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Another Polish church leader resigns over communist police links

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WARSAW, Poland — A second prominent Catholic clergyman resigned Monday after allegations about his links to the communist-era secret police, and the prospect that more clerics may have been compromised threatened the church’s reputation as a bastion of opposition to the old regime.
    A day after Warsaw’s new archbishop stunned the faithful by resigning minutes before his formal installation ceremony, the Rev. Janusz Bielanski resigned as rector of Krakow’s prestigious Wawel Cathedral, burial place to Polish kings and queens, Krakow church spokesman Robert Necek said.
    Bielanski’s resignation was ‘‘in connection with repeated allegations about his cooperation with the secret services’’ of the communist era, Necek said. He added that Krakow’s archbishop, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, accepted the resignation.
    The allegations against Bielanski first surfaced last February, but the timing of his resignation deepens the sense of crisis around the church over the issue of priests who were compromised by the secret police.
    In a dramatic development Sunday, new Warsaw Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus stepped down from the post he took up two days earlier — announcing the decision during what was supposed to have been his installation Mass.
    The revelations about Wielgus, and his abrupt resignation, have rattled Poland and revealed deep divisions within the church over the issue.
    Allegations that Wielgus was involved with the secret police were first raised by a Polish weekly on Dec. 20 and exploded into a full crisis Friday when a church historical commission said it found evidence he had cooperated.
    Wielgus initially denied it, but then acknowledged he did sign an agreement in 1978 promising to cooperate with the secret police in exchange for permission to leave Poland to study in West Germany.
    He stressed that he did not inform on anyone or try to hurt anyone, and he expressed remorse for both his contacts with the secret police and his failure to be open.
    Cardinal Jozef Glemp, whom Wielgus was replacing as archbishop of Warsaw, will stay in office until another successor is found.
    The church is also bracing for the publication of a book by a priest beaten by the secret police, the Rev. Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski, which he says will document the despised agency’s penetration of the church in Krakow.
    The church’s historical commission also plans to investigate how intelligence agents persecuted the Polish church in the 1980s — and is prepared to reveal any evidence it might find of clergy collaborators, commission spokesman Rev. Jozef Kloch told reporters Monday.
    It would mark a sharp change from past practice, some observers say.
    According to sociologist Lena Kolarska-Bobinska, the Wielgus affair exploded because church leaders have simply refused to ‘‘face the reality’’ about uncomfortable chapters in its history and address them openly.
    ‘‘Now they suddenly have to face a democratic environment — with the press and the like,’’ said Kolarska-Bobinska, director of the Institute for Public Affairs, a Warsaw-based think tank. ‘‘The church in the United States has responded to the democratic challenges, but here the church was trying to close its eyes, hoping that would never happen.’’
    Wielgus’ resignation was met by emotional outbursts of protest in Warsaw’s St. John’s Cathedral, with many worshippers shouting ‘‘No, no!’’ and ‘‘Stay with us!’’
    But many others have been disheartened by Wielgus’ behavior — both for the questionable ties to the secret police and for having been less than forthcoming about them.
    That behavior, Kolarska-Bobinska said, disappoints Poles who deeply respected Pope John Paul II for his strong opposition to Communist Party rule in his homeland and for what many saw as his guiding role in pushing for the fall of the system.
    ‘‘Wielgus is for Poles the anti-John Paul II,’’ said Kolarska-Bobinska. ‘‘He is the complete opposite of everything that was loved about John Paul.’’
    In Wadowice, John Paul’s hometown, retired teacher Maria Zadora said she believes the Catholic Church in Poland would never have been shaken by such a scandal under John Paul, as it has been under Pope Benedict XVI.
    ‘‘The Holy Father, as a German, sees our history from that period differently,’’ Zadora said. ‘‘I think that with our pope, John Paul II, this situation would not have occurred because he had a perfect understanding of how things are here and definitely a red light would have gone off earlier for him.’’
    Associated Press writers Ryan Lucas in Warsaw and Krzysztof Kopacz in Wadowice contributed to this report.
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