Bringing the Holy See to Poland (Part 2)

Interview With Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk

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By Wlodzimierz Redzioch
WARSAW, Poland, MAY 11, 2010 ( Representing the Holy See in Poland since 1989 has given Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk a firsthand look at the radical changes his country has undergone.

It has also meant that he’s endured the tyranny of Communism in a particular way.

Archbishop Kowalczyk was appointed apostolic nuncio to his native country by Pope John Paul II, returning home as a citizen of the Holy See. More than 20 years later, Benedict XVI has now given the archbishop a different role in his native land. On Saturday he was named the archbishop of Gniezno and primate of Poland.

ZENIT spoke with the archbishop before this last appointment, asking him both about the enduring influence of Communism and his own priesthood.

Part 1 of this interview was published Monday.

ZENIT: Excellency, with a certain regret and, I would also say a bit of anger, I would like to talk with you about a certain delicate issue that regards the Church in Poland: the so-called «lustracja» (control). We remind our readers that in 1989 the Polish Communists ceded power — following the agreements called «of the round table» in exchange for impunity for members of the Party and of the whole apparatus of the security services. In this way, the organizers and persecutors of the totalitarian state and also the faithful servants of the Communist regime — judges, journalists, professors, people of culture, etc. were assured of untouchability. The rule of impunity was respected even when it was decided to open the files of the security services to give the victims of the regime the possibility to consult their dossiers. Unfortunately, the first to «profit» from the possibility to access the files of the security services were not the persecuted but some journalists who were only interested in the cards relating to the clergy. For this reason, public opinion, not only in Poland but worldwide, instead of hearing the stories of the Communist regime’s persecutors and faithful servants, began to be informed about the alleged «collaboration» of the Polish clergy with the security services. Thus the historical perspective was turned upside down and Polish priests, the first victims of the regime, were presented as spies and collaborators. Years ago, I titled one of my articles regarding the case of the media lynching of Archbishop Wielgus thus: «From the Tomb of History, Communism Again Strikes the Polish Church.» The venom also struck you, when someone extracted from the files «documents» that showed your alleged collaboration with the Communist secret services (registered as so-called «informative contact» with the pseudonym «Cappino»).
Archbishop Kowalczyk: The lustracja was a process of control whose objective was that of discovering who had willingly collaborated with the Communist secret services. Polish priests and bishops were also subjected to this process. I am a citizen of the Holy See, I represent it in Poland, I am dean of the Diplomatic Corps and, as the other ambassadors, I enjoy diplomatic immunity. For this reason the process of lustracja did not relate to me. But as I was born here, and speak the language, therefore I am a Polish bishop as the others. Now, voices were raised here and there to also «control» Archbishop Kowalczyk.

I decided to have my dossier in the Communist files controlled, in sign of solidarity with the other bishops. It was discovered that in the Institute of National Memory (IPN) are some pages that were delivered to members of the Historical Commission of the Archdiocese of Warsaw. From the study of these few letters the Commission discovered that from 1963 and after, when I studied in Rome and worked in the structures of the Roman Curia and in the Group for Permanent Working Contacts between the Holy See and the Government of the People’s Republic of Poland, I was kept under the eye of the Polish secret services — as all the other student priests either in Poland or Rome; after my departure for Rome for a post in the Curia, from 1971, I was the object of attention of the Polish secret services –Department I of the Ministry of Internal Affairs — and on Dec. 15, 1982, I was registered — of course, without knowing it — in the same ministry as «informative contact» with the pseudonym «Cappino.» Among the letters, there is also a note dated Jan. 3, 1990, with the information that the dossier was destroyed, being aware of its «operative uselessness.» As a consequence, the commission of the archdiocese declared that there is no evidence that could suggest the willing and conscious collaboration of the then Monsignor Jozef Kowalczyk with the Polish security services. Later on, the Polish episcopal conference published a statement in which it confirms its full trust in Monsignor Kowalczyk, in as much as faithful and loyal collaborator of the Holy Father, John Paul II.
And then in the IPN files they found «a document,» published afterward in a Polish newspaper under the title «The Communist Security Services Have Lost With the Nuncio,» because the registration was made without the knowledge of the interested party, «in abundance,» to cover up one of the secretaries of the representative of the Polish government accredited to the Holy See who worked as a spy of the Communist authority of Warsaw. This demonstrates the falsehood and perverseness of the methods of work of the representatives of the Polish Communist government, also of those accredited to the Holy See.
ZENIT: Your case demonstrates that the old Communist security services  — from the tomb of history — still strike their victims. But I want to change the discussion: We were speaking of your 40-year mission to the Roman Curia and in the diplomacy of the Holy See, but you, first of all, are a priest who in 2012 will celebrate the 50th anniversary of your priestly ordination. I would like to ask you for your reflections on the priesthood in the year that Benedict XVI has wished to dedicate to priests.
Archbishop Kowalczyk: Reflecting on his priesthood, John Paul II wrote that the priest is above all «administrator of the mysteries of God,» who is called to distribute the goods of the faith, the goods of salvation to the persons to whom he is sent. He is, therefore, man of the Word of God, of the sacrament, of the «mystery of the faith.» For John Paul II the priestly vocation is a mystery, a mystery of «a wonderful exchange» between God and man. It is a mystery and a gift: Man gives Christ his humanity, so that he can use him as an instrument of salvation. Therefore, he must be available to all those who approach him and request priestly help regardless of their political membership. He must not, however, be involved in political affairs in an active way because such activity is not his vocation and the people of God do not accept such activity on the part of the priest. How important it is to recall these things in the Year for Priests that we are living!
During his apostolic trip to Poland, Benedict XVI spoke to Polish priests of what really counts in priestly life and what, instead, can distract a priest — particularly when lived under the totalitarian regime — from his authentic mission: «The faithful expect only one thing from priests: that they be specialists in promoting the encounter between man and God. The priest is not asked to be an expert in economics, construction or politics. He is expected to be an expert in the spiritual life. With this end in view, when a young priest takes his first steps, he needs to be able to refer to an experienced teacher who will help him not to lose his way among the many ideas put forward by the culture of the moment. In the face of the temptations of relativism or the permissive society, there is absolutely no need for the priest to know all the latest, changing currents of thought; what the faithful expect from him is that he be a witness to the eternal wisdom contained in the revea
led word. Solicitude for the quality of personal prayer and for good theological formation bear fruit in life.»

The Pope also touched upon the problem linked to our previous political situation: «Living under the influence of totalitarianism may have given rise to an unconscious tendency to hide under an external mask, and in consequence to become somewhat hypocritical. Clearly this does not promote authentic fraternal relations and may lead to an exaggerated concentration on oneself. In reality, we grow in affective maturity when our hearts adhere to God. Christ needs priests who are mature, virile, capable of cultivating an authentic spiritual paternity. For this to happen, priests need to be honest with themselves, open with their spiritual director and trusting in divine mercy» (Meeting with the clergy, Warsaw Cathedral, May 25, 2006).
To live one’s priesthood as Pope Benedict XVI delineated it there must be a continuous examination of conscience and a formative commitment of each of the priests. The challenges of the times of today require from priests a witness given not so much in words but with works — that at times must appear as signs of contradiction vis-a-vis a world full of the secular and laicizing mentality and of moral relativism.

This is why the Pope instituted this Year for Priests presenting St. John Vianney as the example of the priest who dedicates himself totally to serve souls and bring them to God. Only with such an attitude can a priest face the challenges of the contemporary world.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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