The Polish Church vis-a-vis Communism

WielgusIt’s been in all the papers, everyone in Poland seems to be talking about this scandal. Let’s try and put it in context and look at what’s been going on. Archbishop Stanisław Wielgus was nominated Archbishop of Warsaw by Pope Benedict XVI. In the days following his nomination, information started leaking out of Poland`s Institute of National Remembrance that Wielgus may have collaborated with the communist Secret Police by providing them with information about the Church. Yes, the whole thing stinks and, once again, the Catholic Church has got itself into a real quagmire. It’s difficult to see how on earth they’re going to pull themselves out of this one this time, but the last minute resignation of Archbishop Stanisław Wielgus an hour before his official installation seemed to – to some extent – save the day.

Basically, we’re dealing with two problems here. Firstly, the fact that Wielgus collaborated with the Secret Police. Secondly, the fact that Archbishop Wielgus lied about his collaboration with the Secret Police on several occasions.

The first problem also needs to be put in context. What is understood commonly as collaboration should in no way be termed as ‘spying’ as it has been in all the Western newspapers. It is not the same. Archbishop Wielgus signed a document saying that he would collaborate with the Secret Police, however, there is little evidence to suggest that he hurt anyone or put the Church or his flock at danger. There are no witnesses that saw him ‘spying’. As far as we know, Wielgus (like tens of thousands of other people) agreed to sign the document to live what we now might call a normal life – receive a passport, be able to leave the country and have an academic career. This was the reality of life in communist Poland. If you were a member of the Party or if you signed the appropriate document, you could have the things that so many of us nowadays take for granted. In defence of the Church, it needs to be said here that over 95% of the clergy did not collaborate.

Now to the second issue. The fact that Wielgus lied about signing this document is scandalous and casts a dark shadow over his character which until now has been whiter than white. But hats off here to Cardinal Józef Glemp, head of the Polish Catholic Church – someone who is not the most charismatic, endearing or lovable character in the world. In his homily during the Mass which was supposed to mark the installation of Wielgus he talked of the categories that the Holy Church use in their selection of the clergy being different from those we might commonly believe to be important. For the Church, he stated, the love of Jesus Christ is the overriding criterion. He mentioned Saint Peter and the fact he was a bit of a dodgy character who lied, denied Christ several times, but was selected to head the Church because of his love of Christ.

The Polish Church is without doubt far too powerful, it loves sticking its nose into politics and often lacks the empathy that should in fact characterise it. Many of the clergy are corrupt, have dubious ‘relations’ (and relationships) with members of their flock and generally should take a good look at themselves. The Polish Church is divided between those who are liberal and open and those who are conservative and loathe change. However, one cannot help feeling that Archbishop Wielgus is an unfortunate victim of the media circus. The next few days will be critical. Will the Church decide to clean up its act or will it simply forgive and forget…

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14 thoughts on “The Polish Church vis-a-vis Communism

  1. “over 95% of the clergy did not collaborate.” Um, non-Polish media (BBC, others) put the figure of collaborating clergy at between 10 to 15%. Where does your figure come from?

    And as for ‘collaboration’, well, in every ex-Warsaw Pact country I know I’ve met people who had to ‘collaborate’ – usually on just such terms as you have described; they had to, in order to function in a quasi-normal way. I don’t think it wd take too long to find such ‘collaborators’ in every university, office, factory or housing estate in this country, nor any of the others. Personally it strikes me as a non-event, a useful political tool for demagogues to raise Cain and score political points. And as such, I heartily wish that this government & country would leave the issue behind and get on with the difficult, mundane, non-glamorous business of running the country.

    As for Wielgus himself – so he was caught out in a lie. Who hasn’t? Admittedly the nature of the lie was not exactly innocent, but there are far worse things to be caught lying about, especially for a Catholic clergyman. Has he fiddled kiddies, or left ladies pregnant, or embezzled from the collection box for a new BMW? Those are things which wd warrant a sacking – yet don’t – far more than signing a statement of ‘co-operation’ and then pretending you hadn’t.

    Maybe someone somewhere will focus on finding a man of God to do the job. Meanwhile. one extreme is waxing lyrical on how closely JP2 was supposed to have worked with Reagan’s CIA, another is calling the current church and the media ‘agents of the Jews/the Masons’, while all those smug atheists (Poland is full of them, they’re just waiting for their turn in the spotlight) are oh-so-ironic about Wielgus, that other priest’s list of collaborating clergy,… We need a man of principle, about whom everything is known, whose principles are steadfast and clear! What price Archbishop Rydzyk? :D:D

  2. I have the figure from a few independent Polish sources. However, even if the figure was around 15% it’s still a pretty good statistic.
    “Personally it strikes me as a non-event” – Jim I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I thought it necessary to mention the difference between “spying” and “collaboration”. It’s no more than one man signing a piece of paper and then lying about it. Obviously, the seriousness of the lie increases with your position of responsibility and that’s what’s angered so many people.
    What I found scary were the masses of Bible-bashers genuflecting and calling for Wielgus to be re-instated at the Mass where he announced his resignation.

