Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

January 18, 2007

Polish bishops

The Polish church was roiled on Sunday, January 7, 2007. Archbishop Stanislaus Wielgus, addressed the congregation in his cathedral, gathered to witness his formal installation as Archbishop of Warsaw. But his speech was not one of humble acceptance. Rather, he announced that he was resigning because he had collaborated with the secret police in the years of Communist rule! At the very Mass for his installation!

The official announcement of his appointment by Benedict XVI as Archbishop of Warsaw had been made on December 6, 2006. Wielgus had publicly denied widespread rumors of his collaboration with the Communist secret police. On December 21, 2006, Benedict XVI had personally defended Wielgus after having examined "all the circumstances of his life." The Papal Nuncio to Poland had earlier vetted Wielgus and coveyed a favorable report to the Vatican. But on January 3 and 4, Polish newspaper printed copies of documents that Wielgus had signed for the secret police. On January 5th he took office. The following day he admitted that he had caused harm to the Church by his past collaboration with the Communist regime but that he would be subject to whatever the Pope might wish. He looked for forgiveness by his people as he took his post. But, according to Sandro Magister's newsletter (www.chiesa) , the nuncio in Poland had, on January 2, requested the documents on Wielgus from Poland's Institute of National Memory. When the documents finally arrived at the Vatican according to Magister, the order quickly went out that Wielgus was to resign. Magister states that it was Benedict who was the most embarrassed actor in this drama: although he had met personally with Wielgus before the appointment, he had accepted Wielgus' denial of any collaboration. And the ax fell!

All this had been preceded by actions of enemies outside the Church according to Vatican spokesperson, Rev. Frederico Lombardi. But Magister points out that there were also enemies of Wielgus and other clergy collaborators within the Church by way of various Catholic factions, publications, and intellectuals, who wished to see that collaborators with the Commuist regime were exposed and punished.

What to make of this admitted collaboration? Serge Schmemann in an observer piece in the New York Times of January 16, 2007 poses the problems in arriving at fair judgment in such cases. To what degree was the information shared damaging to others? What were the pressures brought upon the collaborators? Was not some accomodation with the regime a necessity to survive and continue one's mission? Schmemann tells of one such collaborator, whom he knew. The individual's son would be expelled from the university unless the father acceded to the wishes of the police! Another reported to the police the names of some attendees at a meeting but did not betray the one who had called the meeting and had typed its minutes. Wielgus had said that he had yielded in order to get a passport and permission to go to Germany for university studies. Critics claimed that he may have met with the then Monsignor Ratzinger and could have reported about this meeting with the future Pope to the police in Poland!

Where on earth could the pieces of such a puzzle be found to fit together and display the total picture? And reach a fair judgment!

Wielgus' problem reminded me of an experience I had years ago, probably in the 1960s. I was with friends in Siena at a time when many of the Tuscan municipalities were governed by communist regimes. I was sitting in front of the courtyard of the Villa Santa Bonda with the local parish priest. A motorcycle with sidecar came to a stop some yards away. Two police officers in immaculate white uniforms stepped out of the vehicle. My fellow priest, Father Galante, murmured "Communisti" and stode down to meet them. They bowed before him and courteously kissed his hand. They chatted amiably, chuckled a bit. Then the priest pointed out various windows in the north and south wings of the villa. I could imagine him saying, "A Dutch artist and his mistress lives up there. A young Italian family of means over there. And in the south wing, a contadini family; Americani here." Collaboration? No, just local law and order! And the Italian communists were always so different. Remember Don Camilo and the Communist mayor? The Soviets had their Gulag; the Italians, the Isle of Capri!


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