WARSAW -- In 1984, Polish government agents kidnapped Father Jerzy Popieluszko, beat him to death and tossed his mutilated body into a reservoir. Four men are serving prison sentences for the murder of the priest, known to his parishioners as Father Jerzy. But others are believed to be involved. A quiet reopening of the investigation now threatens to force the resignation of Poland's president Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, on whose watch Father Jerzy was murdered.
Lech Walesa, the father of Solidarity, is one who wants answers. In an interview in his office in Gdansk, he first told us that he was not pushing to arrest Communist Polish officials for their sins of the past. But later in the interview, we asked about the murder of Father Jerzy. Walesa's eyes filled with tears. "He was my friend," Walesa said.
Should anyone else be held accountable for his death? "Of course, we can't bring Father Jerzy back to life," Walesa said, "but a good explanation of the facts is in everybody's interest."
Not everybody's. If there are high government officials still in power who ordered Father Jerzy's murder, or didn't do anything to stop it or tried to cover up the facts, Poland is in no mood to show mercy.
The fact that Walesa won't let Father Jerzy's murder be forgotten is further proof of the growing rift between him and the prime minister he handpicked, Tadeusz Mazowiecki. Walesa believes that top Communists from the old Poland, especially Jaruzelski, have no place in the new government. Mazowiecki thinks they can be rehabilitated.
We asked Mazowiecki if he thinks Jaruzelski was involved. "We should leave history to judge," he told us, and added that history will also show that the top Communists allowed a peaceful transfer of power when Poland was ready to shake off communism.
No amount of peaceful acquiescence will help Jaruzelski if he is linked to the murder.
When other clergymen refused to get involved, Father Jerzy celebrated a regular mass for striking Polish workers, listened to their complaints and let his office become the Warsaw headquarters for Solidarity.
Along the way he became Poland's most popular priest and a favorite of the Polish-born Pope John Paul II. He also became a target for the Fourth Department of the SB, the Polish security service.
Father Jerzy thought the worst that could happen to him would be a one-way ticket to Siberia. But he was wrong. In 1982, SB agents threw a bomb into his house, but he escaped injury. Jaruzelski said nothing.
In late 1983, Father Jerzy was arrested for "insurrection." Jaruzelski acquiesced in the frame-up, and Poland's Cardinal Glemp waffled about protecting his priest until Glemp got a secret message from the pope: "Defend Father Jerzy -- or they'll start finding weapons in the desk of every second bishop."
The harassment continued. In late September 1984, SB officials decided Father Jerzy either had to be pushed from a train, have a "beautiful traffic accident" or be tortured to death, according to court testimony after his murder.
On Oct. 13, 1984, Father Jerzy's car was run off the road by a Fiat driven by SB Capt. Grzegorz Piotrowski. The priest was kidnapped, and for 11 days, anguished Poles awaited news of him. Then his body -- unrecognizable except for a birthmark -- was found in a reservoir. A quarter of a million people showed up for his funeral.
Jaruzelski was forced to find scapegoats. He coughed up three murderers and their SB superior. But the buck stopped there, according to Jaruzelski.
Our intelligence sources in Poland do not believe it. Jaruzelski had presided over a far-reaching anti-church campaign. At least two other priests died mysteriously. And Jaruzelski created the climate that allowed the SB to persecute and kill Father Jerzy.