January 7, 2007

Polish Bishop Tied to Secret Police Resigns

WARSAW, Jan. 7 — The newly appointed archbishop of Warsaw, Stanislaw W. Wielgus, resigned today after admitting two days earlier that he had collaborated with Poland’s Communist-era secret police.

The revelation has shaken one of Europe’s largest Catholic communities and refocused scrutiny on charges that some clergy were Communist collaborators up until the 1980s even as the Roman Catholic Church was supporting dissidents.

The archbishop had tried to minimize reports of his collaboration, which surfaced two weeks after Pope Benedict XVI named him to the job on Dec. 6, insisting that his contacts with the country’s feared Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa, or Security Service, were benign and routine.

But Bishop Wielgus admitted to deeper involvement on Friday after documents from secret police files were published in Polish newspapers that suggested he had informed on fellow clerics for decades, beginning in the late 1960s.

Bishop Wielgus has maintained that his collaboration with the S.B., as the Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa was known, did not involve spying on anyone and did not hurt anyone. Nonetheless, any cooperation between the Polish clergy and the S.B. is troubling to Poles, as it is to people all over the former Soviet bloc, because of the Catholic Church under the Polish-born Pope John Paul II was considered a beacon of hope and encouragement to people fighting Communist oppression.

That the head of the Warsaw archdiocese could fall to a Communist collaborator would have been an unbearably cruel twist for many people here who remember the brutal murder of one of the diocese’s most charismatic priests of the era, the Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko. Father Popielusko was one of the first priests from the influential archdiocese to visit striking Solidarity members at the Gdansk shipyards a quarter of a century ago, and he o was beaten to death by S.B. agents in 1984. They dumped his body in a reservoir.

Bishop Wielgus assumed his duties as archbishop on Friday as news coverage of his past association with the S.B. reached a peak. The Polish church’s historical commission, which Bishop Wielgus had himself asked to review evidence against him, issued a statement during the day that “numerous, substantial documents” confirmed the prelate’s “willingness” to cooperate with the secret police.

That judgment forced Bishop Wielgus to issue a more contrite statement late in the day and set in motion negotiations with the Vatican that ended with his resignation today.

The Vatican’s diplomatic mission in Poland said in a statement today that Pope Benedict had accepted the resignation.

In Rome, a statement from the Vatican said the appointment of Bishop Wielgus had been made “taking into consideration all the circumstances of his life, among them also those regarding his past.” The statement said the pope nonetheless made the appointment “with full trust and full consciousness.”

The Vatican operates far from public view, so it is difficult to understand how the appointment went forward despite apparently strong concerns in the Polish church. But the uproar seemed to echo several criticisms of Benedict that followed the angry reaction among Muslims to a speech he gave in September that seemed to equate Islam with violence.

The first is that while his expertise on doctrine and theology are unquestioned, some critics say he has seemed to lack a full grasp of the politics inherent in an organization as large and complicated as the Catholic Church.

And as in the controversy over the speech that mentioned Islam, there have been suggestions that the pope has either not been well served by his advisers in the broader Vatican bureaucracy — or that he has tended make important decisions largely on his own.

The last-minute resignation scuttled a ceremonial mass at which the archbishop was to have been officially invested with his new office before Poland’s president, Lech Kaczynski. Instead, Bishop Wielgus read out his resignation at the mass. Hundreds of distraught Catholics gathered in the rain in front of Warsaw’s cathedral, where the ceremony was to have been taken place.

Ian Fisher contributed reporting from Rome.