By David Dastych
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
In a land of shadows where the state has all the power and all the secrets and its citizens have neither, simple survival can require at least a dialogue, if not a deal, with the devil. The lines separating prudence from cowardice, silence from acquiescence and compromise from collaboration can easily become blurred. When lies are the currency of statesmen, half-truths seem almost virtuous."
Warsaw, Poland-This quote from a recent article published in Canada ["The Moral Bankruptcy of Totalitarian Regimes", The Gazette, Montreal] clearly presents the curious situation in Communist Poland and in the Polish Catholic Church, which led to the forced stepping down of new Archbishop Metropolitan of Warsaw, Stanislaw Wielgus, on Sunday January 7, just half an hour before his solemn inauguration mass. The resignation of Monsignor Wielgus had been decided by the pope, Benedict XVI, on Sunday morning, after a hard day's night of the last-minute consultations between the leadership of the Polish Church and the State. It came out, later, that the Holy See was not aware of the compromising past of the archbishop and of his voluntary cooperation with the then communist secret police (SB) and with the intelligence service of the Ministry of the Interior, a relationship that lasted over 20 years. Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the Vatican official responsible for appointing bishops, said that in this case, church officials simply did not know the full story of Wielgus' past.
"When Monsignor Wielgus was nominated, we knew nothing about his collaboration with the secret services," Re was quoted as saying on Monday, January 8, in Corriere della Sera.
The Vatican's mills grind slowly, but this time the decision of the pope came like a bolt from the blue, surprising both the Polish faithful and the Church's hierarchy. Vatican spokesman, the Reverend Federico Lombardi, said Wielgus was right to go because his past actions had "gravely compromised his authority."
But the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, who has served as Warsaw archbishop for the past 25 years, delivered a homily defending Wielgus. He called him "God's servant" and warned of the dangers of passing judgment based on incomplete and flawed documents left behind by the communist authorities.
"The Primate stood before the faithful to tell them clearly that 'if it were up to me, Wielgus would have become archbishop,'" wrote Robert Krasowski, the editor-in-chief of Axel Springer's "Dziennik", a popular Warsaw daily, on Monday.
This comment, picked up in an Associated Press report from Poland, written by Vanessa Gera, was multiplied by hundreds of media outlets all over the World. And Ian Fisher, in a correspondence from Rome for the International Herald Tribune, pointed to an uneasy situation of Benedict XVI not having been informed in advance about Abp Wielgus' past: "a pope with a superb grasp of theology and doctrine seemed tone-deaf to politics. Also, they say, either he has been ill-served by his advisers or, as has been reported often in the Italian press, makes many important decisions alone. Robert Mickens, a Vatican expert for The Tablet, a liberal British Catholic magazine, said: "I think this hurts the pope's credibility, and I think we will see more of this if he continues to try to do it alone."
A complete surprise for the German pope, following the footsteps of the late John Paul II, was the 'rebellious' behavior of crowds of Polish faithful, protesting his decision in the St.John's Cathedral and demonstrating before the Archbishop's Palace for their chosen Church-leader Wielgus, a "Polishman" (as they emphasized). In the streets of Warsaw Old Town district, a bizarre group of fanatics, most of them followers of an xenophobic and nationalistic "Radio Maryja" headed by Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, clashed with the supporters of the pope's decision, sung anti-German patriotic songs and shouted anti-Semitic slogans. A German TV-crew and a Polish woman journalist were beaten up by an angry crowd of these "patriotic" Catholics.
Scenes of these clashes were shown on TV in many countries, to the shame of the majority of the Polish faithful.
Yet, the external manifestations of the crisis, emerging from within the Polish Catholic Church, are only fringes of much deeper problems, besieging the Polish Catholics and the whole Polish society. These problems are related to the peaceful regime change in 1989 and the unsolved question of de-communization. The seventeen years of freedom contributed little to the solution of these problems.
The history of the Polish Catholic Church, going back to the late 900s, was always linked to the formation and then to the preservation of the Polish nation. In the 123 years of the partition of Poland in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Catholic Church was always a center of patriotic resistance. So it was during World War I and during the five years of the Nazi occupation of Poland in World War II, and then under the communist rule lasting 44 years. In WW II, Polish priests were shot, tortured and sent to death in Hitler's concentration camps. Most of them never renounced Christ, even under threat of death. Some made heroic examples, like Father Maksymilian Kolbe, a Franciscan monk and a missionary (i.a. in Japan), who offered his life in the Auschwitz Camp to save a man, who had a family. (A personal note: in 1986, I visited Fr. Kolbe's death cell with a Japanese female reporter, Ms. Yoshino Oishi. Looking at a note on the door, I found that Fr. Kolbe had been put to death by the Nazis on the very day of my birth: August 14, 1941. I also remember a priest, a friend of my German father, who has been beaten almost to death in KL Dachau. His vertebral column was so heavily injured that he had to wear a corset all the time. In spite of the suffering, he served his congregation in a village, until his death in the late 1950s.)
