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7 Jan, 2007 12:00

Scandal in Polish Catholic Church

Scandal in Polish Catholic Church

The new Archbishop of Warsaw has resigned less than an hour before he was due to take office after admitting spying for the Secret Police during the Communist era. The scandal has rocked Catholic Poland, and is a major embarrassment for the Vatican. 

The ceremony at St John's Cathedral, which is in the capital of Poland, was to formally install the new Archbishop of Warsaw. Instead, Stanislaw Wielgus used the occasion to announce his resignation.

“After reflecting deeply and assessing my personal situation, I -  in accordance with Canon law – submit to your Holiness my resignation as the Metropolitan Archbishop of Warsaw,” the cleric announced at the altar. 

The decision to quit followed urgent talks between the Vatican and Polish officials overnight.

The Pope has asked outgoing Archbishop , Cardinal Jozef Glemp, to stay on in the job until a replacement is found.

Files unearthed by the Polish Media and the Church allegedly prove Wielgus spied on colleagues for twenty years.

“The Church Historical Committee has found that there are important documents which confirm Wielgus' willingness for…cooperation with the communist secret police. The documents also point that this kind of cooperation has been undertaken,” Episcopate Spokesperson, Father Jozef Kloch, said.

The archbishop denies being an informer, but has admitted to having contacts with the widely despised secret police.  He says he spoke to them in order to travel outside Poland.

The scandal has shaken staunchly Roman Catholic Poland. The Church is widely respected, having supported the Solidarity Movement in the 1980s, which was pivotal in bringing down Communism in Eastern Europe. The resignation is a major embarrassment for the Vatican.

A statement released before Christmas insisted Pope Benedict knew about the Archbishop's past, and fully supported his appointment.