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Polish church in crisis as archbishop quits over ‘secret police’ charge

Poland’s Roman Catholic bishops have urged the media to respect the decision of a top archbishop to resign due to accusations that he acted as an informer for Poland’s former communist secret police.

"The church in Poland needs to look humbly and in truth at its past, present and future," said the statement, signed by the Polish bishops’ conference president, Archbishop Jozef Michalik. "We urge all the faithful to try to accept this difficult experience in a spirit of faith."

The statement was published in newspapers on 8 January following the resignation of the Archbishop of Warsaw, Stanislaw Wielgus, just two days after formally taking office.

The 67-year-old archbishop’s announcement at what was to have been his installation Mass in Warsaw’s St John cathedral was met by shouts of "No" by thousands of supporters in the cathedral, several of whom chanted anti-media slogans before staging a protest march.

Meanwhile, in a statement, the Vatican’s spokesperson, Federico Lombardi, said Archbishop Wielgus’s resignation was "appropriate" because his authority as bishop had been "seriously compromised". He noted that the episode marked a "moment of great suffering" for the church in Poland.

"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," Lombardi said in a 7 January statement.

"The present wave of attacks against the Catholic Church in Poland, rather than being an honest search for transparency and truth, in many respects seem to be a strange alliance between the persecutors of the past and other adversaries of the church."

Archbishop Wielgus, previously Bishop of Plock, was named in December to succeed Cardinal Jozef Glemp, but was accused in by the conservative Gazeta Polska weekly newspaper of having been a "trusted collaborator" for 22 years of Poland’s Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa, or SB.

The allegation was deplored by Wielgus’ supporters in Poland and was originally rejected by the Vatican, whose press office said Pope Benedict XVI had shown "full confidence" in the archbishop after taking "account of all his life circumstances, including those connected with his past".

On 4 January, however, Poland’s civil rights ombudsman, Janusz Kochanowski, said his own commission had concluded after examining SB documents that there was "no doubt" about the archbishop’s "deliberate secret co-operation".

A separate church commission reported in a 5 January statement that it had also seen "numerous important documents," confirming the then priest’s "readiness for deliberate, secret collaboration with the security organs of communist Poland".

In an appeal to Catholics the same day, the archbishop said he had presented the Pope 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". He added that he had lacked "the necessary prudence, courage and determination" to sever SB contacts, but also insisted he had never tried to "inform on or try to harm anyone".

But on 8 January Poland’s Rzeczpospolita paper editorialised "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."

Meanwhile, the Gazeta Wyborcza daily said the centre-right government of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski had sent the Vatican a translation and analysis of the 88-page file on Archbishop Wielgus, which was also published on the Internet.

It added that that "many discreet talks" had taken place between the office of President Lech Kaczynski and the Vatican, and said the president himself had spoken directly before the archbishop’s resignation with Benedict XVI, who was "extremely angry" about developments in Poland.

(c) Ecumenical News International