Do not destroy the past of altars!

Fr Kazimierz Bednarski

I am afraid of perfect people, those who never make mistakes. Those can be threats and lead to divisions.
Polish media keep relating statements of people who seem to possess the truth, that only they discover the truth, and this is the 'objective' truth. Their way of reaching the truth - their truth - apparently gives them the right to conclude and 'judge objectively'. Listening to these arguments, or rather digressions, I ask myself the fundamental question about the truth. Firstly, I think of the question Pontius Pilate directed to Christ 'Truth? What is that?' (John 18:38). We know that the dialogue between Christ and Pilate ended then. Why? What is the truth? I ask the question to myself and to those who convincingly claim that the truth should be revealed and show people who were hurt as those who should be judged 'in the name of the truth': Are their minds free, independent, not entangled? Does every 'noble' judge know the reality, not the reality that is subjective and their own, but do they know the reality that is objective, the authentic reality of that person?
A young person or the one who does not know our past and bases his knowledge on the mass media reports could conclude that Polish priests betrayed the nation, were secret agents, collaborators of the Polish People's Communist Party and the Security Police (SB). Even when it is said that the majority, decisive majority, never yielded to insults, these are trite and concise statements. If we count the length of programmes about priests-collaborators and programmes about priests who resisted this plague we can see huge disproportion. I propose to those who utter passionate words about the lost people - we do not know why - to get involved, study, search and show public opinion those figures that were staunch.

The form of vetting horrifies me

Another question arises. Do all those who want to discover the truth desire to reach this aim? And perhaps there are other premises, for example:
- manipulation of the powers that want to destroy the Church in Poland by using the hands of those who will be 'trustworthy';
- deep hurts, experienced harm, used by those who stood in the shadow and snapped the wounds and thus want to reach their aims;
- people who love to fight for fame, to be noticed; may it not be revenge and retaliation.
I am asking another question directed not so much to Catholic laymen, 'the noble judges' that publicise the problem, but to the clergy: do you know what fruit will be ripe in human conscience, especially in young people, thanks to your statements?
I have been a priest for 33 years, all the time on the front. I have created parishes, helped people build churches first as a vicar since the authorities were unwilling to give consent to my being a parish priest. And then as a parish priest I had various experiences with the authorities of the Communist Party and the security services. I am not afraid of the vetting. But I am terrified by the form of the vetting that wants to discover part of 'the truth' about clergy. I am for competent, highly moral and independent people who will examine the history. One cannot make it in a hurry. This work cannot be limited by deadlines or planned conclusions.
Do you, judges, realise what the truth is? Are the words of St Thomas: man will never discover the truth because only God knows the truth, your principle? And if some part of the truth you have discovered is painful, do you know how to show it? And this is more difficult than to discover this 'truth'.

On the basis of one priest...

Towards the end of 1960s I saw Fr Edward Sowula, the parish priest of my home parish, being arrested. Just after Christmas, during the pastoral visitation 'a police car' [called bitch] waited for him. What was the reason for his arrest? For many years the services of the communist country harassed the priests of the district of Pajeczno. They were faithful to the Church and opposed the insults. Many a time the services knocked at the door of the parish houses: those were debt collectors inquiring about imagined affairs. They kept coming and threatened the clergy. The dean was a discrete man, he never grumbled, and he told us, seminarians, about faithfulness to the Church. He was a man of deep faith and prayer - that was his strength in his fight against the powers of evil.
There was time when priests had to write reports on their teaching religious instruction. Suits against the deans were brought. Naturally, there were many other premises. There was 'an independent judge', there was 'humanitarian socialist law', and there was 'an honest trial' and 'a just verdict': a several thousand zloty fine and several months' imprisonment for the priests - deans of Brzeznica and Siemkowice. School children did not go to a carnival party as a sign of protest. People were not afraid to defend the priest and sent a letter to the ministry. They spoke about injustice being done to the parish priest. After several months, in August, Fr Sowula returned to his parish. There was joy. The priest did not want to say much about his life. He rarely spoke to the parishioners and to the seminarians. Sometimes he told me something. He said who he was in the prison cell with, how the prisoners respected him knowing that he had been innocently sentenced. They asked him to hear their stories and confessions. They warned him against those who were 'collaborators'.
However, I would like to tell one moving story. The prisoners decided to give Fr Sowula a unique gift: a rosary made of prison bread. When he received the rosary the guards found the carefully hidden gift and then, making fun of the rosary and the priest told him to offer ransom for every bead. The priest shut his mouth, he was a prisoner, and stood like Christ before his verdict. One guard could not hide his irritation; he threw the rosary on the floor and treaded on it. Did he really destroy the rosary? Did he destroy faith? Who was victorious? When the priest was telling about that he began crying.
But the Divine Providence demanded a more painful experience from him. A few years elapsed and the Security Services were not lazy. The priest could not be a hero-martyr. Accusation and slander were spread among his parishioners. Even those who once signed a petition to free the priest believed the accusation. How perverse were the actions of those who believed that Communism was god and that Communism would last forever. People signed a letter to the bishop to move him from the parish of Brzeznica. He was moved to the parish of Osjakow for several years. I visited him there, he did not accuse anyone and he did not complain about anything.

Most of all - justice

How many noble priests did Poland give to the Church, to the world! I appeal to all those who do not only declare that they want to get to know the truth, who seek it, want to show the people of the Church in the truth to remind us of the figures of the stout-hearted priests. They cannot be judged only on the basis of the IPN files. Justice demands us to examine all available sources, to ask those who are still alive, to ask authentic, not false, witnesses, to look at the circumstances and places of the incriminating events. The Polish clergy are the people who are the foundations of the fight for Poland's freedom. These are martyrs of the fight for justice and respect for man. It is the clergy that are in the first row of those who offered their minds and hearts as well as lives for freeing Poland from the Communist occupation.
All those who enjoy freedom should realise that it was born on sacrifices and suffering of many Poles, including priests, so 'Do not destroy the past of altars!'

"Niedziela" 17/2007

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: