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from issue no. 07/08 - 2005

The ecclesiastics recruited by the East European intelligence services from a distant country to spy close up

From a distant Country, to spy close up

The Polish Institute of National Memory that has been going through the files of the secret police of the former communist regime states that thousands of religious and priests were enlisted as informants to keep a check on the Church in Poland but not only there. An interview with the historian Jan Zaryn

by Giovanni Cubeddu

Here above, the Polish religious 
Konrad Stanislaw Hejmo looking at newspaper headlines on Pope Wojtyla’s state of health, at the kiosk outside 
the colonnade of Saint Peter's Square; 
down, Polish Cardinals Stefan Wyszynski and Karol Wojtyla on their arrival 
in Rome for the funeral of Pope Paul VI, August 1978

Here above, the Polish religious Konrad Stanislaw Hejmo looking at newspaper headlines on Pope Wojtyla’s state of health, at the kiosk outside the colonnade of Saint Peter's Square; down, Polish Cardinals Stefan Wyszynski and Karol Wojtyla on their arrival in Rome for the funeral of Pope Paul VI, August 1978

At the end of April an uproar was caused by the news from Poland, that one of the men closest to the Polish Pope – the Dominican Konrad Stanislaw Hejmo, in charge of Polish pilgrimages to Rome – was an informant of Warsaw’s secret intelligent services from the times of the communist regime in Poland, and unfortunately not the only one in the local clergy of the time. The source of the revelation was Leon Kieres, president of the Polish Institute of National Memory (IPM), an independent, public body whose statute was approved in December 1998 by the democratic parliament in Warsaw, with the task of establishing the historical truth on the Nazi and communist regimes in Poland from 1939 to 1989, also by examining the confidential files of the Polish secret police. The IPM also backs inquiries that could lead to legal proceedings.
We therefore asked the IPM to keep us up to date on the ongoing inquiries and to explain the reason for the uproar. Jan Zaryn answered us on behalf of the Institute. He is a university teacher and historian who boasts thirteen books and more than a hundred scholarly articles, almost all of them devoted to the history of the Church of Poland.

