Saturday, January 17, 2009

Polish paper says Orthodox leader was communist agent

A leading Polish newspaper said on Tuesday it had documentary evidence that the head of the country's small Orthodox Christian community collaborated with the secret services (SB) in communist times.

An official of the Orthodox Church official acknowledged that its leader, Metropolitan Sawa, had cooperated with the authorities but said this did not amount to collaboration.

The right-leaning Rzeczpospolita daily said the SB recruited Sawa in 1965 and that he provided numerous reports on priests, probably until the fall of communism in 1989.

"From the archives the impression is created of a person who was trying to use the SB to shape the personnel policy of his church," said the paper, which has strongly backed efforts to unmask communist-era agents in Polish public life.

Replying to the allegations, Sawa admitted to the paper that he had held many meetings with the SB but insisted that in his dealings with them he had only sought to protect his church.

"The young generation may feel scandalised by this. But I say we had to agree compromises to save the Orthodox Church," said Sawa, now aged 70.

"I signed no formal obligations ... We are aware that many priests met the SB ... Our attitude towards the (communist) authorities was shaped by the difficult situation of the Orthodox Church, and with some fear, so to say."

Only about 500,000 Orthodox Christians live in Poland, a country of 38 million people. They mostly live in eastern regions, close to the border with Ukraine and Belarus.

Atheistic communist authorities across the Soviet bloc persecuted churches and religious believers for decades.

The allegations against Metropolitan Sawa are the latest in a long-running series of claims made about public figures, including some state officials and Roman Catholic clergy, suggesting they collaborated with Poland's communist regime.

Poland's dominant Catholic Church is also credited with helping to undermine communist rule, especially under the moral leadership of Polish-born Pope John Paul II, extending support to pro-democracy activists in the Solidarity trade union.

Contacted by Reuters, an official from the Polish Orthodox Church said: "In general Metropolitan Sawa is not denying cooperation (with the communist regime) but he claims this was not collaboration as it is understood today."

The Orthodox Church in Poland is expected to issue an official statement later in the day.

Rzeczpospolita supported a campaign by the previous Polish government of Jaroslaw Kaczynski to uncover people who spied for the communist regime and to exclude them from public life.