This letter should be read in all parishes of the Church in Poland on Sunday, January 14, 2007.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. In recent days we have experienced dramatic events, related to the resignation from office of the Metropolitan Archbishop of Warsaw, Stanislaw Wielgus, on the day designated for his solemn installation in Warsaw Cathedral. We have painfully followed the accusations brought against him in the last weeks, concerning his entanglement in the collaboration with the secret service (SB) and the People’s Republic of Poland (PRL) intelligence. This has caused a wave of unrest and even distrust towards the new minister. Divisions in the community of believers became apparent. We are grateful to the Holy Father, Benedict XVI for his fatherly help in the evangelical standing up to the difficult situation which we face. Thanks to his decision and attitude we are better prepared to live through this unusual time courageously and fruitfully. We also thank Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk, the Papal Nuncio in Poland, for his brotherly and competent help.
On January 5, 2007, in an appeal directed to the community of Warsaw Church, Archbishop Wielgus confirmed the fact of the above mentioned entanglement and admitted having harmed Church through it, as well as – in the face of a media campaign – having done damage to the Church by denying the facts of collaboration with the secret service.
We accept with respect his decision of resignation from the ministry of Metropolitan Archbishop of Warsaw. It is not up to us to judge a man, a brother, who has served the Church in a faithful and zealous way, including his time as a professor and Rector [President] of the Catholic University of Lublin (KUL) and then as the Bishop of Plock. We want to support the Archbishop with our prayer in the full clarification of the truth. At the same time we regret to state that not taking into account the widely accepted rule of the presumption of innocence contributed to create 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.
2. We state once again that a gloomy past from the period of a totalitarian system dominating our country for decades continues to mark its presence. As we have written in the Polish Episcopate Memorandum Concerning The Collaboration of Some Clergy with The Secret Service in Poland in The Years 1944-1989, “The records kept in the IPN [National Remembrance Institute] archives uncover a part of the vast areas of enslaving and neutralizing the Polish society by the security services of a totalitarian state. They are not, however, a full and exclusive 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 repressive apparatus of a communist state, hostile towards 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.
The Memorandum also states that “The Church is being accused of the intention of hiding a truth difficult for Her, of an attempt at protecting the people responsible for collaboration with the secret service and forgetting the victims of this collaboration. As a consequence, the authority of the Church is being undermined, its credibility is being weakened. All too easily it is being forgotten 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.”
3. Therefore we repeat once more: the Church is not afraid of the truth, even if this is a hard, shameful, truth and approaching this truth is sometimes very painful. We deeply believe that the truth liberates, because Jesus Christ himself is the liberating truth. The Church has been struggling with sin inside herself and in the world, to which it is sent, for two thousand years. Sin degrades man and distorts the image and similitude of God in him. The Church does not carry this through under her own power. It does it under the power of the One, who as the only one can make us free from evil. Therefore we begin every Eucharist with a confession of our sinfulness: “I confess to Almighty God…” This is not a void liturgical formula, but a deep confrontation with our weakness and faithlessness before the face of the merciful God. Similarly, we ask in every Eucharist: “Lord Jesus Christ … look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church.” We are not afraid to confess that the Church is a community of sinners, but at the same time she is holy and called to holiness, since Jesus Christ is her Head, living and working in her – the Saint above all saints. It is before Him that we stand, asking the Holy Ghost to deliver us from evil, fear and our small-mindedness.
Last Sunday, during the Lord’s Baptism feast, in Warsaw Cathedral, we read the Gospel about Jesus who joined the sinners, standing on the bank of Jordan to receive the baptism of penance. We believe strongly that Jesus stands together with all of us on the banks of the Polish Jordan. Once more the words of Jesus bring back our hope: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Lk 5:31-32, NRSV). Solidarity with sinful people led Jesus to the Cross. Thanks to this we have received His Baptism – the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire for the remission of sins.
4. Let us remind: “For two thousand years the Church has opposed the evil in the evangelical way, which does not destroy the dignity of another man. The truth about the sin should lead a Christian to a personal acknowledgment of guilt, to contrition, to a confession of the guilt – even a public confession, if need be, and then to repentance and satisfaction. We cannot abandon such an evangelical way of confronting evil. (…) The Church of Christ is a community of reconciliation, forgiveness, and mercy. Inside her there is a place for every sinner, who wishes to reform, as Peter did, and despite his weaknesses, wants to serve the cause of the Gospel” (Memorandum).
As the Servant of God John Paul II stated emphatically, “Man is the way of the Church” (Redemptor hominis, 14) – every man, including every priest and every bishop. Fulfilling the conditions of Christian conversion, everyone has the right to forgiveness and mercy, to join in the life of the Ecclesial community and society. We know that many of those, who once submitted to enslavement, deafened their conscience, and compromised their dignity, have already repented for their weakness with years of faithful service. They are our brothers and sisters in faith!
We wish Ash Wednesday, February 21, 2007, to be a day of prayer and repentance for the whole Polish clergy. In all the churches in our dioceses, services to the Merciful God should be celebrated for forgiveness of mistakes and weaknesses in proclaiming the integral Gospel. As clergy, we are “taken from the people”, we are a part of Polish society, which as a whole needs to turn away from evil and make a full conversion.
5. There is a great task of reconciliation for the Church in Poland, apart from standing in truth before the face of God. We will not change the past, both the glorious, and the one that we are ashamed of. We can include everything, with God’s help, in our present and future in such a way that the power of Christ on the face of the Church is revealed. We appeal to all the people of the Church, the clergy and the laity, to carry on the examination of their consciences concerning their conduct in a 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 the guilt.
We appeal to the people in power and to Members of Parliament to ensure that the use of materials found in the archives dating back to PRL will not lead to encroaching on the rights of a human person and demeaning the dignity of man and that they will make it possible to verify these materials in an independent court of justice. It should also not be forgotten that these documents incriminate their authors above all.
Being aware of the call of Christ: “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” (Mt 7:1), we ask everyone to refrain from passing superficial and rash judgments, for they can be damaging. We mean especially those who work in the media. May Christian conscience and human sensibility suggest 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 the 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.
The Church in Poland 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. May the present time be a good time for all of us to cleanse ourselves and reconcile with each other, restore the violated justice and regain mutual trust and hope. May it be, above all, a time of prayer and deepening the faith in the presence of the Lord of History among the most complicated human issues.
Having trust in the power of the Gospel we want, as your Pastors, to continue the work, already underway, of fully checking the contents of records stored in the IPN, concerning ourselves and all the clergy.
6. “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, for you are with me” (Ps 23:4). May the word of the Psalmist accompany us in these days. We thank you, Brothers and Sisters, especially for the spirit of prayer, which calmed down the emotions, brought about a peace of heart and order of love. We thank you for your concern for the Church and standing by her in the moments of trial. We believe that our current experience will contribute to a renewal of the Church, to a greater transparency and maturity of her members. We believe that it will help the Church to be faithful to the Gospel and look to it for solutions of our problems, to be reborn from it, in order to be a leaven of good and love in the world.
Having all these desires in our hearts, we call for God’s blessing over everybody and for the intercession of Our Lady of Czestochowa, who always reminds us: “Do whatever he tells you.” (Jn 2:5).
Cardinals, Archbishops, and Bishops assembled for the Permanent Council, and Diocesan Bishops of the Polish Episcopate Conference.
Warsaw, January 12, 2007.
Official translation with minor corrections.