What is documentary basis of the enquiry of your Institute into the activity of the secret services of the Eastern Europe against the Catholic Church and Vatican?
JAN ZARYN: The row of documents shelved in Poland on the «activities of the secret police» is about 90 kilometers long. They were compiled from 1944 to 1990 by Polish secret police, the “SB”, as it was called from 1956 (from 1944 to 1956 it was known instead as the “UB”). As we know, from 1944 to 1989 more than ninety per cent of the population of Poland was Catholic, and from 1947 to 1990 the secret police sought information on the Catholic Church and on the Polish bishops. That’s why the documentation now available to the IPM on the policy of the Polish communist regime against the Catholic Church is vast, enormous.
What kind of documents are they?
ZARYN: Administrative correspondence, instructions, orders from the executive officers in the Ministry, documents of the secret police officials who were in contact with the informants and those provided by the informants themselves. But also the personal documents prepared by the passport office, others from the bodies under observation, etcetera.
For example, the informant with the pseudonym Zigmunt (i.e. Sigmund) was a priest in the Catholic Church who acted as an informant from 1949 up to the mid ’sixties. Zigmunt was a member of very important Polish Episcopal Committees and made summaries of the meetings for the secret services. We have dossiers on the dioceses also and on the parishes, on all the monasteries and convents, on the seminaries, on the KUL, the Catholic University of Lublin (that was described in Poland as “the only Catholic university between Berlin and Vladivostok”…). The secret police investigated all the Polish monasteries, Dominican, Jesuit, Franciscan, but above all the Dominicans and the Jesuits, because they were most active in working with young people.
From 1962, the officials of the secret police belonging to the IV Bureau of the Ministry of the Interior “personalized” their information. All the priests - but also the seminary students – were up to 1990 singularly the object of a detailed dossier (known as Teok; for the bishops the code was Teob, for the parishes Teop). In that documentation, besides, there is a lot of information on priests coming from the other bureaus, such as the III, that was concerned with political dissent.
What were the methods most commonly used by the Eastern intelligence services to acquire information on the Catholic Church in Poland or on Solidarnosc?
ZARYN: The first system was that of the informants. From 13 July 1949 up to the ’seventies, for example, many “instructions” were drafted by the Ministry of the Interior to train officers, teaching them to work with informants. The training of future informants was the primary aim of the IV Bureau from 1962 to 1990. Its second objective was to have the largest possible number of informants in the upper institutions of the Church, for example in the Episcopal Curia. It was desirable that an officer be in contact with a young priest, because in five or ten years he would surely become bishop, that is to say a first rate informant.
The second way of obtaining information?
ZARYN: Telephone tapping and photos taken in secret, or intercepting correspondence. Even the correspondence sent from the Polish Episcopal Secretariat to the Vatican was read by the secret services department, by section “W” bureau, whereas section “T” was concerned with telephone tapping. Section “W” read the letters, photocopied or shorthanded them, and put them back carefully in the envelopes to re-send them to the addressee on the envelope.
According to the international media the IPM possesses hundreds of pages of reports on the case of Father Hejmo.
ZARYN: The documentation found and at present in the Institute on Father Konrad Hejmo consists of about seven hundred pages. Our report, drafted by three historians (Andrzej Grajewski, Pawel Machcewicz and myself), comes to around seventy pages. The dossier consists of three parts. The first substantially relates to the meetings between the secret police official Waclaw Glowacki and Father Hejmo, who in that period, from 1975, handled the Dominican monthly W drodze, “On the march”. In Rome then Father Hejmo sometimes met an official (the secretary, “Pietro”) from the communist Polish embassy, who was also an official of the I Department of the SB, and “Lacar”, an agent of the SB but also of the BND, the federal German secret services (and his genuine role can’t be known without knowing the German documents). It is extremely interesting to read that documentation. Hejmo said a lot, indeed too much.
