Archbishop's Fall Reawakens a Debate in Poland

The resignation of the new archbishop of Warsaw because of his links to the secret service of Poland's previous communist government has highlighted the controversy over the country's attempt to come to terms with its communist past. Analysts say Poland has yet to undergo a true self-examination of its history under communism, or to examine fully the backgrounds of many highly placed officials, politicians and churchmen. Many Poles support such a process. But critics call it an excuse for a witch-hunt.

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Another senior member of Poland's Catholic church has resigned his post. Director of the Wawel Cathedral in Krakow stepped down amid allegations he collaborated with the communist-era secret police.

On Sunday, the newly-appointed archbishop of Warsaw astounded Poland's many Catholics by resigning just as he was about to be inaugurated. He faced similar allegations.

From Warsaw, NPR's Emily Harris reports.

EMILY HARRIS: The cathedral in central Warsaw was packed with supporters of Bishop Stanislaw Wielgus yesterday. They had come to see him elevated to archbishop. Instead, he read this.

Bishop STANISLAW WIELGUS (Former Archbishop of Warsaw): (Polish Spoken)

HARRIS: After deep reflection and evaluation of my personal situation, he said, and in accordance with Canonical Law 401, paragraph 2, I place in the hands of His Holiness my resignation from the post of Archbishop of Warsaw.

(Soundbite of crowd yelling, commotion)

HARRIS: Some in the church clapped, but most yelled, no. Stay with us. During the mass that followed, outgoing Archbishop Jozef Glemp defended Wielgus to a degree that seems to challenge the church's own inquiry that had concluded that Wielgus had knowingly collaborated with the secret police.

Archbishop JOZEF GLEMP (Outgoing Archbishop of Warsaw): (Polish Spoken)

HARRIS: Archbishop Glemp said Wielgus had been judged with worthless scraps of paper - third-generation copies. He called Wielgus a servant of God.

Unidentified Woman #1: (Polish Spoken)

HARRIS: Outside, among the faithful who had stood in the rain for this service, the mood was angry. He confessed to the nation, one woman said, and he's okay. But elsewhere, people said they were glad Wielgus had resigned. Some expressed disgust he held on to the very last minute.

Religious affairs analyst Tomasz Wiscicki says the Polish church is in crisis.

Mr. TOMASZ WISCICKI (Polish Religious Affairs Analyst): (Through translator) It's a crisis of confidence in the institution, a crisis of bishops who stay silent. A crisis of pretending that there are no problems. Often, this is compared to the pedophile scandals in the U.S. Although they are very different, the essence of both crises isn't the fact that some people sinned, but the fact that the authority of the institution was used to defend them.

HARRIS: Poland's communist-era secret police files are not generally accessible, but historians here say the church has had ample opportunity to learn which priests collaborated and to what degree. The documents made public about Wielgus are most mostly evaluations of him written by intelligence agents. They were first revealed by a weekly newspaper, Polska Gazeta. Editor-in-chief Tomasz Sakiewicz says former communists and collaborators must be tracked down.

Mr. TOMASZ SAKIEWICZ (Editor in Chief, Polska Gazeta): They are still active in business. I think that we must open every archives, and we should show everything - what it was. I think that it will be the best way.

HARRIS: This is exactly what Poland decided not to do when communist rule came to an end. The opposition movement Solidarity, the church and communist leaders sat down and agreed to let everyone take part in the new Poland.

But the current president and prime minister - twin brothers - campaigned on promises of a purge of former communists.

Piotr Stasinski - deputy editor of the opposition newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza -says they don't understand the limits of the archives.

Mr. PIOTR STASINSKI (Deputy Editor, Gazeta Wyborcza) They are fanatics. Many of them. Zealots. They believe there is fundamental truth in the files, which is not - I don't believe this.

HARRIS: He says many of those accused of working for the secret police were blackmailed, threatened, or otherwise forced to collaborate. He says the files are being used to imply that the Solidarity movement and most priests and bishops did not actually fight and bring down the communist system.

In March, a new law on the files is due to go into effect. Historian Andrei Petrovski, who works with the archive, says it will fling them wide open - a radical change.

Dr. ANDREI PETROVSKI (Historian): The name of the all secret collaborator must be - not should be - but must be published in Internet - from the beginning of communism regime, until the end of communist secret service.

HARRIS: Meanwhile, the pope must select another archbishop of Warsaw. Many here believe it should be someone young - too young to have been compromised by the communist secret police.

Emily Harris, NPR News, Warsaw.

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