Polish archbishop forced to resign for helping communists in past

By  Jonathan Luxmoore , Catholic News Service
  • January 16, 2007
OXFORD, England - Polish Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus of Warsaw resigned just two days after formally taking office, after admitting that he acted as an informer for Poland's former communist secret police and that his co-operation harmed the church.

The archbishop made the announcement to the congregation just after the start of the Jan. 7 ceremony in Warsaw's St. John Cathedral. The Mass was turned into a service of thanksgiving for the work of his predecessor, Cardinal Jozef Glemp.

The following day, Fr. Janusz Bielanski resigned as rector of Krakow's Wawel Cathedral. Bielanski also had been accused of co-operation with communist-era secret police.

Polish TV showed thousands of Catholics in the cathedral and square outside shouting "No" and "Shame." Some shouted anti-media slogans, and about 200 people marched in protest to the nearby archbishop's residence, where they remained for more than an hour.

In a short Jan. 7 statement, the Vatican's apostolic nunciature in Warsaw said Pope Benedict XVI had accepted the archbishop's resignation under Canon 401, which states, "A diocesan bishop who has become less able to fulfil his office because of ill health or some other grave cause is earnestly requested to present his resignation from office." It added that Glemp had been asked to stay on as Warsaw archdiocesan administrator "pending further decisions."

In Rome, the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said Wielgus' resignation was "appropriate" because his authority as bishop had been compromised.

"The behaviour of Wielgus during the years of the communist regime in Poland seriously compromised his authority, even with the faithful," Lombardi said in a statement broadcast on Vatican Radio Jan. 7. "Therefore, despite his humble and moving request for forgiveness, his resignation from the Warsaw see and the Holy Father's quick acceptance of it appears as an appropriate solution to the situation of disorientation that has been created in that nation."

Wielgus, formerly bishop of Plock, was named Dec. 6 to succeed Glemp, but was accused in a Dec. 20 report by the Gazeta Polska weekly of having been a "trusted collaborator" for 22 years of Poland's secret police, the Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa, or SB.

Initially, Wielgus denied the allegations and, just hours before he formally assumed office Jan. 5, he issued a statement denying that he had informed on fellow clergy and Poles living abroad. He said there was "absolutely no documentation ... beyond the words of functionaries who viewed my person and the whole issue in their own way."

Later Jan. 5, in a statement to Catholics, Wielgus said he had presented the Pope and relevant Vatican agencies with "that part of my life which was entangled in contacts with secret intelligence, acting in the conditions of a totalitarian state, hostile to the church."

"Today, I state with full conviction that I didn't inform on or try to harm anyone. But through the fact of this entanglement, I harmed the church," he said.

"I harmed it again when, in recent days, facing a heated media campaign, I denied the fact of my co-operation. This weakened the credibility of statements by people of the church, including those bishops who were in solidarity with me."

In his Vatican Radio statement, Lombardi said the episode marked a "moment of great suffering" for the church in Poland. He said the church does not fear the truth and that its members should be willing to recognize past errors and faults.

But Lombardi said the campaign against Wielgus was part of an increasing "wave of attacks against the Catholic Church in Poland" that had little to do with a search for the truth and seemed more connected with a desire for revenge.

"It has many characteristics of a strange alliance between the (church's) persecutors of the past and its other adversaries," he said.

The spokesman said Wielgus probably would not be the last church leader to be attacked on the basis of secret police information from the communist regime. A vast amount of material is involved, he said, and in evaluating its credibility it should not be forgotten that it was produced by "functionaries of an oppressive and extortionist regime."

In a Jan. 4 statement, the Polish government's commissioner for civil rights, Janusz Kochanowski, said his commission had concluded after examining secret police documents that there was "no doubt" about the archbishop's "deliberate secret co-operation."

The following day, a separate five-member church commission appointed by the Polish bishops' conference reported that it had also seen "numerous important documents" confirming then-Father Wielgus' "readiness for deliberate, secret collaboration with the security organs of communist Poland" and indicating that "collaboration took place."

Poland's Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper said a presidential spokesman had disclosed that "several discreet talks" took place between the office of President Lech Kaczynski and the Vatican; it reported that before Wielgus' resignation, Kaczynski had spoken directly with Pope Benedict, whom the paper said was "extremely angry" about developments in Poland.

At the Vatican, several officials expressed irritation that Wielgus apparently had not been fully frank about his past from the beginning. They also questioned how the Vatican's normally exhaustive vetting process broke down in one of Eastern Europe's most important episcopal appointments.

Preaching at the cathedral Mass Jan. 7, Glemp said the secret police had "infiltrated every sphere of society," especially Poland's Catholic clergy. He said secret police archives housed in the country's National Remembrance Institute were too "dirty and superficial" to be relied on and said former secret police agents were "accommodated in nice estates."

The Rzeczpospolita daily welcomed the archbishop's resignation as a "great victory for conscience" but predicted that it would not end the current crisis.

"The Polish church cannot cope with the Archbishop Wielgus affair — instead of condemning his betrayals, certain bishops, priests and Catholic commentators have vilified those who had the courage to unveil the uncomfortable truth," the paper added. "The faithful were made to believe that arrogance was humility, and penance meant an admission forced by public opinion. The martyr was supposed to be the one who was scared by the yell of a secret policeman."

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