Thursday, June 01, 2006

Polish church in ‘commie spy priests’ cover up?

Belated investigations into who spied for the Polish communists has found priests among those with contacts with the dreaded SB security police. Now one of the priestly whistleblowers has been gagged.

Catholic online reports on one priest who, along with many others, has been accused of spying for the communists:

‘[A] May 17 report in the Zycie Warszawy daily said Warsaw-based Msgr. Michal Czajkowski informed to the communists for more than two decades about fellow clergy, including Solidarity movement hero Father Jerzy Popieluszko, who was later murdered by communist agents.

Msgr. Czajkowski denied the claims in a May 22 statement in Poland's Catholic information agency, KAI, but resigned from his posts as church supervisor of the Wiez monthly and co-chairman of Poland's Council of Christians and Jews.

Approximately 10 percent of Catholic clergy are believed to have acted as informers in communist Poland, although higher recruitment rates were recorded in some dioceses in the 1980s.’

Oh, dear.

As many as 6,000 of the Polish clergy were named in government files. As usual in these lustration cases, many turn out to be innocent. Some will not.

Now the church and the government seem to want to put a lid on anymore revelations emerging. Radio Polonia reports:

Father Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski, a popular former Solidarity chaplain, intended to present the results of his private investigation at a press conference in Krakow [Tuesday] but his superiors ordered him to abandon his plan, arguing that it would discredit the Catholic Church and harm innocent priests. The Church’s decision was welcomed by President Lech Kaczynski, who believes it was not accidental that media reports on priests who spied for the communist regime appeared shortly before and after the visit to Poland by Pope Benedict XVI.

On his visit to Poland, Pope Benedict made a remark that many now are thinking referred to the spying priests. He said:

“We must guard against the arrogant claim of setting ourselves up to judge earlier generations, who lived in different times and different circumstances,” Benedict said. “Humble sincerity is needed in order not to deny the sins of the past, and at the same time not to indulge in facile accusations in the absence of real evidence or without regard for the different preconceptions of the time.”

What’s a shame about all this, is that Poland didn’t get all this out of way right after the fall of communism here in 1989, unlike Hungary, Czech Republic or East Germany. Those first Polish governments had many ex-communists in top posts, so not digging into the past back then was seen as a pragmatic attempt to ease Poland into its democratic future.

But since the mid-1990’s 'lustration' has been constantly in the news. Many from the solidarity opposition have been caught up in its indiscriminating net. For instance, none other than Lech Walesa was accused in 2000 of being a spy but later cleared.

In South Africa they have the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, where all the dirty linen has been washed in public. In Poland we have the National Remembrance Institute. Unfortunately, this has uncovered some truths and half-truths, but little reconciliation.

Members of the present, pro-church government have been among the most keen on outing and banning communist collaberators from public office. So they seem to be hoisting themselves on their own petard now that priests have been named as being among the collaborators.

Maybe it's time to put the past to bed and get on with the future?


Lynn said...

Interesting post, problem, and question.

Gustav said...

These "lustrations" only serve to make it seem as if the party in power is actually doing something. It's been eight months now. When do you think they'll get down to actually governing?

michael farris said...


It could well be that making people's security files public would do some good there and help clear the air, I'm pretty strongly convinced that it will do no such thing in Poland.
From what I understand, communist Romania was a very different kind of place than communist Poland both in kind (Poland's government did change from time to time for better or worse), Romania was a banana republic with an entrenched single caudillo) and in degree (Romania significantly more repressive than Poland). I think the way that communism fell in both countries is telling, negotiations leading to elections and a relatively orderly transfer of power in Poland, bloody conflict and a revolution leading to public execution in Romania.

The difference was partly cultural (which I won't get into here) but the big difference was the church in Poland. Like it or not, it functioned as a de facto (if not de jure) opposition and this placed limits on what the government could do (whereas there was no similar check on Ceaucescu's grand visions). To actually function in its opposition role the church had to communicate with the government at different levels with different levels of officialness and openness.
Drafted into a political role, the church had to play some political games. I would assume that some priests were pseudo informers, who volunteered or were drafted to give some accurate (but harmless) information along with disinformation that might help the church find the real informers (which I'm sure did exist as well). I would assume that the Vatican did the same after JPII became Pope (I know I certainly would but I'm a cynical SOB). And, I would assume that most or all of the priests involved were explicitly told ahead of time that if found out, the church would deny any knowledge etc etc

Yes, I'm in favor of going after the serious violators of human rights but PiS's quest seems more like a witch hunt.

Finally, from the "things that make you go 'hmmmmm'" file: The government has a very cozy relationship with a maverick faction of the church. A pope that wants to bring the maverick faction to heel is coming to town. Around the time of his visit, documents damaging to the mainstream church are highly publicised ..... hmmmmmmmm

beatroot said...

First of all, big warm cuddly welcome back to the beatroot to Gustav! And you are right, a little bit of governence would be quite a novelty, wouldn't it?

Mike: I think the way that communism fell in both countries is telling. Spot on!

But you could argue that in many of those countries there was, not a revolution as such, but a coup by the security services against parts of the ruling elite (Romania, czech, Hungary) so the early lustration in those places was score settling among the elite.

I don't think that was true of Poland. There was a genuine popular movement who comprimised with the communists as a matter of pragmatism. That's why there was no violence.

michael farris said...

"What I see are calm and measured efforts to bar those of a significantly-involved distinction from holding high offices"

In Poland?!?!?!?!

opinion piece in today's Wyborcza by Marek Beylin sums up my thoughts pretty well. A quick (very free) translation of the first paragraph:

"Lustration is like socialism. Its many supporters promise us an ideal version. But the real version that we actually get degrades people and blurs the line between real agents and those who dealt with the security forces to try to protect people. It quickly condemns everyone to infamy."


beatroot said...

Lustration (silly word) is also a very good way for governments to make themselves look good against those bad boys from the past, and deflect attention from their own failings today.

But now the 'red priests' have been discovered the 4th republic it isn't going exactly according to plan.

michael farris said...


the process as has been actually handled here so far (and probably will continue to be handled in spite of some wonderful rhetoric to the contrary) is ad hoc, run by grudges and incompetence and places complete faith in the accuracy and truthfulness of communist security forces records (unless you're the leader of the governing party and get to declare that _your_ records may have been tampered with, but no one else's were.

And the practice (as opposed to lovely theory) leaves out context and doesn't distinguish between compulsory interviews that yielded no information that could or did hurt anyone and deliberate voluntary informing.

Calm, orderly thoroughly checked and verified vetting of public officials is one thing, and it's not going to happen here and the very people who claim to most want lustration are the very ones that sabotage the infrastructure needed for such an undertaking.

"My support would be for the principle of lustration where the concept is barring people "of rank" from re-entering the political domain."

And I prefer democracy. Voters could (knowing a person's record) decide whether or not to (re)elect them to public office. I'd make an exception for those convicted of real crimes, but that's a very small number here, being associated with the previous system of government should not in and of itself disqualify anyone from public life.

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