Cardinal to star in film about murdered priest

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The Independent Online

The head of Poland's Catholic Church is to play himself in a film about Jerzy Popieluszko, the outspoken priest who was murdered by the Communist security services.

Cardinal Jozef Glemp was already Poland's primate when Father Popieluszko was killed in October 1984, silencing a voice whose searing criticism of the Communist government made his Warsaw church a magnet for supporters of the banned Solidarity trade union.

Under pressure from the government of General Wojciech Jaruzelski, Cardinal Glemp had tried to subdue firebrand priests such as Fr Popieluszko, but his death strengthened an alliance between the church and Solidarity which ultimately toppled Polish Communism. "We have already filmed the scenes with the primate. Cardinal Glemp is a natural when he's in front of the camera," said Julita Swiercz-Wieczynska, head of the Focus Producers company which plans to release Popieluszko next year.

"He's also been a consultant, sharing his memories with us. We're making a historical film and we want to get as close as possible to reality." She added that Cardinal Glemp, 77, had re-enacted on camera real conversations that he had held with Fr Popieluszko.

Agents of Poland's dreaded SB security service bundled Fr Popieluszko into the boot of a car outside the city of Torun on 19 October 1984. Enraged by his cries for help and attempts to escape, they then trussed him up, stuffed a gag into his mouth and beat him unconscious with a wooden stake, before hurling him into the river Vistula. When his body was found 11 days later, the doctor who carried out the post-mortem examination said he had never seen such severe injuries.

The public fury over Fr Popieluszko's death forced Jaruzelski's government to arrest and try three police agents for his murder. They were sentenced in 1985 to between 14 and 25 years in jail, but were freed early under amnesty.

Fr Popieluszko was buried at his parish church, St Stanislaw Kostka, where Cardinal Glemp delivered his eulogy to some 250,000 mourners, including Solidarity leaders, representatives of several Western governments, and a few uncomfortable Communist Party apparatchiks.

Cardinal Glemp admitted in 2000 that he was still troubled by the death of Fr Popieluszko, who was 37 years old when he was killed.

"The burden remains on my conscience that I did not succeed in saving the life of Fr Jerzy Popieluszko, despite the efforts made to do so. May God forgive me. Perhaps it was His sacred will," Cardinal Glemp said in a broader plea for forgiveness for priests who had failed in their spiritual duty and abetted the Communist regime.

The film is expected to give the church's image a boost after revelations that thousands of Polish clergymen collaborated with the Communists. The man Cardinal Glemp wanted to succeed him as Archbishop of Warsaw, Stanislaw Wielgus, resigned during his inauguration mass in January, after admitting to having had contact with the secret police.