Ian Kershaw wrote of the common German’s reaction to Nazi excesses and atrocities:
the myth of ‘if only the Fuhrer knew’ was already at work. Many genuinely believed that matters, especially if unpalatable, were deliberately kept from Hitler, and that if he learned of them he would act swiftly to set things right.
A similar attitude characterizes most Catholics’ reaction to the possibility that John Paul II was guilty of a major failure in tolerating sexual abuse by clerics. They can’t believe that John Paul knew what was going on and didn’t act. His subordinates most have kept things from him or he must have been disabled or…or…or well something!
But the evidence is very strong that John Paul knew (or had every reason to suspect) what was going on and decided not to investigate and not to act against it. We do not know his motive for not acting – probably something to do with clericalism. He feared, probably, that cleansing the Church of this evil would necessarily involve revealing the extent of the evil, a revelation which would discredit the Church, from Marciel Maciel and Cardinal Sodano and Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos down to the abusers in isolated rural parishes. Better the children suffer (however regrettable that might be) that the great work that the Church was doing be undermined. I doubt that he ever put it so baldly to himself, but as far as we can tell from the evidence and his actions and inactions, that in fact is what was in his mind.
It is the temptation of all those in authority, taking the broad view, looking at the greater good. Another high priest advised, “it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”