Sunday, January 07, 2007

Wielgus, Emeritus

Minutes before what was supposed to be the public inauguration of his ministry as archbishop of Warsaw, Stanislaw Wojech Wielgus read aloud his letter of resignation to Pope Benedict before a stunned congregation earlier today in the Polish capital's Cathedral-Basilica of St John.

Many in the packed house wept as the pontiff's hand-picked choice to lead the nation's most visible local church fell on his sword amid revelations of longstanding collaboration with state intelligence in the days of the Communist regime, to which he admitted in recent days. Others applauded, and Wielgus supporters gathered at the back and outside the cathedral shouted "No!" or "Stay with us!" as the 67 year-old prelate stood before the crowd in silence, unable to continue speaking as the reactions poured forth.

Shortly thereafter, the installation program being quickly converted into a Mass of Thanksgiving commemorating Cardinal Josef Glemp's 25 years at the helm of the 1.4 million-member archdiocese, a communiqué from the Vatican's nunciature in Poland announced that Benedict had accepted Wielgus' withdrawl from the post, naming Glemp the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese pending a new appointment. Returning unexpectedly to duty, the cardinal launched into a potent defense of his former successor, who concelebrated the liturgy. Reports say Glemp's ringing praise moved Wielgus to tears.

Most of the Polish hierarchy was present for the Mass, most prominently Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, who served the late Pope John Paul II as his closest aide for four decades.

Though he failed to be seated once in the archbishop's throne held for a quarter century by Glemp and, before him, the "Primate of the Millennium" Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, Wielgus -- who took canonical possession of the archdiocese at a private ceremony on Friday -- becomes archbishop-emeritus of Warsaw.

Particularly given the Vatican's prior expressions of confidence in the appointee and the furious reaction of the Polish episcopate circulated by the Holy See following the first disclosures of the archbishop's past, the episode represents the most significant intra-church setback of Benedict's pontificate, an embarrassment exacerbated by the increased time and effort the new Pope has personally invested in monitoring his episcopal appointments, particularly to prominent posts. And it hasn't been lost on some that its context involves the top job in the homeland of his predecessor, where the shadow of Karol Wojtyla continues to loom especially large.

With the chosen candidate now sidelined, the task falls to Archbishop Josef Kowalczyk, the nuncio to Poland, to compile a new terna of nominees for the Warsaw see. Given the controversy over Wielgus' selection, the repeat of the process will likely be deprived of the relative lack of public attention and scrutiny it was able to maintain in the last round.

It remains an open question whether the succession will be expedited, or if the Holy See feels that a mid-range period of stability with the 77 year-old Glemp at the helm would be the optimal course to ride out the tempest of recent weeks.

AFP/Janek Skarzynski
PHOTO 2: AP/Alik Keplicz