Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Former communist agents charged for roles in death of Polish priest

From: Melbourne Anglican
Father Jerzy Popieluszko
Two former Polish secret police agents have been charged with helping to frame Jerzy Popieluszko, a Roman Catholic priest who became a folk hero, and who was murdered 25 years ago after speaking out against communist injustices.

Poland's Institute for National Remembrance said the arrests had been ordered by its Warsaw-based Commission for Investigating Crimes against the Polish Nation during enquiries into an Interior Ministry unit which carried out "crimes, including murders" against clergy and opposition members during the period from 1956 to 1989.

The agency added that the two agents from the Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa, the communist-era secret police, had carried out criminal acts "intended to eliminate him as a pastor", such as by planting weapons and illegal leaflets in the priest's Warsaw apartment.

"These functionaries are also accused of participating in a group intending to commit crimes damaging Father Popieluszko," the institute, which researches communist-era abuses of power, said in a statement on 10 November.

The bound and gagged body of the 37-year-old Popieluszko, who was linked with the outlawed Solidarity movement, was dredged from Wloclawek reservoir in October 1984, a week after his abduction while returning at night from a service in Bydgoszcz.

Although four Interior Ministry employees were convicted for the slaying, all were released early after controversial sentence revisions, while a former secret police general, Wladyslaw Ciaston, was twice acquitted, in 1994 and 2002, of ordering the killing.

However, Solidarity supporters have repeatedly blamed senior communists for the death of the priest, who lies buried at Warsaw's St Stanislaw Kostka church with a rosary personally given him by Pope John Paul II.

The institute statement alleged that the two SB employees had connived in laying false charges against Popieluszko, while attempting to disrupt his pastoral work among "circles linked to the democratic opposition in Poland. It added that other ex-agents might also be charged with harassing the priest, whose beatification as a Catholic martyr could be announced by the Vatican in 2010, placing him on the path to sainthood.

President Lech Kaczynski posthumously awarded the priest Poland's highest state honour, the White Eagle, on 19 October, the 25th anniversary of his death, which was marked with a special anniversary coin and stamp by the country's National Bank and Postal Service.

In a resolution on 21 October, Poland's parliament, the Sejm, said Popieluszko's message remained "still topical for us". It said the priest's life had been "a gift to the nation's history, fully expressed by the words of St Paul, 'Overcome evil with good'."