Monday, January 08, 2007

An Earthquake in Poland

Tremors had been felt throughout the Polish Church for months as speculation increased about the number and identity of the its clergy who had collaborated with the secret police of the country's former communist regime.

But on Jan. 7, those tremors turned into an earthquake of major proportions when Archbishop-elect of Warsaw Stanislaw Wielgus announced his resignation from that office at the start of the Mass at which he was to be installed as Poland's leading prelate.

Ever since his appointment to the office by Pope Benedict XVI had been announced in December, there had been accusations made that he had collaborated with Poland's secret police for more than two decades and subsequent calls for his resignation.

John Thavis, Catholic News Service's Rome bureau chief, has written a fine analysis piece picking apart well the mult-faceted implications of this historic turn of events in the history of the Polish Church:

..."disaster" is how it's viewed inside the Vatican, for several reasons:

-- Archbishop Wielgus became the highest-ranking church leader to admit that he agreed to spy for an East European communist regime, raising suspicions about the rest of the hierarchy in the eyes of the simple faithful. To many, the archbishop's qualifier that he "never inflicted any harm on anyone" seemed disingenuous.

-- The debacle was played out in public, crowned by the painfully embarrassing "installation" Mass Jan. 7 that turned into a resignation Mass. It was the first time anyone could remember that an archbishop was sent home on the day of his scheduled installation, an "emeritus" after only two days in office.

-- Pope Benedict was drawn directly into the controversy. A Vatican statement Dec. 21 expressed the pope's "full trust" in Archbishop Wielgus and "full awareness" of his past. But sources now say it appears the archbishop had not told the pope everything -- that he had admitted contacts with the secret police, but not that he had agreed to collaborate in a spying effort.

And now that the initial earthquake is over, the aftershocks have started. According to this AP article posted on the Web site of the Houston Chronicle, the Father Janusz Bielanski, rector of Krakow's Wawel Cathedral, arguably Poland's most historic church, has resigned from his office today after allegations had been made about his possible collaboration with secret police agents.

What will happen next? It's likely that the earth under the feet of the Polish Church will be shaking for quite some time.

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