Long shadows of the past

Exactly two years after the spectacular resignation of Warsaw Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus, there is new controversy in Poland over the handling of alleged secret service contacts by clergymen. This time the ie is the influential longtime Apostolic Nuncio in Warsaw, Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk (70), and whether he was an informant for the former communist secret service SB.

An attempt by church historians to exonerate the Vatican diplomat with an acquittal did not initially lead to the hoped-for result. For the state Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), which manages the secret service files, put the brakes on: it was not excluded that Kowalczyk knowingly cooperated with the SB in the 1980s. The Polish Bishops' Conference on Friday defended Kowalczyk. The nuncio did not cooperate with the SB, the presidium explained. But the new case shows that for Catholic bishops in Poland, even two years after the Wielgus scandal, the chapter of the communist past is still not closed. As a reminder, Archbishop Wielgus stated on 7. January 2007 in the Warsaw Cathedral his resignation from office during a service at which he was supposed to be enthroned. It was a unique event in the more than thousand years of church history in Poland. The end came for Wielgus after he was unable to refute the accusation that he had initially denied involvement with the secret service. At the time, the nuncio, who plays a key role in personnel decisions, also came under criticism. Kowalzcyk was accused of not having sufficiently investigated Wielgus and of not having properly informed the Vatican. In fact, the candidate's SB file remained unsifted at the time. Kowalczyk decided to examine his own secret service file only a few days ago, when the conservative daily newspaper "Rzeczpospolita" applied to the IPN for access to the file. Five church experts found on Kowalczyk's behalf that the SB had run the nuncio, who had been in office since 1989, as an "information contact" with the code name "Cappino" starting in December 1982. As head of the Polish section of the Vatican Secretariat of State at the time, he said, he also had to hold talks with representatives of the Polish state. "This kind of contact can in no way be considered an informer activity," the expert report said. In January 1990, the SB destroyed all materials originating from Kowalczyk because they were "unusable," the commission quotes from his remaining SB file. According to the report, this file contains only ten pages. Criticism of the expert report also came from the Krakow priest Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski, who has dedicated himself for years to coming to terms with the secret service past of clergymen. It is unlikely that the senior officers of "Cappino" could have lied to their superiors for so long about a merely fictitious collaboration. Rzeczpospolita" wrote that it cannot be said that Kowalczyk was an informant, nor that he was not an informant. For this the burned documents were missing. The nuncio stressed that he had not informed Pope John Paul II of his decision. (1978-2005) dutifully informed about his conversations with Polish officials. "I did not betray the trust of the Holy Father," he said. He had initiated the examination of his file out of solidarity with the Polish bishops. The episcopate had already allowed itself to be screened in 2007. The Historical Commission said that according to the SB files, more than ten bishops had cooperated with the secret service. Whether knowingly or not, however, one could not say. The commission did not specify the exact number and names of the informants. However, among others, the president of the Bishops' Conference, Jozef Michalik (Przemysl), and Archbishops Jozef Zycinski (Lublin) and Henryk Muszynski (Gniezno) made public that they were registered by the secret service against their will. In the meantime, the press has also devoted itself to coming to terms with the secret service past in the Protestant and Orthodox churches. The situation is "much worse" among the Orthodox, said church expert Czarek Gmyz of "Rzeczpospolita" when asked. Among them, about half of the priests would have cooperated with the SB. And the bishops would not want to face this problem. In the Protestant Church, as in the Catholic Church, about ten percent of the clergy had cooperated with the secret service, according to Gmyz. Of the priests who collaborated with the SB, according to the historians, many were blackmailed. These included threats to make public their alcohol problems and financial or sexual misdemeanors. The agent activity of clergymen shocked Poland especially because the former Archbishop of Warsaw Stefan Wyszynski (from 1948 to 1981) was an indomitable opponent of the communists. He went to prison for three years in 1953 instead of serving the regime.

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