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Covering for the Kremlin's Archbishop By: Lloyd Billingsley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus has resigned after revelations he cooperated with the secret police of Poland's Communist regime. Such clerical collaboration with Communism, an anti-religious movement, is a subject of considerable interest but consider the way the New York Times spun it. Here is the lead from the Times' January 5 story by Craig S. Smith, filed not from Warsaw but Paris:

"Warsaw's new archbishop, Stanislaw W. Wielgus, caught in Eastern Europe's widening witch hunt for former Communist secret police informers, admitted Friday that he had collaborated with the Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa, or Security Service, known as the S.B."


The operative phrase here involves the "widening witch hunt," a curious way to describe a matter of obvious fact, confirmed by the collaborator himself. This was not something invented by New York Times fabricator Jayson Blair.


With militant Islam on the march, it may have escaped notice that for nearly half-a-century Soviet colonialism imposed Communist dictatorships on the half of Europe it controlled. These dictatorships made life difficult for everyone except Communist Party bosses. Such was the repression that people would flee at the first opportunity, risking their lives and leaving loved ones behind. East Germany, which called itself the German Democratic Republic, walled in the people and made emigration an exciting experience by shooting those who tried to vote with their feet and leave.


Poland, an overwhelmingly Catholic country, suffered under simultaneous invasions by Hitler and Stalin. The Communist postwar regime imposed martial law to fight the Solidarity movement and cultivated collaborators among clergy. Such collaboration had consequences. Among other crimes, in 1984 the SB abducted, savagely beat and murdered a priest, Jerzy Popieluszko. The story became a 1988 film, To Kill a Priest, with Ed Harris, one of the few films about Communist repression anywhere. Plot line: A young priest speaks out against the Communist regime in Poland and is killed for it.


The Communist regimes of Eastern Europe all fell, and the freed inmates demolished the Berlin Wall. But that does not end the story. Poles have a collective memory and are unwilling to let those who collaborated off the hook. They understand that this is a matter of justice.


In 1998, the Poles set up the National Remembrance Institute (IPN), to prosecute Nazi and Communist crimes. According to the IPN, more  than 10 percent of Polish priests collaborated with the Communists. Who these priests are, what they did, and what they are doing now are vital questions. The IPN revealed that the Communists gave Wielgus special training for agents and that, as a reward, they allowed him to study in Munich.


Wielgus says his collaboration, which he previously denied, did not hurt anyone. But he stepped down nonetheless, and the Vatican accepted his resignation. What nobody should accept is the designation "witch hunt" for the effort to reveal those who collaborated with loathsome regimes.


"Witch hunt," as it happens, comes straight out of the tactical lexicon of the Communist Party USA, which used it as an incantation to ward off any attempt to uncover Stalinist agents in American government and society. Such agents, it might be recalled, were responsible for handing American nuclear secrets to the worst mass murderer in history.


In 2007, the American newspaper of record can use "witch hunt" in the lead of a story about an actual case, not a rumor, of collaboration with Communism. No editor at the Times chose to strike out "witch hunt" and that is ultimately no surprise. This is the same newspaper which, at the nadir of Stalin's forced famine in Ukraine in 1932-33, in which millions perished, told the world not only that all was well in Ukraine, with bounty everywhere and apple-cheeked dairymaids dancing in the streets, but that famine itself was impossible under Stalin's supposedly scientific form of government.


Milan Kundera, author of the Unbearable Lightness of Being, wrote that "The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting." That is why the National Remembrance Institute and other groups should not only continue their investigations but expand them. A lot remains to be explored.


The Soviets freighted the World Council of Churches (WCC) with agents and informers, and the National Council of Churches (NCC) in America has functioned as an alibi armory for totalitarianism, and more. The NCC acted as a de facto agent for the Communist regime of Fidel Castro during the Elian Gonzalez incident. The Chinese Communist regime has its approved puppet church and Christians in North Korea live in constant peril.


Religious believers in Communist lands have shown extraordinary bravery and often laid down their lives for their faith, the true concept of martyrdom. The victims of Communism deserve better than to have efforts to expose their persecutors written off in obscurantist left-wing boilerplate in the pages of the New York Times.


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Lloyd Billingsley is the author of From Mainline to Sideline, the Social Witness of the National Council of Churches, and Hollywood Party: How Communism Seduced the American Film Industry in the 1930s and 1940s.

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