Archbishop of Warsaw resigns over secret police spy scandal

The Archbishop of Warsaw resigned less than an hour before a mass marking his installation, after revelations that he co-operated with Communist-era secret police plunged Poland's Roman Catholic Church into crisis.

Stanislaw Wielgus appeared to fight back the tears as he made his announcement in St John's Cathedral in Warsaw. It ended a scandal that has divided the country, embarrassed the Vatican and dealt a blow to Poland's highly influential church.

Earlier he had denied he was a spy but admitted he had agreed to communicate with the secret police because he feared refusal to do so would have threatened his studies. The actions had, he conceded, failed to show "decent prudence, courage and determination".

The dispute has reopened wounds from the years of struggle against Poland's Communist regime. While the Catholic Church was a source of support for the Solidarity democracy campaigners, some historians estimate that about one in 10 members of the clergy collaborated with the government of the time.

Yesterday Archbishop Wielgus, 67, bowed to growing anger among the public and stood down minutes before the ceremony Shaking visibly, he said: "I place my resignation from the post of Metropolitan Archbishop of Warsaw in Your Holiness's hands." While the announcement was greeted by applause, some among the congregation shouted "no" and "stay with us".

Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation, according to a statement half an hour earlier from the Vatican's mission in Poland. The Vatican has asked Cardinal Jozef Glemp, Archbishop Wielgus's predecessor, to return to his post temporarily.

Yesterday's ceremony, attended by the Polish President, Lech Kaczynski, became a service in honour of Cardinal Glemp who defended the outgoing Archbishop. He said: "Today, a trial of Archbishop Wielgus took place. What kind of trial was it? Based on bits of papers, copies of copies of some documents. We don't want such trials."

Nevertheless the unprecedented departure seems to have been forced by pressure from the public and politicians. More than half of the 1,024 people questioned in a survey for the broadcaster TVN said they were against the nomination after learning about the collaboration with the secret service.

Moreover the scandal has coincided with a renewed push by the right-wing government led by the Law and Justice Party to purge from public office those deemed to have co-operated with the Communist authorities. Mr Kaczynski applauded after the Archbishop announced his resignation. The President hascalled for those who co-operated with the Communists to be on rooted out of national life.

Andrzej Paczkowski, a historian who was asked by Poland's human rights ombudsman to investigate allegations that Archbishop Wielgus was a spy, said last week there was evidence that he had such a role in the 1970s. Poland's Catholic Church Historical Commission said he had co-operated with the secret services before the collapse of Communism.

In a statement last month the Vatican said it took into account "all of the circumstances" of the Archbishop's life "including those regarding his past" when it appointed him.

The Pope made no comment on the resignation when addressing Polish pilgrims at St Peter's Square in Vatican City.

A spokesman for the Polish episcopate said the legal basis for the resignation was part of church law requiring a bishop to stand down if he is "unable to properly exercise his office [and therefore] is strongly requested to submit his resignation".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Developer - HTML, CSS, Javascript

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Application Developer - ...

Day In a Page

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable