By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
A new book claims that a Polish priest, later made an archbishop, acted as a Communist informant in the papal household under Popes Paul VI and John Paul II, marking the first time that an alleged Communist mole has been identified in the innermost circles of the Vatican.
The book, “Priests in the Face of the Security Services,” is written by Fr. Tadeusz Zalewski, a former chaplain to the Solidarity movement who was twice brutally beaten by the Secret Police during the Communist era. Its most dramatic allegation concerns Archbishop Juliusz Paetz, who resigned as the Archbishop of Poznan in Poland in May 2002 following accusations of sexual abuse.
The book is likely to fuel a new round of soul-searching in Poland regarding the alleged collaboration of perhaps 10 percent of Catholic clergy with the Communists. It comes on the heels of the Jan. 6 resignation of the incoming Archbishop of Warsaw, Stanislaw Wielgus, amid revelations that he had once signed a document pledging to collaborate with the Secret Police.
Zalewski asserts that Paetz, now 72 and living in a private apartment in Poznan, was recruited by Polish Communist agents in Rome in March 1978, under the name “Fermo.” Though most records concerning Paetz have apparently been destroyed, those that survive identify him not as an "agent" but as an "informational contact," a term that so far has appeared in the records only with respect to Paetz.
Most Polish observers take the term to mean that while Paetz occassionally met with agents of the Secret Police, he never became a formal operative. Moreover, sources told NCR it's possible that the Polish Communists were interested in Paetz at least as much as a potential "backdoor" channel of direct negotiations with the Vatican, bypassing the Polish hierarchy, as for his value as an intelligence asset. Under Paul VI's diplomatic policy of Ostpolitk, or engagement with the Soviets, the Vatican was often seen by the Communists as more receptive than the Polish bishops. That changed with the election of John Paul II.
Late Monday, Paetz denied having collaborated.
“I did not undertake any form of cooperation with the Communist secret police,” he said.
Paetz served as a “prelate of the ante-camera” in the Vatican from 1976 to 1982, meaning a cleric working in the papal household, spanning the last two years of the reign of Paul VI and the first four of John Paul II. The function was largely ceremonial, requiring Paetz to greet dignitaries at the papal apartment and to show them into meetings with the pope.
Prior to entering the papal household, Paetz worked in Rome in the Synod of Bishops from 1967 to 1976. After his Vatican service, he was named bishop of Lomza, Poland, by John Paul in 1982. The pope then made him archbishop of Poznan in 1996, and accepted his resignation six years later following an investigation triggered by charges of sexual abuse brought by Poznan seminarians.
Zalewski says that Secret Service records indicate Paetz never established a formal relationship with the Secret Police, and that he broke off contacts when he returned to Poland in 1983 as a bishop. The book does not indicate if Paetz ever passed anything of value onto the Communists.
Zalewski also said that he found no references in the archives to rumors of sexual indiscretions against Paetz, which some Polish observers speculated might have been used to “blackmail” Paetz into collaboration.
Zalewski identifies thirty other clerics as onetime informants, among them four bishops. Yet he also names a number of prominent Polish clergymen who he says spurned Communist overtures, including Cardinals Franciszek Macharski, formerly of Cracow, and Andrzej Deskur, a longtime Vatican official.
tZalewski has long been among the leaders of a drive to expose clergy who supplied information to authorities. The church, he says, must confess and repent.
“The church’s avoiding of the problem could lead to irreversible harm,” he wrote in an introduction. “Above all, it will cast a shadow on those clergy (and they were the vast majority) who never cooperated with the secret police.”
“Most priests,” Zalewski writes, “exited the Communist era with their heads held high.”