Incredulity was stirred by the information, again leaked by your Institute, that “collaboration” with the secret services involved, at a certain point, 2,600 priests, that is to say 15 percent of the Polish clergy. How was that possible?
ZARYN: I should point out that the number of 2,600 priests, equal to about 15 percent of the Polish clergy, derives from statistics based on data for 1977. In one of my books on the matter I tried to count how many priests had collaborated with the SB, and I took 1977 as example, because I had an excellent chance of comparing the numbers of the statistics office of the secret police (office “C”) with the numbers of the Polish Church. Furthermore, it’s important, according to me, to remember that 1977 was also beginning of the great democratic opposition.
Which means?
ZARYN: The opposition groups increased in number from 1977. In 1980 and 1981, when Solidarnosc became legal, about ten million people became militant. So the secret police needed many more informants, and the state of war declared in the country on 13 December 1981 gave them the chance of recruiting new ones: in 1984 there were more than 84,000. From that moment there were more priests and hence the SB had a much greater possibility of obtaining information also among the Catholics. Hence, 15 percent of the clergy was described as “informers” by the SB in the ’eighties also. According to me it’s an important number. But on the other hand we must verify the identity and the effectiveness of each informant.
To what extent were the secret services able to penetrate the Catholic hierarchy? And didn’t the Catholic Church suspect that collaborator priests existed?
ZARYN: That’s a very serious question. I can say that I know of no bishop or member of the Polish episcopate who was an informant. So far I have not found Polish bishops who collaborated with the communists. So far. You must realize that there are more than 90 kilometers of documents.
I’m aware of a great many documents relating to the Polish primate Stefan Wyszynski, and a document dated 1970 that was prepared by the officials of the IV Bureau thanks to informants very close to the primate, who worked in his very secretariat. But it’s difficult to give a precise answer: it could be the personal secretary of the primate, somebody very close to him, or a workman or an engineer who had a lot of contact with the Secretariat, seeing that the building had been renovated… In any case, they are very delicate situations indeed. And I know only the pseudonyms of those informants, not their names. I know that the pseudonym Sibismunt was the person in charge of the Polish episcopates publishing, and a priest monk provided the summary of the meetings of that committee of the Polish episcopate. I believe that there were others. For example, a Polish historian from Rzeszow, in the south of Poland, has received documents concerning the Curia of the diocese of Przemysl, just where Bishop Tokarczuk worked, a Polish hero, an enemy of communism. The historian has found out that in the ’seventies there were eight informants inside his Curia. In the same way, a historian from Krakow has found documents on informants very close to the Curia of Krakow. For example, Tadeusz Novak, who worked in Krakow on the editorial staff of Tygodnik Powszechny and as bursar in the metropolitan Curia of Krakow. But I believe there were other informants, well placed in the upper spheres of the Polish clergy.
The Catholic Church conceived the possibility of the existence of collaborators.
ZARYN: Yes, the primate Wyszynski and the other bishops knew that officials of the SB were spying on them, reading their letters, etcetera. Even when the primate was in prison, the two people closest to him provided information to the XI Bureau. But the primate had nothing to hide. He said the same things about power officially as he did in secret.
And the government also knew that some priest informants were unmasked in the Church…
ZARYN: The bishops had experience of contacts with the secret police, both the UB and the SB. There were precise instructions from the Polish episcopate in which the bishops prohibited priests from meeting officials of the SB. One can nevertheless advance the hypothesis that there were priests, accomplices of officials of the SB, who then reported to their bishops: that is, they were double agents. I know of some examples, only for the ’forties and ’fifties. A priest, who was called Emmanuel Grim, of the parish of Izdebna, in southern Poland, was an informant of the UB (at the time SB), but it was a torment to him. He informed his bishop, Stanislaw Adamski, of having been forced to give information against the Church. Some months later he died. Perhaps his death resulted from the critical situation in which he found himself…
The attack on John Paul II, Saint Peter's Square, 13 May 1981

