Two senior officials in the Ministry of Internal Affairs have been arrested in connection with the death of the Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko, the government announced tonight, and the head of the ministry's department that monitors religious activities has been suspended from his duties.
Arrested were officers identified only as Col. Adam P., who serves in Platek's department, and Lt. Col. Leszek W., head of an unspecified section in the Warsaw militia. Zenon Platek, a brigadier general in the ministry, was suspended for failing to exercise proper supervision.
The officials are the highest ranking to be implicated so far in an affair that has plunged the government of Polish leader Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski into its most difficult test since the declaration of martial law nearly three years ago.
Three officers in the secret police -- a captain and two lieutenants -- who also report to Platek already have been charged with Popieluszko's kidnaping Oct. 19 and are expected to be accused formally of his murder soon. The cleric's corpse was pulled from a reservoir in Wloclawek Tuesday.
By acting swiftly to counter what is now generally seen as a calculated internal challenge to his authority, Jaruzelski appears anxious to limit the damage done and reinforce his own position. Few suspect that the plot against Popieluszko, one of Poland's best known militant priests, was limited to a few security officers.
Church leaders and a number of top opposition activists have accepted the government's portrayal of the attack as a political provocation by a hard-line faction to disturb Jaruzelski's accommodation with the church, embarrass him as he was beginning to mend ties with the West, and generally weaken his standing. How deep in the party and security apparatus the conspiracy went is still open to conjecture.
The Central Committee of Poland's United Workers Party ordered a review of party problems last weekend and specifically of the supervision of the security services. Western diplomats here have taken this as a slap at Miroslaw Milewski, a Politburo member and the party secretary responsible for security, a man identified with the hard-line wing.
Polish authorities appear to be operating on the assumption that there was no Soviet involvement in the attack, though the Soviet newspaper Izvestia denounced Popieluszko in a Sept. 11 article. In its first report Thursday of the priest's death, the Soviet news agency Tass endorsed Warsaw's view of the crime as a political provocation to disrupt calm in Poland. It did not mention that police officials were responsible.
The question confronting Polish leaders is how far to purge to reestablish control and recover credibility, while keeping the security services in working order.
"It is not really plausible in our system that several low- or middle-level security officials would have conceived the whole plan," said a veteran Polish journalist. "The question now is, will Jaruzelski go for a killing and get rid of the hardliners, or will he waver and go again for some kind of compromise?"
Opposition activists have warned that if the general balks, workers may turn violent. So far, Solidarity founder Lech Walesa has called for calm, though some of his former associates are pushing for protest strikes. Just in case of trouble, Polish authorities have introduced emergency judicial procedures in nine cities -- among them, Warsaw, Gdansk and Wroclaw -- for misdemeanors arising out of street demonstrations.
Walesa has also urged that the Popieluszko tragedy be turned into a new start toward reconciliation among the communist authorities, the opposition and the church.
Tonight the government moved quickly to thwart the planned formation of new committees to monitor civil rights abuses. The first such group was announced in Wroclaw this week by 24 workers and intellectuals who said they expected similar organizations to sprout in other Polish cities.
Government spokesman Jerzy Urban, in a statement carried by the Polish press agency, declared, "We rule out the legal or semilegal existence of such self-styled organizations." He accused members of the now defunct Workers Defense Committee, an intellectual dissidents' group formed in 1976 that became a forerunner of Solidarity, of trying to resurrect their group. "These are attempts to politically prey on the tragic death of Father Jerzy Popieluszko," he said.
The committee's leaders were temporarily jailed after Solidarity was crushed and charged with attempting to overthrow the state by force.
"Popieluszko's death was not simply a matter of a few ministry officials going crazy," said Zbigniew Romaszewski, a former Workers Defense Committee leader. "This had a political and psychological background. When functionaries see they are not punished for criminal or political deeds, they feel free to take the law into their own hands."
The Polish government Friday refused Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's (D-Mass.) request for a visa to attend Saturday's funeral for Popieluszko, Reuter reported from Boston Friday, quoting a spokesman for the senator.
"The reason given by the Polish government was that allegedly no foreign delegations are to attend the funeral," the spokesman said. Kennedy had requested the visa because "he just felt it was important to show concern for that tragedy over there."