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Priests and Communists in Poland

Interview With Historian Peter Raina

WARSAW, Poland, AUGUST 4, 2006 (Zenit) - Some Polish clergy who lived under the Communist regime are being falsely named as a former spies by government officials, says historian Peter Raina.

Peter Raina, author of numerous books on Modern Church History, analyzes in this interview with us the truth of the relationship the clergy had with Communists.

Raina obtained a doctorate from the University of Warsaw and taught Contemporary History at the University of Berlin. He has written essays and articles on Father Jerzy Popieluszko, killed by the Communist regime, and Father Konrad Hejmo, accused by the press of being a Russian spy in the Vatican.

This interview was conducted for us by Wlodzimierz Redzioch.

Q: A few weeks after the death of the Servant of God John Paul II a widespread campaign of denigration of the Polish clergy began. They were accused of having collaborated with the Security Services of the Communist regime.

The first priest to be the object of such accusations was Father Konrad Hejmo, a very well-known person in Poland and in the Vatican because for 20 years he headed the center for Polish pilgrims in Rome, and accompanied groups of pilgrims that visited the Pope.

The headlines of newspapers worldwide were terrible: "Communist Spy in John Paul II's Court," to mention one of the most widespread. You have described the Father Hejmo affair as "a lynching of the priest." Could you explain what is behind this lynching?

Raina: I have written in detail on the "Hejmo affair" in my book published in Polish entitled "The Anatomy of Lynching" [Von Borowiecky Publishers], but I can briefly go over this sad story.

Not even two weeks after John Paul II's death, Dr. Leon Kieres, director of the National Memory Institute, reported that one of the priests close to the Holy Father furnished information to the Security Services.

As the director did not reveal the name of the alleged spy, at first all thought it was an old friend of Cardinal Wojtyla, Father Mieczyslaw Malinski. In the following days, Father Malinski had to repeat to the media that it wasn't him.

A few days later, moreover, Kieres revealed in a spectacular manner to journalists the name of Father Hejmo.

But sadly, from the beginning the news spread by the director was dubious or false. First of all, he informed journalists that he had received Father Hejmo's dossier from the Interior Ministry only on April 14, 2005. Later it was discovered that he was already in possession of the material since December 2, 2004.

The questions then arise: Why did the Interior Ministry send the material, relative to Father Hejmo, in December 2004? Who requested this material?

According to the norms established by the Polish Parliament on the functioning of the National Memory Institute, state organs can request the institute to check if a person who is to occupy a post in the administration of the state had collaborated with the Communist Services. But Father Hejmo had no desire to occupy a post in the state apparatus! Why, then, did they decide to concern themselves with his case?

Moreover, director Kieres could not reveal publicly, as the institute's statute states, the name of the verified person. Why then did it decide to do so, bringing on itself also the criticisms of the Guarantor of Citizens' Rights?

The "Hejmo case" is just one of many. Then it was Father Drozdek's turn, rector of the very well-known Marian shrine of Zakopane, and that of others.

Q: How was the apparatus of repression of the clergy organized in Poland?

Raina: One of the main objectives of Communist totalitarianism was the psychological destruction or physical elimination of opponents. Physical persecution consisted in the use of violence, including murder. Psychological terror served to destroy a man's personality.

Useful for this were long years of seclusion in prisons, often in complete isolation. Every citizen could find himself in a "dead-end" situation.

All had to be conscious that their private life, professional career and future depended on the Security Services -- in Polish "Sluzby Bezpieczenstea," or SB. The security apparatus was part of the structure of the Interior Ministry, where there was a special department, called Department IV, which was concerned specifically with the struggle against the Church; then there was talk of the struggle against the "reactionary clergy."

There was also an office of special investigation -- "biuro C" -- that gathered information on "suspicious" persons.

It must be said that despite the persecutions, which lasted over long years, the Communist authorities did not succeed either in destroying the Catholic Church or in breaking its ties with the people, as many ...

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