Video: Polish archbishop steps down

updated 1/8/2007 9:27:53 AM ET 2007-01-08T14:27:53

Polish media welcomed on Monday the resignation of an archbishop who spied for communist-era police, but the affair has left Poland’s powerful Roman Catholic Church in a deep crisis.

The resignation of Stanislaw Wielgus on Sunday during a mass to mark his appointment has put pressure on other clergymen to account for their activities under communism.

Poland’s Church supported the pro-democracy movement that toppled communism in 1989. But many in the clergy, historians say, may have secretly cooperated with the Soviet-backed regime.

Underscoring that change may already be under way, Janusz Bielanski, a priest at Wawel Cathedral in Krakow resigned on Monday following accusations that he had also cooperated with communist police.

The cathedral is one of Poland’s most important churches. Polish-born Pope John Paul II said his first mass there early in his career in 1947.

Pope asked him to resign
Wielgus resigned at the request of Pope Benedict who appointed him just a month ago. Most church leaders, who became increasingly embarrassed about the case, expressed gratitude to the Pontiff.

“The holy father chose the best solution,” Polish Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, head of a commission on relations between Poland’s clergy and the Vatican, told Rzeczpospolita newspaper.

The media widely echoed Pieronek’s comments, with Rzeczpospolita daily running a front-page story on Wielgus’s resignation under the headline “Rescue from Rome” and another daily, Dziennik, saying “The Pope Saved the Church from Shame.”

A senior cardinal was quoted on Monday in an Italian newspaper as saying the Vatican did not know Wielgus had spied for communist police when Pope Benedict nominated him.

“When Monsignor Wielgus was nominated, we did not know anything about his collaboration,” Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re told Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Push comes from brothers in power
Poland is still learning about the extent of the communist secret service’s web of informants 18 years after the regime collapsed, ushering in democracy and free market economics.

Poland’s ruling twins, President Lech Kaczynski and his brother Jaroslaw, the prime minister, came to power last year promising to root out those in public life with close ties to the former communist apparatus.

Some say their drive has also created pressure on the Church, which had until recent years been above suspicion, to investigate the archives and name clergy who were informants.

Some churchmen say time is ripe to face up to the past, saying the Wielgus affair could serve as a catalyst of change.

“I’m convinced that the case of Bishop Wielgus will have a cleansing effect and may even speed up certain processes (of change),” prominent Polish bishop Tadeusz Goclowski said.

“We must not be afraid, and up to now the Church in Poland was a little afraid of this issue.”

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