01/15/2007, 00.00
POLAND – VATICAN
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Bishops denounce moves against the credibility and unity of the Church

In a statement released to the press, Polish bishops stress the role played by the Church in the defence of “freedom and truth” during the Communist years. It demands respect for people’s dignity and calls on political leaders to ensure that secret service files be examined by an independent court.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Poland’s clergy, including cardinals and bishops, wants investigations into secret services files from the Communist regime era to continue even when it involves them, but insists on the role the Polish Church as a whole played as the main defender of those enclaves of “truth and liberty” that did exist. It also insists that the files in question come from its “enemies” and for this reason calls on political leaders and the media not to allow anyone to be tried by public opinion in ways that deny them the right to defend themselves as in the Wielgus case.

These, in essence, are the main points of a just released statement that makes public the decisions taken by the members of the Polish episcopate last Friday. In it the bishops “appeal to the people in power and members of Parliament to ensure that the use of the materials found in the archives [. . .] will not lead to encroaching on the rights of a human person and demeaning the dignity of man, and will make it possible to verify these materials in an independent court of justice [insisting that it] should also not be forgotten that these documents incriminate their authors above all.”

Faced with a case like that of Mgr Wielgus, the Polish Church has reacted strongly against what it and others see as an attempt by Communists and nationalists, an odd couple brought together by a similar interest in reducing the place of Catholicism in Polish society, to discredit it, diminish its authority and undermine its unity.

Card Józef Glemp indirectly referred to theses objectives when he asked why only files about priests are seeing the light of day. Similarly, former Polish President Lech Wałęsa said in an interview with Italian daily Corriere della Sera that nothing comes out by chance from the Communist secret police archives. In fact, the Solidarność trade union founder is convinced that former secret services officers, hiding in important places, especially in trade unions, are shrewdly pulling the strings. In his view, “it is not a coincidence that the scandal is coming out right now. They have acted knowingly, perfectly aware of the uproar the case would cause in Poland, abroad and in the Vatican. They are masters of destabilisation”.

In its statement the Polish Church has responded to its critics several ways. It begins by saying that it “has always empathized with its people and shared their fate, especially in the gloomiest periods of our history. This fact cannot be changed by bringing into light, after many years, the weaknesses and unfaithfulness of some of her members, including the clergy.”

The Church therefore rejects the claims by those who want to change history and forget “[a]ll too easily [. . .] that in the times of communist totalitarianism the whole Church in Poland constantly stood against the enslavement of the society and was an oasis of freedom and truth.” Likewise, it rejects unilateral and untrue interpretations of the role the Church played during the totalitarian period.

As for bishop Wielgus, who stands accused of collaborating with the secret services, the statement regrets that “the widely accepted rule of the presumption of innocence” was not applied in his case, thus “creating an atmosphere of pressure around the accused archbishop, which did not make it easy for him to present the public opinion with an appropriate defence, to which he was entitled.” Hence, it would seem that the “gloomy past from the period of a totalitarian system dominating our country for decades continues to mark its presence”.

For Polish bishops, the “records kept in the Institute of National Remembrance archives uncover a part of the vast areas of enslaving and neutralizing the Polish society by the security services of a totalitarian state. It is not, however, a complete and singular record of past times. Only a critical and solid analysis of all the available sources can allow us to approach the truth. One-sided reading of documents created by officers of the repression apparatus of a Communist state, hostile toward the Church, can seriously harm people, destroy the links of social trust and as a consequence prove to be a posthumous victory of an inhuman system, in which we were fated to live.”

In light of these events, the Polish Church expressed its willingness to work for the truth, but calls on political leaders to make sure that files be examined by an independent court—an issue currently before the Polish parliament—without encroaching on the rights of people and on history.

This means that the Church is “not afraid of the truth, even if this is a hard, shameful, truth, and [that] approaching this truth is sometimes very painful.” It feels instead that it has a “great task of reconciliation” because although we “will not change the past, both the glorious, and the one that we are ashamed of,” everyone, “all the people of the Church, the clergy and the laity, [can] carry on the examination of their consciences concerning their conduct in the time of totalitarianism. We do not want to encroach on the sanctuary of any man's conscience, but we encourage to do everything to confront the truth of possible facts and—if need be—to adequately admit and confess guilt.” None the less, for the Church political leaders must ensure that files are not used in violation of people’s rights and dignity.

“Aware of the call of Christ—‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged" (Mt, 7:1)’— we ask everybody to refrain from passing superficial and rash judgments, for they can be damaging.”

“We mean especially,” the statement said, “those who work in the media. May Christian conscience and human sensibility suggest to them what should be presented to the public opinion and how it should be done, always taking into account the dignity of a human person, the right to defence and good name, even after one's death.”

“We appeal to the young generation, lacking a direct experience of the era in which the older people happened to live, to make an effort to learn the hard and complex truth about past times. Despite all the shadows, it is to the generations living in those times, including the generations of clergy and their uncompromising struggle with evil that we owe our regaining of freedom after years of Marxist ideology and Soviet patterns of political and social life imposed on us.” (FP)

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