Stanislaw Wielgus had planned to take office today as the new Archbishop of Warsaw, replacing the legendary Jozef Glemp. Instead, he transformed his installation Mass into a resignation ceremony after evidence arose that he collaborated with the Communist secret police, informing on priests within the church in the years before Poland’s Solidarity movement liberated the nation:
The newly-appointed archbishop of Warsaw resigned on Sunday after admitting he spied for Poland’s former communist regime, in a major embarrassment for the Vatican and the powerful Polish Catholic Church.
Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus read out his resignation, which came at the request of
Pope Benedict who appointed him just a month ago, at a special mass in Warsaw Cathedral replacing a formal ceremony that was to have sworn him in.
“In accordance with (Canon law) I submit to your Holiness my resignation as the Metropolitan Archbishop of Warsaw,” said Wielgus, who on Friday backed down from repeated denials that he collaborated with the secret services during the communist era.
The Vatican later released a statement that they had requested Wielgus’ resignation. Glemp will temporarily replace Wielgus until a more suitable candidate can be found. That may prove a divisive effort, as Polish Catholics have been stunned by this turn of events. Some of them still support Wielgus, including a few hundred outside of the cathedral this morning that protested his resignation.
National reconciliation after the end of a tyranny takes a long time. The impulse exists to sweep everything under the rug in an orgy of celebration when the tyrants have fled or died. South Africa mostly avoided that in an orderly transfer to majority rule that allowed for the creation of a truth commission to both expose the abuses of the previous regime and to publicly pardon them so the nation could move forward. The Poles have not yet come to grips with its Communist era in a similar fashion, even almost twenty years after their liberation.
However, even if all sides had forgiven themselves for their transgressions, it would still be difficult to see how a collaborator that acted as a spy within the Church could ever hope to lead it, even twenty years later. Those who openly served the Communist regime could eventually be forgiven their misguided judgment, but those who informed in secret against their friends and colleagues in a church that actively pursued the nation’s liberation could hardly find trust among its members and leaders afterward.
The Vatican appears to have trusted Wielgus a little too much in his initial denials. They made the right decision when further evidence arose that, as during his period as a collaborator, Wielgus proved unworthy of the church’s trust. It may cause them some discomfort now, but better a little embarrassment over a forced resignation than an exposure of a cover-up to avoid it. (h/t: Carol Herman)