The 1940s and the 1950s in post-war Poland were the most difficult years under the communist rule. Josef Stalin knew all too well that the Polish Catholic Church was the hedge of the Polish nation's patriotic resistance. Therefore, Stalinist rulers of Poland coming directly from the Soviet Union tried to crush all resistance by terror. The notorious Ministry of Public Security (MBP) had organized a 5th Department, which specialized in the persecution of religion. The head of this department was a woman, a colonel in Soviet communist security service (NKVD), Julia Brystygier. A pretty woman in her 40s, she was reported to lift her skirt in front of some interrogated priests and tell them: "Have a last look, before you'll be put to death." Brystygier was a dogmatic Marxist, who yearned to destroy all religion as an "opiate for the masses". She wasn't as cruel a sadistic, as other communist security officers, but still her Gestapo-like methods earned for her a nickname: "Bloody Luna". Julia Brystygier actively participated in all "split-and-rule" policies applied by the communists to the Polish Catholics. It's very characteristic that the Polish communist authorities made use of both "patriotic priests" (the secret police collaborators) and of "intellectuals", organized by a pre-war ultra-nationalistic and anti-Semitic formation, re-named "Pax Society", led by Boleslaw Piasecki, a protłęgłęe of a Soviet security general Ivan Serov. Colonel Brystygier also directed the operation to arrest and detain the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, although the decision to arrest him had been made earlier in Moscow, after the Primate made his "Non possumus" declaration, defining the limits of the Church's concessions to the communists. (Catholics protesting against the inauguration of Archbishop Wielgus, a former informant and collaborator, displayed a large banner with the words "Non possumus" in front of the Metropolitan Cathedral on Sunday, January 7). Brystygier took an active part in the "war against the religion" in the 1950s. Only in 1950, 123 Catholic priests were arrested. She also persecuted other congregations: 2000 Jehowa Witnesses had been detained. Julia Brystygier left the Ministry of Public Security in 1957 and became...a writer. In 1975, at 73, she asked for baptism and converted to the Catholic creed. She died in the same year, her conversion being a symbol of Jesus' victory over the communist doctrine.
In Autumn of 1986, when I was still kept in a special ward of the Barczewo Prison in Northern Poland, I met there an ex-colonel of the Polish security police (Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa -- SB), Adam Pietruszka. Mr. Pietruszka earned a sentence of 25 years for his non-direct participation in the brutal murder of a Solidarity chaplain, Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko, a martyr-priest soon to become a new saint. The ex-colonel of the SB was deputy chief of the notorious 4th Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MSW), tasked with the fight against the Catholic Church. In 1989, his sentence was already reduced to 15 years in jail (in all he then served only 10) and he was sure he would be freed soon and still would play a vital role in the post-communist Polish state. He pleaded not-guilty, blaming the generals Jaruzelski and Kiszczak for alleged complicity in the murder of the rebellious priest, in 1984. He also told me that many high-ranking prelates of the Polish Church offered help to him and to his family.
In 1989, I wondered why? But now, after almost 18 years and the disclosure of many secret files of the SB and of the communist intelligence services, I know that ex- Colonel Pietruszka could count on the help of some priests and even bishops, whom he, or his subordinates, had recruited as secret informants (tajny wspolpracownik -- TW) or agents of the 4th Department. Adam Pietruszka, who enjoys a quiet life of a well-gratified pensioner now (allegedly he receives a pension 4 times higher than an average one in Poland), also served as a "diplomat" in Italy, taking care of some informants and agents the Polish communists had planted in the Vatican City or near by. He would never disclose, not in 1989 and also not now, whom he had recruited from the Polish Church and how the 4th Department coordinated their anti-church work with the Soviet KGB. But the recent discoveries in the secret files, collected in the archives of the Institute for National Remembrance (IPN), reveal that Colonel Adam Pietruszka personally supervised at last two important members of the Church hierarchy in Poland, turned informants. One of them was Rev. Michal Czajkowski (a secret informant, a.k.a. "Jankowski"), a well known Professor of the Academy of Catholic Theology (ATK) in Warsaw and a prominent author. Rev. Czajkowski admitted to his services to the SB, after a series of publications based on his files. He was the only one, who publicly asked for pardon and withdrew from public life. He also agreed that a book be written, based on his confession of guilt and his secret activities. According to last week's publication in an acknowledged Polish weekly "Wprost" ("Agent Ignacy" by Tadeusz Witkowski), Colonel Adam Pietruszka was also involved in the case of a high-ranking agent (a.k.a. "Ignacy"), the late Bishop Jerzy Dabrowski. In the 1970s and 1980s, there were two prelates of the same family name "Dabrowski" in the Secretariat of the Polish Episcopate: Archbishop Bronislaw Dabrowski, the very merited Secretary of the Episcopate and his deputy Bishop Jerzy Dabrowski, who had been recruited by an officer of the 4th Department on December 10, 1962, before his departure to Rome for studies of musicology at the Papal Gregorianum University. He acted as a communist secret agent in Italy from 1963 to 1970, supplying information about The Vaticanum II and other events. Then he returned to Poland and worked in the Secretariat of the Episcopate. Bishop Jerzy Dabrowski was a very important communist agent, as he was a close aide to Cardinal Josef Glemp and he took part in almost all confidential negotiations between Solidarity (Lech Walesa) and the communist authorities (General Wojciech Jaruzelski), with Primate Jozef Glemp and Abp Bronislaw Dabrowski. In 1988-1989, he was deeply involved in the negotiations, which led to the Round Table Talks and the regime change in Poland. At the beginning of the 1990s, Bishop Jerzy Dabrowski became a diocese head in Gniezno and also he traveled to the Soviet Russia, taking care of Polish Catholics there. His sudden death in a car crash, on the road from Gniezno to Warsaw, on the 14th of February 1991, is still an unsolved mystery. Some people believe that the Soviet KGB was instrumental in it.
