It’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…