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Vatican considers fall-out after Polish archbishop steps down

Almost one week after the new archbishop of Warsaw resigned after admitting contacts with Poland’s communist-era secret police, commentators in Rome said the church was reeling from the implications of the affair. The Rome-based La Repubblica newspaper reported that Pope Benedict XVI was "furious" about those who had withheld information from him about Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus.

In Warsaw, leaders of the Catholic Church in Poland had met on 12 January to discuss how to deal with cases of communist-era collaboration by clergy. But, speculated the Milan-based Corriere della Sera, "How many of the bishops gathered are above suspicion?"

Earlier in the week, Vatican spokesperson the Rev Federico Lombardi stated that "the case of Monsignor Wielgus is not the first, and probably won’t be the last attack against a church official based on documentation from the [secret] services of the past regime."

The day after Wielgus stepped down, another top Catholic cleric, the Rev Janusz Bielanski, resigned as rector of Krakow’s Wawel Cathedral, strenuously denying allegations of collaboration.

On 12 January, Corriere della Sera reported allegations against the Rome-based Polish priest who heads the historical commission considering beatification for Pope John Paul II. "The communist services contacted me, but I did not collaborate," the newspaper reported the Rev Michael Jagosz as saying.

Earlier in the week, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Holy See’s secretary of state, told Vatican Radio: "The Polish Church is a faithful Church, even if it had moments of compromise, moments in which it was a victim."

Though testing for the Polish church, the situation is also seen by commentators in Rome as being no less difficult for the Vatican, because, they say, Pope Benedict had for weeks defended his choice as the new Warsaw archbishop, before obliging him to resign.

The Pope had named Wielgus on 6 December to succeed Cardinal Jozef Glemp as archbishop of Warsaw. Later that month, as allegations of collaboration were reported in the Polish media, the Vatican issued a statement expressing "complete trust" in the new archbishop. In naming Wielgus, the Holy See "took into consideration all the circumstances of his life, including those regarding his past", the Vatican statement had noted.

After the resignation, however, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, was quoted by Corriere della Sera as saying that "when Archbishop Wielgus was nominated, we did not know anything about his collaboration with
the secret service."

A report in La Repubblica conjectured about who had provided "bad information" to the Pope, leading him to choose Wielgus. "There are growing rumours about a showdown in the Vatican," the newspaper reported.

The London-based Catholic magazine, The Tablet, reported comments by two mid-level Vatican officials who did not wish to be named, but said they were "pretty sure" that Pope Benedict knew of Archbishop Wielgus’ past involvement with the secret police.

In an interview with Corriere della Sera, the Polish film producer and director Krzysztof Zanussi, a friend of Pope John Paul II, said that both the Polish church and the nunciature (Vatican embassy) to Poland had made "huge mistakes".

Pope John Paul named the Vatican’s current Apostolic Nuncio to Poland, Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk, as ambassador in 1989. He has the duty to present to the Pope the necessary background documentation about the appointment of bishops.

Vatican-watcher John Allen noted that Kowalczyk "is a rare bird among church diplomats in that he’s a native son of the country in which he serves".

Henri Tincq, religion editor of the Paris-based Le Monde newspaper, wrote: "There is no recent precedent of such a decrease in the authority of a Pope, forced to go back on his decision following a nomination so obviously badly prepared."

Allen, senior correspondent of the National Catholic Reporter, noted that the Vatican does not like a bishop to resign under fire. He pointed, however, to the Pope’s swift action in removing Wielgus once the archbishop had admitted contacts with the secret police. "For the church," Allen wrote on the Web site http://ncrcafe.org/, "it suggests the Vatican under Benedict XVI is learning something about crisis management."

(c) Ecumenical News International