By Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska and Kuba Stezycki
WARSAW (Reuters) - Hundreds of Poles marched through Warsaw and other cities in Poland on Sunday to mark the anniversary of the death of John Paul II 18 years ago, as allegations the late pope concealed child abuse deepen rifts in the predominantly Catholic country.
The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which faces a tough election later this year, and other religious conservatives have said any calls to re-examine his legacy amount to a plot to discredit the nation's biggest moral authority.
That argument resonates strongly with many older Poles who had been inspired by John Paul to stand up to communism in the 1980s, although church attendance has been falling in the decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
"I felt the need to manifest my connection with (the pope's) teaching," said Donata Bronczuk, a retired teacher, who came to Warsaw from the northern city of Koszalin.
"John Paul II had done nothing wrong. Any charges against him are false and have been manipulated."
Dozens of people around her were praying the rosary as they waited for the march to begin snaking through the main arteries of the capital Warsaw in unseasonably cold, drizzly weather.
Earlier in the day, workers of the state-owned railway company PKP gave out cream pies favoured by the late pope to train travelers heading to Warsaw.
Two separate investigations by Dutch journalist Ekke Overbeek and Polish private broadcaster TVN have stirred debatesince last month by claiming to have evidence the late pope knowingly hid clerical paedophilia scandals as archbishop of Krakow.
The Polish Catholic church urged Poles to respect the late pope's memory, saying a review of its archives did not confirm the accusations against the church hierarchy, adding that some files could be opened in future.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska, Kuba Stezycki and Anna Magdalena Lubowicka; Editing by Justyna Pawlak and Sharon Singleton)