A controversial book exploring the link between Poland’s clergy and the secret police under communism has hit Polish book stores. Some cheer the historical exposé while others say a witchhunt is taking place.
Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus resigned over accusations of involvement with the Polish secret police
Entitled "Priests in the Face of the Security Services," a recently published book by Father Tadeusz Isakowicz Zaleski names around 30 Polish clergymen who allegedly acted as spies during the communist period.
The publication is the latest in a series of accusations against the Polish Catholic Church for being reluctant to face up to the past complicity of some of its members with the communist regime.
Author banned from speaking out
Isakowicz Zaleski was himself a victim of communist oppression and has claimed that he was silenced by some powerful church leaders in Poland, who he says preferred to sweep the matter under the rug.
In fact, Father Isakowicz Zaleski was banned from making public statements when he announced his intention to publish the results of his research.
The book names and shames such prominent figures as Archbishop Juliusz Petz of Poznan, who is portrayed as a willing collaborator.
Petz denies the allegations. However, his name recently appeared in the media during another scandal that involved the molestation of boys in a church-sponsored choir.
The book’s publication follows the much publicized resignation of Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus, who was recently forced to step down from the post of Archbishop of Warsaw after his name was discovered on a list of communist agents. He later made a public confession.
Some priests forced to spy
In one of his rare interviews, Father Isakowicz Zaleski explained the motivation behind his book. Using a quote from a poem he wrote, he said that, in a world full of people who do not respect Christian values, it is his duty to come out with the truth to reach out to ordinary Polish Roman Catholics.
The Church, he stressed, must confess and repent in order to heal old wounds.
Church sources admit that some 10 percent of Polish priests were once involved in collaboration with the secret police, many of them having been coerced into serving the communist state.
Normalization will take time
There have been few official reactions to the publication from Polish church circles, apart from a statement by Józef Kloch, spokesman for the Polish Episcopate.
The Church must confess and repent, said Father Isakowicz Zaleski
"One needs time to fully digest the facts contained in the book," said Kloch. "If one acts hastily, one ends up with sensational media headlines based on randomly selected facts taken out of context," he added.
Father Adam Boniecki, publisher of a liberal Catholic weekly, said he believed the present crisis may be painful, but that it would eventually lead to a more normal relationship between the church and its followers, based on a sound understanding of the past.
Some question political motives
According to British Catholic journalist Bill Foreman, who lives in Warsaw, the book’s publication and the recent spy scandal involving Archbishop Wielgus have deepened divisions within the Polish Roman Catholic community.
While many ordinary Polish Roman Catholics welcome the arrival of the book, some question the author’s motives as political. Critics point out that the latest revelations about key church figures coincide with what some regard as a controversial campaign championed by Poland’s conservative nationalist government, aimed at removing all post-communist influence.
Since legislation concerning the vetting of public figures for links with the former secret services has not yet come into force, accusations have been made that people are being randomly picked for public humiliation before due process starts.