Monday, January 08, 2007

A Fall from Grace

What we hide in the shadows others will shout from the rooftops.

Let's remember that before we all pile-on. Nevertheless, what's happened in Poland breaks the heart:
"When Msgr. Wielgus was nominated, we knew nothing about his collaboration with the secret police," Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy, bluntly told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

This failure was all the more surprising because the nuncio to Poland, the man who coordinated the search process, is a Pole himself -- Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk -- who has been on the job since 1989 and presumably would have spotted a problem before it became a disaster.

And "disaster" is how it's viewed inside the Vatican, for several reasons:

-- Archbishop Wielgus became the highest-ranking church leader to admit that he agreed to spy for an East European communist regime, raising suspicions about the rest of the hierarchy in the eyes of the simple faithful. To many, the archbishop's qualifier that he "never inflicted any harm on anyone" seemed disingenuous.

-- The debacle was played out in public, crowned by the painfully embarrassing "installation" Mass Jan. 7 that turned into a resignation Mass. It was the first time anyone could remember that an archbishop was sent home on the day of his scheduled installation, an "emeritus" after only two days in office.

-- Pope Benedict was drawn directly into the controversy. A Vatican statement Dec. 21 expressed the pope's "full trust" in Archbishop Wielgus and "full awareness" of his past. But sources now say it appears the archbishop had not told the pope everything -- that he had admitted contacts with the secret police, but not that he had agreed to collaborate in a spying effort.

By Vatican standards, the statement by its spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, was unusually direct: "The behavior of (Archbishop) Wielgus during the years of the communist regime in Poland seriously compromised his authority, even with the faithful."

That's what the pope and his aides ultimately weighed, said one source. The discussion about accepting the resignation focused on the archbishop's authority and was not regarded as "punishment" for not telling the truth, he said.

Father Lombardi also signaled the Vatican's serious fears that this scandal may be followed by other accusations against priests and bishops in Poland, based on spurious information and motivated more by antagonism toward the church than by a search for historical truth.

The Vatican believes the documentation about "collaborationist" priests and bishops is highly suspect, because it was put together by a communist regime that specialized in blackmail, but church experts presume there's more to come.

"I think there's probably a lot more out there, and for this reason it's important to have all the facts," said one Vatican source. He said it was hoped that the Polish Catholic Church Historical Commission, launched late last year by the Polish bishops' conference, can examine the information and present it in a balanced way.

It was the same historical commission that helped seal Archbishop Wielgus' fate when it disclosed Jan. 5 that substantial documents confirmed his willingness to secretly cooperate with communist security forces.
The Poles deserve better. The Catholic Church in Poland deserves better. Nevertheless, my heart also breaks for Archbishop Wielgus. He's lived each and every day knowing he betrayed his commission as a successor to the Apostles. He became a shepherd that pastured himself on the Master's sheep. Now, his sin and episcopal crime has attracted the world's attention.

But before we all rend our garments and watch for the last saint to fall, let's remember the obvious: All of the Apostles betrayed the Lord.

Judas sold Christ for thirty pieces of silver.

Peter denied the Lord three times.

All except John abandoned him at the Cross.

Christ lives, nevertheless. The Church carried on, nonetheless. Where we fail the dictates of our conscience, the Holy Spirit moves to strengthen us to rise once more. Where sin abounds, Grace abounds all the more.

The Nihil would love nothing more than for Catholic Poland to completely abandon her fidelity to the Church. Archbishop Wielgus' collaboration with Communist Poland's Gestapo may discourage Catholic Poles from persevering in their Faith. But the Holy Spirit isn't finished with any of us, including the Poles. God still enjoys the victory, however messy the mop-up may become.

Let's put down our stones and pick up our shattered hearts. There but by the Grace of God we go. The more we remember, the less likely we'll be to fall--in public or not.

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