For those who love Poland and admire the vitality of Catholic faith in that country, developments surrounding the withdrawal of Stanislaw Wielgus as Archbishop of Warsaw are cause for deep sadness. The post below by Robert Miller is also sharply critical of the Holy See’s role in this unhappy affair, and I wish I could say that the criticism is unwarranted. Perhaps we will have in the near future a clarification of what the Holy See knew and didn’t know, and why this matter was handled as it was.
It is deeply disappointing that truth in the Wielgus matter had to be advanced by the Polish media rather than being addressed by the Polish bishops and the Holy See. It is noteworthy that the story was broken by what is viewed as a paper on the right, not on the left. There is a curious convergence of nationalist Catholic forces and former communists¯many of whom are not so former¯in trying to use the Wielgus affair to create a backlash against a candid account of who did what during the communist era.
For many years I have been involved each summer in the Tertio Millennio Seminar on Catholic social doctrine in Cracow, Poland. This summer there were long and agonizing conversations with various Poles about information regarding priests and prelates who may have crossed the line from innocent cooperation to culpable collaboration with the communists. Poland has set up an Institute of National Memory that is going through miles and miles of documentation from the communist years. This is not an anti-Church project. There are devout Catholics among the scholars involved who only want the truth to be known. They had warned that the Wielgus appointment to Warsaw would be a great mistake.
The Polish episcopate has over the years offered assurances that it is carefully investigating charges of collaboration by bishops and priests, but to date there has been slight public evidence of the product of such an investigation. Thus the appearance is that the task of truth-telling has been left to the media and to politicians and activists who are pressing various, and sometimes conflicting, agendas. It is not entirely inappropriate to see some parallels with the negligence and evasion of American bishops in connection with the sex-abuse scandals in this country.
The Wielgus case, and a few others that have come to light, should not be permitted to detract from the heroic record of Stefan Cardinal Wyszinski of Warsaw and Karol Cardinal Wojtyla of Cracow, later Pope John Paul II, under the communist regime. Compared to other countries behind the Iron Curtain, such as what was then Czechoslovakia, they and other leaders were remarkably successful in resisting the infiltration of the Church by the state. This was an indispensable factor in making possible John Paul II’s crucial role in the overthrow of the communist dictatorship in Poland and, in turn, the Soviet empire.
According to trusted Polish friends, it was obvious then, and it is increasingly obvious now, that many Polish bishops, along with the papal nuncio to Poland, did not and do not share the courageous vigilance exemplified by Wyszinski and John Paul II. One can only pray that it is not too late for the bishops of Poland to take the lead in creating a climate of truth and reconciliation for what is perhaps the most vibrantly Catholic society in the world.
For a more thorough examination of these developments, see George Weigel’s excellent summary in Newsweek .