Long-time primate of Polish church dies aged 83
Cardinal Jozef Glemp, who played a central role in Poland’s peaceful transition from communism to democracy as the the country’s Catholic primate, has died aged 83.
During his 28-year tenure from 1981 to 2009, which largely coincided with the papacy of fellow Pole John Paul II, the Catholic Church guided the opposition to authoritarian rule and provided backing to the Solidarity trade union.
Criticised by many priests and laity for his caution, Cardinal Glemp insisted that his mission was the preservation of the church, not the overthrow of communist rule.
On the day Polish president Gen Wojciech Jaruzelski implemented martial law in December 1981, public television broadcast the cardinal’s warnings that open opposition could result in bloodshed. Church officials later insisted Pope John Paul supported Cardinal Glemp’s stance at the time.
“Everybody makes mistakes and even he made some, but he fulfilled his responsibility and departed convinced of this,” Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, who worked with the cardinal, said.
In 1988, when labour unrest shook Poland, Cardinal Glemp named Tadeusz Mazowiecki, his close associate and a Solidarity adviser, to mediate and pave the way for talks on political reforms and national elections. In 1989, the cardinal was a voice in Mr Mazowiecki’s selection as Poland’s first non-communist prime minister since the 1940s.
The primate was repeatedly accused of anti-Semitism, notably for his 1989 remarks resisting an agreement to move a convent from Auschwitz, where millions of Jews were killed by the Nazis. In 1997, he belatedly rebuked the rabidly anti-Semitic radio station Radio Maryja, and its director, Fr Tadeusz Rydzyk. The cardinal acted only after Vatican hints and a prosecutor’s slander charges.
In 2001, he was again accused of anti-Semitism when he refused to accompany President Aleksander Kwasniewski to the village of Jedwabne to apologise for the 1941 massacre of 1,600 Jews, most of them burned alive by neighbours.
Cardinal Glemp had said that one of his main regrets was not doing enough to save Jerzy Popieluszko, a priest close to Solidarity who was killed by security forces in 1984.
The cardinal played himself in a 2009 biopic about the dissident priest. He said acting in the drama was a way of setting the record straight. – (Reuters/New York Times)