The attack on John Paul II, Saint Peter's Square, 13 May 1981

Another example?
ZARYN: That of the priest Joseph Bak, an informer with the pseudonym Prosty, that is the “Simple” goes back to the ’fifties. He was a member of the big Catholic body Caritas, and on 23 January 1950 he helped the communist power to infiltrate Catholic institutions. Then Bishop Adamski spoke to him clearly, and was answered that «the communist power asked me to do it for them, and I thought that it was a good thing for the Church…». The bishop gave him absolution.
And what conclusion have you come to?
ZARYN: These are examples. Perhaps priests thought that their contacts with SB officials were not secret, bad for the Church. And the SB officials didn’t know if the priest informers spoke to their bishops or not after the meetings. The answer to the question whether such and such a priest was indeed an informer of the Polish SB, that the Church often posed itself at the time, was very difficult. That is why I wanted to make clear earlier that the 15 percent of informants of 1977 is an SB estimate and not one made by the Church.
Investigating the attack on John Paul II, Italian magistrates have suggested the existence of accomplices in Vatican City itself. What does your documentation say of the secret sources for the communists inside the Vatican?
ZARYN: Unfortunately I don’t know the answer. As you knows, we have the documentation on the priest Hejmo, in which one can find a certain amount of information on the Vatican in the ’eighties. It is mostly information about relations between John Paul II and the Polish episcopate.
The informers in the Vatican made known that the Vatican gave great importance to the political question in Poland.
We also have knowledge on other agents who spied on the Vatican, but I cannot for the moment reveal their names.
How long did the collaboration with the secret services last?
ZARYN: That depends. Father Hejmo began meeting SB agents in 1975, until 1988, and was in Rome from 1981. Up to 1981 he was protected by an official of Bureau IV of the Ministry of the Interior and afterwards Bureau I took him over. I can also tell you the story of a priest of a monastery who began his work against the Church in 1949 and stopped in 1968, when he died. And some years after his death SB officials hid all the documents and the material in his “work dossier”. Fortunately the reports made by that priest have since been found, within other files.
Do you recall any other long-lasting collaboration?
ZARYN: Father Wladyslaw Kulczycki, who worked in Krakow from 1948 up to his death in 1967. He collaborated under the pseudonyms Torano and Zagielowski, giving much information to the SB above all on Bishop Karol Wojtyla and his circle, the young Catholic people whom he used to meet in Krakow during the ’sixties.
On the other hand, many priests were informers for a very brief time; two or three meetings with SB officials, and then they requested a passport to take refuge, outside of Poland.
Again on the attack on the Pope. On the basis of your experience, how do you judge the so-called “Bulgarian thread”?
ZARYN: I believe that genuine and solid arguments are not forthcoming to prove the responsibility of the SB in the attempt to assassinate the Pope on 13 May 1981. Luckily, or unluckily, up to you, I haven’t found documents giving information of that sort.
We know that officials of the IV department were present at a meeting in Moscow with KGB officials devoted to a project on the Church, but the outcome of that meeting is unknown. And we also know that a relationship certainly existed between the Polish and Soviet secret services, in 1981. But no documents exist on the matter.
I agree with the German journalist who found a Stasi document dated 1981 from which it emerged that they had tried to disinform public opinion and the West, saying that the Bulgarians were in no way involved in the attack on Pope John Paul II, and that only the Italian magistrates have given out this information. We also know that Ali Agca has often changed version and that he wanted to speak at first. But after a while Ali Agca changed version, undoubtedly victim of pressure and threats from the Stasi, saying: « I was on my own in wishing to kill the Pope». They are “crumbs” of information.
That doesn’t get rid of the fact that in Poland and for the Poles, I can say it as historian and as a Pole who was in Warsaw on 13 May 1981, the guilty party is called Moscow.
Have you shared the results of your research with the Polish Episcopal Conference? Has positive collaboration arisen?
ZARYN: I have some contacts with the bishops and with the primate, who have authorized access for me to the secret files of the Polish primate from 1944 to 1989. They are extremely important documents for history. I don’t know exactly when I will finish, but I’m preparing a Polish edition of the documents that I’ve gathered at the Council of the episcopate (Rada Glowna). I often collaborate with the bishops and I have very cordial relations. I’ve also published some books on relations between the State and the Catholic Church after the Second World War. Books that, along with the others produced by my colleagues, are read by bishops and priests, and also by seminarians, as set reading. Even if, for example, I’ve many times written pieces on Father Hejmo that are not well viewed by the men of Church... But I’m not the bishops’ court. As they say in Poland: during the communist period there were court historians … As under Louis XIV…
Have you ever found traces of clashes in Poland between the Easter and Western secret services?
ZARYN: The issue is a huge one, but I can say something. Personally I know best the documents of department III bureau between the ’forties and ’fifties. Then there were many Polish political emigrants, linked to the CIA or the British MI6 and to the German secret services [that is to the organization of the Nazi General Gahlen, who surrendered to the United States in 1945, who for years, with his network consisting of thousands of former Nazis, continued to spy against the Soviet Union, ed. ]. Many Poles linked to the government in exile worked against the communists in Poland. They were spying on Soviet Poland, not the Polish. They were led by the government in exile or by General Wladyslaw Anders, himself in exile. And the communists set up large operations against those Polish spies, such as the Cèsar operation [1948-52, ed.].
In reality it was a game, a great game! But one can discover the existence of quite another history…
Finally, after deeply studying the files of the period of the ideological battle against the Catholic Church and against religion in general in Poland, what stays in your mind?
ZARYN: I can say that the secret police fought against the Catholic Church, that is against its institutions and individual persons, for all that time. The SB had many tools available - murder, arrest, slander - and it used them against its enemy. Only between 1944 and 1956, the communists arrested almost a thousand priests, they isolated some bishops - not Cardinal Wyszynski – they dismantled the Greek-Catholic Church, they deported to Siberia many priests who lived on Polish territory, to the east of the Ribbentrop-Molotov line. The secret police was created from the Soviet NKVD [the People’s Commissariat for internal affairs, later the KGB, ed. ] and continued its work in the territory gained after the Second World War.
But one also needs to say that the secret police was not a sovereign institution; it was run by the communist party in power. The communists backed the battle against the Church, they took on the responsibility of the effects of their policy. And they then led the battle against the Church using other tools: political, such as atheist propaganda and Marxism as obligatory ideology, also in school; economic, such as the acquisition of the property of the Church, for example in the former USSR and in Hungary; legal, such as the rulings that prohibited the development of Catholic culture, of Catholic associations, the presence of Catholicism in public life, and so on.
One has to remember that in Poland, in 1945, the people were ninety percent Catholic, as they were in 1989. One also has to say that from 1978 the Catholic Church was led by the Pope from Poland.
These, also, are the results of the religious politics established by power: Felix culpa.

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