- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 14, 2007

WARSAW — The resignation of Warsaw’s new archbishop for cooperating with Poland’s despised communist-era secret police shocked his country and the Vatican — but there are signs such collaboration may have been a fact of life under communism elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

Records made public in recent years repute involvement by dozens of priests — including two bishops in the Czech Republic and even the retired primate of Hungary, who voted in the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.

Nor was the Roman Catholic Church alone. Orthodox and Protestant clergy also have been suspected of collaborating.

When then Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu demolished churches in Bucharest in the 1980s, Orthodox Patriarch Teoctist did not criticize the action, leading to accusations that he was too close to the communist regime.

“It was a system based on terror and ideology that used every means against the church and the faith,” said Bishop Szczepan Wesoly, rector of the Polish church in Rome and an aide to the late Polish pope, John Paul II.

“It’s like a disease, it develops and gets worse. The disease should have been treated much earlier,” said the Rev. Tadeusz Isakowic-Zaleski, who has written a book on the Polish secret-police repression of the church in Krakow, and accuses Catholic leaders of dragging their feet in dealing with compromised priests.

Secret police officers “took advantage of a priest’s personal ambitions — academic career, career in the church — preying on human weaknesses,” said Marek Lasota, a historian with the Institute of National Remembrance.

Such was the case of the fallen Warsaw Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus, whom the secret police coerced into signing a document to cooperate when he was trying to obtain a passport to travel to what was then West Germany for academic reasons.

This was “widespread in that period in the Eastern Bloc countries,” the retired longtime Vatican spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, wrote last week in Rome’s La Repubblica newspaper. Mr. Navarro-Valls, a layman, became director of the Vatican Press Office in 1984. His role as the press liaison between the Vatican and the world press corps gave him perhaps the highest visibility of anyone in the Vatican during the long reign of John Paul, except the pope himself.

Mr. Navarro-Valls, who resigned as Vatican press chief last July, said the reality was “very clear” to Karol Wojtyla before he became pope, but he insisted that the pope “would never have accepted any compromise with the communist regime.”

Archbishop Wielgus was in line to become primate of Poland, a position once held by Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, who was jailed by the communists.

Polish historians estimate that between 10 percent and 15 percent of the 25,000 clergymen in Poland, the Roman Catholic bastion in Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe, cooperated with the secret police.

The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said the Polish church was a “victim of abuse, forced to live in moments of uncertainty, even compromise.”

It apparently was not alone.

Last year, historian Krisztian Ungvary said he found evidence in Hungary’s secret police archives that Cardinal Laszlo Paskai collaborated with the communist-era secret services in the 1960s and 1970s. Cardinal Paskai was Hungary’s Catholic primate from 1987 until his retirement in 2003 and took part in the conclave that elected Benedict in 2005.

He was also a leading member of the “peace priest” movement, created in 1950 by Hungary’s communist regime. Its members received preferential treatment, including high-profile church posts. This was possible because, while the Vatican officially opposed the peace-priest movement, it signed an accord with Hungary in 1964 agreeing to designate church officials only with the approval of the state.

Hungary’s communist regime ran the state Office of Church Affairs, which kept tabs on religious activities, manipulated church members in the regime’s interest, and kept the churches weak and divided.

Cardinal Paskai, who is retired, has never commented on the findings.

According to Mr. Ungvary, the historian, Cardinal Paskai’s reports to the secret police were mostly “meaningless.” Mr. Ungvary concluded that the cardinal’s official acts were much more damaging. As late as 1986, Cardinal Paskai and the Hungarian Bishops Conference refused to support Catholics who sought exemption from military service for moral reasons.

Besides Cardinal Paskai, the names of other bishops and leading church officials have surfaced in recent years as linked to the secret services, but all rejected the accusation or claimed they never provided any information that could have been used against anyone.

After Cardinal Paskai’s past came to light, the Catholic Church set up a foundation to coordinate research in the church’s communist-era history, but said it would not be looking at individual cases. In Hungary, the church generally presents itself as a victim of the communist regime, emphasizing the persecution of priests and the Catholic faithful.

The most famous case was that of Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty, who was arrested in 1948 and accused of treason by the communists. He was sentenced to life in prison and freed during the 1956 Hungarian revolution. When the Soviets crushed the revolution, Cardinal Mindszenty was granted asylum in the U.S. Embassy, where he lived until 1971.

In the Czech Republic, estimates say at least 150 Catholic priests collaborated with the communist secret police, the STB. Hundreds more were in contact but were being harassed and did not collaborate. Two bishops have been identified as collaborators; one resigned in 2004 as a result.

Unlike Poland, the Czech Republic’s Roman Catholic Church has no committee looking into its past.

Last Monday, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk published an article about STB contacts in the church on his personal Web page, saying churches are independent of the state and “are governed by their own standards.”

“Those who write about the problem mostly do not consider — and that is very unjust — that the church has its own identity, that it has its own means and methods to cope with mistakes, sins and guilt,” he said.

In adjacent Slovakia, the government’s Institute of National Memory has listed Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox officials as secret police agents, but all have denied the accusations and have not stepped down.

cRyan Lucas reported from Warsaw and Victor L. Simpson from Rome. Associated Press writers Alison Mutler in Romania, Pablo Gorondi in Hungary, Nadia Rybarova in the Czech Republic, Aleksander Vasovic in Slovakia and Daniela Petroff at the Vatican contributed to this report.

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