Colonel Adam Pietruszka must also have known about Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus' role as an informant of the SB (4th Department's Section) in Lublin, where he was Professor and then President of the Lublin Catholic University, and about his services rendered abroad, in Germany and in other countries, to the Polish communist intelligence (the 1st Department of the Ministry of Interior).
I have not met the former SB colonel, Adam Pietruszka, since our meetings in the Barczewo Prison, though I spoke to his wife, Roza, after my release from jail in February 1990. I know from several reports, also from my friend Professor Jozef Szaniawski (the biographer of Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski, the late top CIA spy in Poland), that Adam Pietruszka tried to accuse the communist generals Jaruzelski and Kiszczak of an alleged directing of the operation to "get rid" of Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko, but he failed to prove their role in the 1984 assassination of the Solidarity chaplain. When I asked General Jaruzelski about this, during one of my meetings with him in the late 1990s or early 2000s, he -- of course -- denied any participation in the crime, hinting that the murder of Rev. Popieluszko could be set by the KGB to oust him from his state and communist party offices.
Will Adam Pietruszka open up and talk about his agents in the Polish Catholic Church? I doubt it because he won't take the high risk of revealing top secret operations of the communist secret police and intelligence, directed against the Polish Church and against the late pope, John Paul II.
A popular daily, "Dziennik", published in Warsaw by a German Axel Springer Media Corporation, revealed on Tuesday, January 9, that in 1978, still before the election of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla as the 261st pope in the Fall of the same year, the Polish secret services tried to use 12 bishops (as informants) to influence the election of a new Primate of Poland, following the expected demise of the moribund Primate Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski. The communist authorities strongly opposed an eventual choice of "Rev. Dr. Jozef Glemp" (as they wrote about him in their top secret documents in 1978), urgently trying to compromise or recruit him. But Bishop Glemp, a future Cardinal (1983) and Archbishop of Warsaw with the title of Primate of Poland (1992), was immune to all their efforts. "Wprost" weekly wrote in an interview with Professor Jan Zaryn, a leading historian of the Church in the IPN, that the then Bishop Jozef Glemp set a model of effective resistance to the secret services. Professor Zaryn quotes Rev. Josef Glemp's answer, given to a communist officer trying to recruit him in 1973: "You are set on to put me down. I am set on to resist you." Then, why did Cardinal Jozef Glemp spoke in defense of a proven communist collaborator, Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus, last Sunday? Probably he did so to give him a chance to survive a depressing situation and to reform himself. To pardon one's sins is a normal function of a priest. But first the sinner must admit to his or her sins and repent. Archbishop Wielgus did that at the last moment, facing the irrefutable evidence and papal disapproval.
The crisis in the Polish Church, evoked by the case of Archbishop Wielgus, could be overcome by more efforts to disclose the communist files and to name informants and agents. But these efforts must be civilized, and the former collaborators have to admit their guilt. A colleague of Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow (Cracow) from the Theological Seminary, Rev. Janusz Bielanski (a.k.a. "Waga") was recently dismissed, at his own request, from his post of the Custodian of the Wawel Royal Castle Cathedral in Krakow--but only under pressure of recent dramatic events. On Wednesday, January 10, Polish media informed about a search being made in the archives of the IPN into the past of an another, still living, Catholic bishop, a.k.a, "Theologue", who was supposed to serve the communists as a secret agent for 25 years. The resignation of Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus, forced by the pope, prompted both the Catholic laymen and the Church to pay more attention to the documents in the archive of the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), concerning priests, monks and nuns who were supposed to cooperate with the then communist secret services. There is a general hope, in spite of the opposition from a part of the Church hierarchy and laymen, that a "self-purification" of the Polish Catholic Church will be accomplished, though this process may be difficult and extended over several years.
In various periods of "People's Poland", the number of registered informants and agents in the Polish Catholic Church, recruited by blackmail or voluntarily cooperating with the communist authorities, reached 10 -- 15 per cent of the total number of the clergymen (including nuns). It means that there could be 2000 -- 2,500 thousand of clergy members, compromised by the secret services in the past. But 85 to 90 per cent of all sacerdots, monks and nuns effectively resisted the pressure. The Polish Church came out of the communist era battered but still victorious.
ę David Dastych, 2007