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Book eyes church role in Polish Communist era

A book released Monday has dredged up more painful allegations from Poland’s Communist era, naming some 30 Roman Catholic priests, including several bishops, as registered informants with the secret police.
Tadeusz Isakowic-Zaleski
The Rev. Tadeusz Isakowic-Zaleski, a Polish priest twice beaten by Poland's Communist-era secret police, discusses his ordeal in January. His book on priests who were registered as informants during the era was released on Monday.Czarek Sokolowski / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A book released Monday has dredged up more painful allegations from Poland’s Communist era, naming some 30 Roman Catholic priests, including several bishops, as registered informants with the secret police.

The author, the Rev. Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski, was twice brutally beaten by the secret police and is one of the leaders of a drive to expose clergy who supplied information to authorities. The church, he says, must confess and repent to heal wounds.

“The church’s avoiding of the problem could lead to irreversible harm,” he wrote in an introduction. “Above all, it will cast a shadow on those clergy (and they were the vast majority) who never cooperated with the secret police.”

Publication of the book — titled “Priests in the Face of the Security Services” — coincides with a surge of interest in the issue following the surprise resignation in January of Warsaw Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus.

At what was supposed to be his opulent installation Mass, Wielgus admitted cooperating with security services in the decades before the Communist regime fell in 1989.

Much of the book describes priests who refused to crack under secret service pressure. The last section deals with those who allegedly broke down and agreed to cooperate.

Isakowicz-Zaleski scoured the former secret police archives, stored at the Institute of National Remembrance, and discovered what he said is evidence of police links to 30 priests, including four bishops. Officials at the dioceses whose bishops were identified in the book could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Code name ‘Fero’
According to the author, the secret police registered Archbishop Juliusz Paetz of Poznan as an informant under the code name “Fero” in March 1978 when he worked at the Vatican.

The authorities broke off contact with Paetz after he returned to Poland in 1983 to become the bishop of Lomza, he adds. Paetz resigned as archbishop of Poznan in 2002 after being accused of making sexual advances to young clerics.

Late Monday, Paetz denied the allegations.

“I did not undertake any form of cooperation with the Communist secret police,” Paetz read in a statement on TVN24 television.

Bishop Wiktor Skworc of Tarnow agreed to cooperate with the secret police in 1979 after being caught with a stash of food in the trunk of his car, the book said. The police accused him of black market speculation and threatened to turn his alleged crime into an anti-church campaign.

Bowing to blackmail
Skworc reportedly bowed to the blackmail. He was given the code name “Dabrowski” and agreed to pass on information about the attitudes of church officials toward the regime, Isakowicz-Zaleski wrote. Skworc allegedly cooperated until 1989.

Not all of those listed in police files as informants were informants, Isakowicz-Zaleski wrote. Olsztyn Archbishop Wojciech Ziemba never agreed to cooperate, according to the book — and yet the secret police registered him as agent “Wojtek” March 1979 after he applied for a passport.

For two years, authorities pressured Ziemba to cooperate, but he never agreed. The secret services finally closed his file, “admitting defeat,” Isakowicz-Zaleski wrote.

Stories of compromised priests were largely ignored until after Pope John Paul II’s death in 2005 — perhaps because people were reluctant to raise an issue that might embarrass the Polish pontiff. Subsequent disclosures, like those in Isakowicz-Zaleski’s book, have threatened the Polish church’s image as a center of resistance to totalitarianism.

Scandal prompts resignation
The heaviest blow came last month, when Wielgus abruptly resigned, admitting he cooperated with the secret services. In reaction to the scandal, the nation’s 133 bishops last month asked the Historic Commission of the Church to inspect their files.

The commission’s findings will not be made public, but they will be forwarded to the Vatican for consideration.

All of Poland’s 46 dioceses have formed local commissions to investigate the relationship between lower-ranking clergy and the security services. Local archbishops will decide what to do with the information gathered.

On Monday, Archbishop Tadeusz Goclowski of Gdansk argued that the authorities who harassed and intimidated the clergy should also be held accountable.

“This is a dramatic moment in the sense that we are constantly dealing with the victims and not with those who persecuted them,” Goclowski said on TVN24.

Church officials and historians say about 10 percent to 15 percent of Poland’s priests were pressured into informing or otherwise cooperating with the secret police.