Pope John Paul II used the power of his office to block the probe of a scandal-ridden Polish-based order of monks who operate near Philadelphia a shrine of the Polish patron saint, Our Lady of Czestochowa, Gannett News Service reported yesterday.
The news service said in a copyrighted story that the tale of political entanglement and financial devastation involves a small order of monks based in Doylestown, Pa., the 900-year-old order of St. Paul the first hermit, or the Pauline fathers.
"Vatican documents show that, in less than a decade, the order squandered a substantial portion of $20 million in charitable donations, loans, investments and bond proceeds through mismanagement, dubious business practices and what Vatican investigators described as 'chaotic' and 'immoral' life styles," the report said.
Attempts to obtain comment on the report from leaders of the order were unsuccessful. An unidentified person at the Doylestown monastery who answered a call from Associated Press said, "This is not any of your business."
Gannett said powerful papal investigators concluded that business deals and tax-avoidance schemes engineered in five states by the leader of the Paulines in America were of questionable legality and violated the canons of the church.
The Vatican probers, together with the titular head of the American Catholic Church and top members of the Roman hierarchy, directed that the offending priests be severely disciplined.
But Pope John Paul II, who, like the Pauline order, is Polish, reversed their decision by abruptly and finally decreeing the probe of the order closed on May 21.
Gannett said principal elements of the Pauline saga include:
An intense power struggle within the upper ranks of the church over who should control the Paulines. Vatican detectives reported bugging of the head of the order's telephones in both Rome and Poland.
Contributions of an estimated $250,000 to the Paulines for mass requests, after which the money was spent and the masses were never said.
Successful solicitation of more than $400,000 for bronze memorial plaques for a shrine. The funds were spent, but the plaques were not erected.
Secret investments including two hospitals, a trade school, an aircraft equipment plant, a foundry and several other businesses, all geared to take the greatest advantage of the Paulines' tax-exempt status.
Misappropriation for other purposes of more than $64,000 of the order's cemetery funds, legally required for "perpetual care," burial plots and other memorials.
The retaining of a disbarred attorney who had served time for federal tax evasion as principal lay adviser to the Paulines.
Credit cards and checking accounts for some monks, who, despite poverty vows, owned televisions and stereos. "Every monk who could drive had his own personal automobile -- 17 of them paid for, serviced, repaired and fueled by donations to the shrine."
The Vatican inquiry centered on the activities of the Very Rev. Michael M. Zembrzuski, vicar-general and founder of the 30-man order in this country, Gannett said.
Gannett said Zembrzuski, 70, was ordered by the Vatican to surrender control of the Paulines. About that time, he traveled to Poland to renew his friendship with Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow. Seventeen days after Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II, he countermanded the Vatican's order.