Friday, January 12, 2007


Today's edition of The Tablet is headlined by a lengthy piece from our Jonathan Luxmoore in Warsaw on L'Affaire Wielgus.

Saying that the episode "could be a moment of catharsis, a chance to shake off the fusty, authoritarian attitudes of the past," Luxmoore -- our Eastern European correspondent and, arguably, the most keyed-in Anglophone journo on the story -- reports that "the tensions now afflicting Poland's Catholic Church" which impacted the story's run-up, release and climax are among the moment's key revelations.
In the war of words over the resignation of Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus, everyone has been diminished: the bishops who tried to force his appointment through despite confirmation of his past links to the secret police; the Vatican officials who were made to look incompetent and ill-informed; and the many ordinary Catholics left embittered by the baying of the accusers matched by the high-handedness of their pastors.

What is certain is that grave errors were committed, which were compounded by a tangled web of evasions and half-truths. In April 2005, the death of John Paul II exposed a vacuum of leadership in Poland, which has widened and deepened since. With its façade of unity and uniformity now shattered, the Church's image has been badly damaged....

Reports that the name of the then Bishop Wielgus, a former rector of the heavily infiltrated Catholic University of Lublin, had been found in SB files surfaced when his candidacy for the Warsaw archdiocese was mooted in early November and were promptly ridiculed. As Bishop of Plock and vice-chairman of Poland's Church-State Joint Commission, the former academic had his critics. In a statement before autumn's local elections, he accused politicians of using slogans to camouflage their "egotistic interests" and urged voters to back "honest, law-abiding, wise and competent people" over "careerists prone to corruption". Asked about the vetting of clergy agents, he said he was irritated by "ahistorical views which ignore Communist-era realities", adding that his Plock diocese had lacked "specialists" to mount its own archive enquiries. He also attacked the "new Left" and the "religious illiteracy" of Polish Catholics, and backed calls to have religious teaching introduced for sixth-formers and an abortion ban written into Poland's constitution.

Views like these placed Wielgus firmly on the side of conservative, anti-reformist clergy, whose position has been championed by Poland's controversial Redemptorist-run Catholic broadcaster, Radio Maryja. It was, predictably, from this quarter that the most vociferous support came when his nomination was confirmed on 6 December.

When the Gazeta Polska weekly named Bishop Wielgus a few days before Christmas as a "trusted collaborator" of the SB, church leaders dismissed the claims out of hand. "The mere fact that a priest had talks with Communist security service employees cannot be taken as proof of immoral collaboration," the Bishops' Conference said in a statement, urging Catholics to respect the Pope's appointment. The accusations were also rejected by a Vatican press office communiqué, which insisted Benedict XVI had "full confidence" in the new archbishop and had taken account "of all his life circumstances, including those connected with his past". Even when the archbishop's 88-page file was published on the internet in early January, and the incriminating evidence confirmed by the Church's own commission, Archbishop Wielgus' supporters appear to have concluded that they could still face down the accusers....

Many Catholics believe the hierarchy has continued to stall, calculating that public opinion will lose interest or be prevailed upon to drop the issue, and that less damage will be done by complaints of evasion than by transparent investigations. Although a Church commission was announced in the report, it took till October to appoint its members, and till December to hold its first meeting. Several dioceses and religious orders have set up their own teams in the meantime. But none of these has submitted any findings. Meanwhile, independent enquiries have been discouraged and in some cases suppressed.

Lay Catholics and media editors who helped bring the Wielgus affair to light deserve an apology, after being accused of malice and dishonesty by the bishops, and denounced as "death squads" by Radio Maryja, which bussed its supporters to Sunday's aborted installation. Those who damaged the Church's credibility with further denials should be called to account. The Church's critics praise the example shown by Bishop Wiktor Skworc of Tarnow when his name was also found in SB files last November. The bishop promptly asked a group of historians to check the material and was quickly exonerated. The Church's reputation can be rebuilt, but only if it confronts failures openly.

Although Archbishop Wielgus' departure should have pointed to a solution, there are signs that the tensions could worsen before they heal. Some Catholics say the atmosphere was exacerbated by an ill-judged weekend statement by the Vatican's Jesuit spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi, blaming attacks on the Polish Church on a "desire for revenge", and by Cardinal Glemp's hastily composed Warsaw Cathedral homily, which appeared to question the Pope's judgement. "The Church has other qualifying categories than the crystally pure past of a candidate," said the cardinal, who is to remain as Poland's Catholic Primate until he turns 80 in three years' time. "Today, a judgement has been made on Archbishop Wielgus - and what a judgement! - on the basis of scraps of paper, documents copied three times. We don't want such judgements."
In the news pages, Robert Mickens reports from Rome that, "Privately, two mid-level Vatican officials who did not wish to be named separately told The Tablet they were 'pretty sure' that Pope Benedict knew of Archbishop Wielgus’ past involvement with the secret police" when the pontiff initially approved the Warsaw appointment in late November.

In a related development since the paper went to press, yesterday Pope Benedict received Polish Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, in private audience. A native of the archdiocese of Poznan, the papal sit-down with the 67 year-old curial head takes on an added significance in light of the events of the week.

Given that Grocholewski's spent most of the last four decades in Rome, some are saying that he -- or, alternatively, the Cracovian Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity -- could be the "clean hands" Benedict might need for post-Wielgus Warsaw. But another hotly tipped name is that of Jozef Zycinski, 58, the archbishop of Lublin. According to Luxmoore, Zycinski "defended researchers who had published evidence against" Wielgus in speaking to the press earlier this week.

In his ever-popular Letter from Rome (the best Vatican beat-writing there is) Mickens reports that B16's long-awaited Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist is "due out any moment."

At last count, one of his many well-placed sources says, the working draft totaled "160 pages." The source termed it a "pappardella."

Oh, per caritá.

SVILUPPO: The Polish episcopate is meeting today in special session "to prepare a coherent approach on how to deal with cases of communist-era collaboration among the clergy." Wielgus not in attendance; meeting will prepare a letter for dissemination to the faithful in the nation's churches at this weekend's masses.