What to Do with a Former Communist Informant
The Mass intended to celebrate Stanislaw Wielgus' appointment as archbishop of Warsaw couldn't have been more awkward. Outside the cathedral, supporters and detractors grappled in the rain. Wielgus, instead of celebrating his appointment, resigned from the front of the church. The congregation began shouting. Polish President Lech Kazynski stood to applaud the announcement, but faltered when he realized that most within the cathedral were against it.
As a priest, Wielgus had collaborated with the Communist Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa secret police. His role in the secret police came to light recently as his promotion approached. After Gazeta Polska published its exposé, dug out of old KGB records, he issued a series of denials, each denying less than the one before it, and finally a last-minute resignation.
Tomasz Terlikowski of Newsweek Polska told Polskie Radio, "This question about the past has a very real impact on Poland's present. Today we are facing this issue: Can a person who collaborated with the regime be the moral and theological authority for a whole diocese? From what we learned about Archbishop Wielgus, his collaboration might have meant as many as 20 years of informing the Communist regime about what was happening in the church. And the main aim of the Communists was the destruction of the church."
Some estimates say that 15 percent of the church leaders in Poland seen as a cornerstone of resistance against communism cooperated with the secret police. One memo from 1978, for example, counted 12 Polish bishops among the security service's collaborators.
The scandal, which has caused another Polish prelate to step down, is not the first of its kind to pop up in Eastern Bloc nations. But it gives new urgency to an ancient dilemma: What is to be done when persecution eases? How should the church deal with those who worked with enemies and even betrayed other believers? Is past collaboration a bar to present church leadership?
In May 2003, Gabriel Roric Jur was deposed as a bishop in the Episcopal Church of the Sudan amid allegations that he was assisting the Khartoum government's persecution of Christians. In 2002, while Roric was also serving as Sudan's deputy foreign minister, church leaders had implemented a new rule requiring bishops to live in their dioceses, and Roric had reportedly not been to his diocese, Rumbek, for a decade, preferring to stay in Khartoum.
Once deposed, Roric set up a rival church, the Reformed Episcopal Church of Sudan, which he has cast as a purer, more moral church than the Episcopal Church. At the same time, he seems to have sold the headquarters of the Episcopal Church while pretending to be the archbishop. Armed police raided the headquarters, and the Episcopal Church is in a long court battle to try to regain its property. It wrote a protest letter to the government of Sudan in 2004 asking the regime "to cease using Mr. Gabriel Roric Jur to attempt to destroy the Episcopal Church of the Sudan."
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church, meanwhile, has long been at odds over its leader, Patriarch Maxim, who was appointed by the country's Communist regime in 1971. When allegations of direct Communist collaboration surfaced against Maxim in 2004, one of the priests who had been jailed during the Soviet era formed an alternative synod and tried to oust him. The church split until the Bulgarian government took Maxim's side, expelled members of the alternative synod, and charged them high fines in court. The situation is still not resolved.