  3. Masses? I heard that there were far fewer than a hundred.

    And I wish some more people participated in this discussion than du und ich… 🙂

    Greetz from rainy Woodge.

  4. That’s still too many.
    As for the blog participants… well, pass my blog address on to other people.
    Regardless of the number of people here, I still bow my head to your wise intelligence. 😉

  5. If a priest (a man who preaches what is moral and what is not, who has the power to influence people’s lives) agrees to collaborate with communist secret services is not an authority for me. I think it’s a real shame. Similar situation would be if, for example a thief told me ‘don’t steal cos it’s bad’ and at the same time he’d do it himself. It’s a sheer paradox. And saying that ‘collaboration’ was a common phenomenon at that time is not an explanation; it’s nothing else than just making fools of people.

    As for what you said Jimbo “people who h a d to collaborate” I agree that in some situations people were forced and persuaded to sign the documents, but I strongly disagree that they HAD to! Many didn’t agree to ‘cooperate’ with the Secret Police and others even died for the country, take for example Rev Popiełuszko. Those who signed simply chose ‘privileged’ life. Thanks to this they had ‘comfortable’ life and could easily make a ‘career’. Other people chose the ‘good’ way and they had to fight the difficult realities of the time.

    Another issue… How can we leave all this behind and simply forget? It’s impossible to build a strong, democratic and ‘clean’ country if people who have high social position and the ‘ability’ to influence (manipulate in a sense) other people’s lives appear to be traitors…

    What surprises me is that on the mass when Archbishop Wielgus announced his decision to quit (he hesitated till the last moment), people – mainly the older generation – who know how it (collaboration with communist secret services) looked like, how hard it was in the post-war country were shouting ‘stay with us!’. That’s really strange. I don’t get it.

    But what strikes me most and is unacceptable for me is that Archbishop Wielgus denied (=LIED) few times that he didn’t sign anything. And people who want to reveal the truth are criticized and the traitors become victims. That’s just ridiculous…

    To sum up this very long post 😛 – the scandals surrounding Archbishop Wielgus are definitely worthy of discussion –> referring to M&C.

  6. Yes, what I found shocking was the fact that a group of elderly weirdoes – known affectionately 😉 as the Moherowe Berety – the elderly God Squad – (see: http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moherowe_berety) kicked up such a fuss when Wielgus decided to read out his resignation. Firstly, that is NOT how you behave in a place of worship (shouting, ranting etc) and secondly, I got the impression that the whole religious service was more of a political demonstration than a holy Mass. I am also reliably informed that it came down to fisticuffs outside the church with one elderly gentleman hitting another whilst crying “Down with the Secret Police – this is just a plot to bring down the church”. Oh dear…

  7. There’s one more aspect of this whole scandal. When I watched the news that day, I personally (emotionally) felt horrible. On all the main TV stations in Europe (and not only e.g. CNN) they were telling about the ‘crisis’ in the Polish Church in the main news. Even somewhere in India (God knows where else!) they mentioned what’s going on in the Polish church. That’s just humiliating and sad…

    I also think that Rev Isakowich-Zaleski (who’s a bit controversial, too) is right suggesting that the Church should take care of the ‘invigilation’ among priests on its own. And he’s right here because they shouldn’t let it become a purely political thing; unfortunately this seems to be the case now.

    And all this m e s s after the M a s s shouldn’t have happened. It’s pathetic…

  8. Bad news is ALWAYS the best kind of news – the media circus love it. Pathetic is most definitely the right word for it. But is this the end of the matter or will we witness more of this rubbish. Today, for example, the priest/minister for Wawel Castle in Kraków tended in his resignation…

  9. Personally, I was not shocked to hear that Archbishop Wielgus have collaborated with the communist Special Police. Maybe I was surprised, but definitely not shocked. Everyone knows that the clergy in Poland was providing the communist authorities with the information about the Church (we can recall for instance the case of Cardinal Wyszyński). I was also surprised that this case became such interesting subject for the foreign mass media. I think it is a very sad situtation, especially because it concerns this “special” group of the society. It shows us that priests are also NORMAL people. I don’t understand these old ladies and gentelmen, who want to protect Archbishop Wielgus at any cost. He sustained the accusations, so it is pointless to pin blame on the mass media. It is also hard for me to understand why he was telling all these lies? In my opinion these people who were collaborators should be punished. We can’t just forget about what they were doing to other people. I think it’s high time for Poland to get through this dark and awful part of its history.

  10. But how to “get over this dark and awful” period when over 20 years or more have passed since some of these events took place? Isn’t the political vetting (lustracja) proposed by Kaczyński’s ‘Law and Justice’ a little too late?

  11. Maybe it is too late, but what else can we do? In my opinion a much worse decision would be to leave the situation as it is and forget about everything. The communist collaborators must be punished. Many of the postcommunist countries got the political vetting over, Poland is as always behind…

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