WARSAW, Poland – Influential Polish Catholics have urged clergy who spied for the communist secret police to admit their guilt, following a recent report that named a priest as a former spy.
"It is with great pain that we receive the news about priests and others linked with the church who collaborated with the security services of the communist state – they cast a shadow on the Catholic Church's heroic history under communist rule," said an open letter May 24.
The letter said that the more than 100 lay Catholics who signed it felt "responsibility for our church" and that they could not stay silent.
The letter was published by Poland's wiara.pl news agency a day before Pope Benedict XVI's arrival for his May 25-28 visit in Poland.
Addressing Polish clergy May 25 in Warsaw's Cathedral of St. John, Pope Benedict said that communist rule had created "an unconscious tendency to hide under an external mask," and that the church should remember "there are sinners among her members."
"We must guard against the arrogant claim of setting ourselves up to judge earlier generations who lived in different times and circumstances," Pope Benedict said. "Humble sincerity is needed not to deny the sins of the past, and at the same time not to indulge in facile accusations in the absence of real evidence or without regard to the different preconceptions of the time."
The letter said Catholics understood the "difficult situation" of people whose sins had "harmed the whole Polish church."
However, it added, Catholics were offended by the "lack of courage, humility and trust" shown by many former clergy informers.
"We understand how hard it must be to admit one's own faults and sincerely confess the truth – this demands courage and great penance. But is this penance not precisely what Christ expects from us?" said the letter, whose signers included editors of Poland's Wiez and Znak Catholic monthlies.
It said the issue of clergy collaborators affected "the whole church community, including priests, religious and laity."
"Since the time of Peter, the community of the church has had to distance itself from betrayal and unfaithfulness, as well as a lack of confidence in love and forgiveness," the letter said. "We appeal to your consciences – have the courage to trust in our forgiveness, which has its source in the mercy of God."
However, it said, "We cannot and do not want to evaluate specific cases, since we know how easy it once was to make mistakes and harm innocent people."
The letter came after a May 17 report in Poland's Zycie Warszawy daily that said Warsaw-based Msgr. Michal Czajkowski informed to the communists for more than two decades about fellow clergy, including Solidarity movement hero Father Jerzy Popieluszko, who was later murdered by communist agents.
Msgr. Czajkowski denied the claims in a May 22 statement in Poland's Catholic information agency, KAI, but resigned from his posts as church supervisor of the Wiez monthly and co-chairman of Poland's Council of Christians and Jews.
Approximately 10 percent of Catholic clergy are believed to have acted as informers in communist Poland, although higher recruitment rates were recorded in some dioceses in the 1980s.
In recent months, Poland's Catholic bishops were urged to take action against collaborators after a Solidarity movement dissident, Father Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski, claimed to have seen the names of Krakow-based clerical collaborators while reading his own secret police file.
Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops