WARSAW, Poland -- Henryk Gulbinowicz, a prominent Polish cardinal who only days ago was sanctioned by the Vatican over accusations he had sexually abused a seminarian and covered up abuse in another case, has died. He was 97.
The Polish Bishops' Conference said Gulbinowicz died Monday morning, adding in a brief statement: “Lord, give him eternal rest.”
Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, the head of the bishops' conference, asked God to forgive Gulbinowicz.
“I am asking God in His mercy to forgive the deceased for causing suffering to those harmed, and pain to the community of believers,” Gadecki said in a statement.
“While unequivocally expressing disapproval of the sins committed, one must not forget about the good that many people shared through his life and ministry. May he rest in peace!”
Gulbinowicz was long viewed as a hero in Poland and was decorated with the nation's highest honors. Under communism, he was considered one of the most important clerics helping the democratic opposition, hiding Solidarity activists in his church buildings in Wroclaw and helping to store its money.
But he died amid scandal.
Earlier this month, the Vatican's embassy in Poland said Gulbinowicz, the retired archbishop of Wroclaw, was forbidden from using his bishop’s insignia and participating in any religious celebrations or public events. He was also denied the right to have a cathedral funeral service or burial.
Recently, allegations were also made that Gulbinowicz was an informer for the communist-era secret security service.
A historian with the Institute of National Remembrance, a state historical body, has written that communist-era secret police had information about his homosexual relations with young people, suggesting that knowledge could have been a factor in why he was pressured to be an informer.
Days after the announcement this month of the Vatican sanctions, it was reported that Gulbinowicz was hospitalized in Wroclaw and was unconscious.
The hospital director, Wojciech Witkiewicz, told the news portal Onet that Gulbinowicz died of severe pneumonia and circulatory and respiratory failure.
Last year, prosecutors in Wroclaw opened an investigation into allegations against Gulbinowicz concerning sexual abuse of a seminarian in the 1980s, but they dropped the case because too much time had passed.
Gulbinowicz was also cited in a documentary in Poland about predator priests and coverup efforts. It alleged that Gulbinowicz saved a priest suspected of abusing of minors from arrest by vouching for him.
Gulbinowicz is the latest Polish prelate to be sanctioned after a Vatican-mandated investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct.
The reckoning has rocked the Catholic hierarchy in the predominantly Catholic nation, where the clergy have long been held in high esteem and St. John Paul II, the Polish pope, remains a figure of national pride.
Now even John Paul's legacy is being tarnished by the new scrutiny.
A report published last week following a Vatican investigation into sexual misconduct by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick put the lion's share of the blame on John Paul for keeping the scandal covered up for so long.