takes advantage of his readers’ ignorance of Poland.
Andrzej Pawluszek notes that when after the outbreak of war in Ukraine, Dutch journalists of the biggest media appeared personally in Poland, their optics changed significantly and they stopped being so negative about today’s Poland and even the current authorities, but Overbeek is consistent in his aversion to the right wing.