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
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Glazier

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist historic buildi...

Recruitment Genius: Luxury Brand - Retail Sales Assistant - Part or Full Time

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Luxury Jeweller and Accessories - Retail Sale...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£13676.46 - £15864.28 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Re...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Designer is required to j...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most