Magazine article The Christian Century

Polish Church Crisis Echoes Vatican Slowness on U.S. Abuse Scandals

Magazine article The Christian Century

Polish Church Crisis Echoes Vatican Slowness on U.S. Abuse Scandals

Article excerpt

The abrupt resignation of a top Polish prelate, amid allegations that he collaborated with Poland's Soviet-era secret police, has once again shone a spotlight on the reluctance among Roman Catholic officials to confront scandal within their ranks.

Five years after the clerical sex-abuse scandal rocked the church in the United States, observers say the church again faces a crisis that undercuts the credibility of its leadership.

More significantly, they say, both scandals expose a common tendency in the Catholic hierarchy: that of ignoring inconvenient truths until they boil over into full-blown public scandals.

The crisis in Poland came to a head January 7 when Stanislaw Wielgus, the archbishop-designate of Warsaw, abruptly resigned during a mass intended to celebrate his inauguration as Poland's top prelate. The day after Wielgus stepped down, another top Catholic cleric, Janusz Bielanski, resigned as rector of Krakow's Wawel Cathedral, strenuously denying allegations of collaboration.

The spectacle capped weeks of acrimony in which Wielgus and his supporters, including the Vatican, tried to fend off allegations in the Polish press that the prelate had collaborated with Poland's feared communist-era secret police

Senior church officials, such as Cardinal Jozef Glemp, Warsaw's outgoing archbishop, have defended Wielgus, arguing that his collaboration was nominal--perhaps even routine--and did not compromise his ability to lead.

The Rome-based La Repubblica newspaper reported that Pope Benedict XVI was "furious" about those who had withheld information from him.

On January 12, Polish Catholic leaders in Warsaw declared themselves open to investigations. "The church is not afraid of the truth, even if this is a hard, shameful truth and approaching this truth is sometimes very painful," the bishops said.

The Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said he was "happy" that the Polish bishops decided to pass background information on to the pope, adding that "a lack of communication is dangerous in all fields."

Addressing Polish pilgrims in Rome January 14, Pope Benedict urged the faithful to listen to the word of Christ, "especially in difficult moments of life, when we are seeking the truth and help of God."

Wielgus has argued that his contacts did not harm anyone. …

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