Two Roman Catholic priests in this eastern Polish city were beaten, tortured and robbed during the past few months, raising new fears for the physical safety of clerics in Poland.
News of the brutal attacks on the Revs. Eugeniusz Kosciolko and Zenon Ziomek follows the killing of the Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko, the pro-Soldiarity priest whose slaying in October has been described by government officials as a political provocation against the government as well as the church. It is being blamed on a hard-line faction in the secret police.
No evidence has surfaced yet that would confirm the Lublin assaults were similarly political crimes. Neither of the priests involved are outspoken opponents of the government, as was Popieluszko. Both were residing on the rural outskirts of Lublin, making them easy prey for any assailant.
But some priests here, along with opposition activists in the area, believe the assaults were calculated to shock the country and send a bolt of fear through the clergy.
"Without doubt, it has shocked all of us priests," said the 45-year-old Kosciolko, who said he was slashed with a bayonet, burned with a candle and robbed of 12,000 zlotys (about $100) by two masked men on the night of Nov. 19. "Many priests are asking: 'who will be next?' "
Ziomek refused to discuss the attack on him with a reporter, but details were provided by a priest who interviewed him about it.
Kosciolko, interviewed at his home next to the old, wooden church in which he ministers, said it is time that the Polish episcopate appealed to Poles to form defense squads around their parish priests. Since the attack on him, Kosciolko has been guarded at night by three-man teams of parishioners in the village of Kazimierzowska, southeast of Lublin.
"Our freedom of the priesthood may be endangered substantially if psychologically we feel we are not being defended by anyone," he said. "This fear may restrict as well the free activity of the church. Even now, priests are afraid to visit someone at night who is ill. . . . "
Adding to a climate of anxiety here was the death of Stanislaw Chac, a Solidarity leader at Lublin's large truck plant. Chac was found the night of Oct. 19 lying unconscious outside the building in downtown Lublin that had housed Solidarity's regional headquarters before the independent union was crushed three years ago. The back of his skull was bashed in. Chac never regained consciousness and died two days later.
According to Solidarity sources here, the first-aid station that sent an ambulance to pick up Chac's body had received a phone call from a person claiming to be the police calling to report the body's location. No police were at the scene when the ambulance arrived. The sources also say Chac's body showed signs of pins or needles having been driven under his fingernails.
So far, church leaders have remained publicly silent about the assaults on the Lublin priests, presumably awaiting the outcome of police investigations. No one has been charged with either attack. The first, against Ziomek, occurred the night of Sept. 25. Word of both crimes first reached western correspondents in Warsaw during the weekend through an underground Solidarity bulletin.
Twenty local priests have signed a letter to Boleslaw Pylak, bishop of Lublin, calling on him to take a decisive stand on the attacks. The letter ties the assaults with the burning of a local church last year and with phone and mailed threats said to have been received against priests.
A copy of the letter is to be delivered this week to Cardinal Jozef Glemp, the Polish primate.
A recent Polish television report said that there were about 600 church break-ins a year but police apprehended the intruders in "more than 60 percent of the cases" -- a figure "more than that for house break-ins."
What alarms some clergymen is the character of the attacks on the two priests here. From the extent of violence involved, clerics and opposition activists suspect the motivation was more than robbery.
Kosciolko said the intruders woke him and his housemaid, who was not harmed, at 2 a.m. They hit him on the head and tied him to a bed. Kosciolko said he offered to surrender all the valuables in the house. But the men tortured him nonetheless.
They slashed his back with a bayonet, poked the blade in his ear and held it against his eyes and throat, threatening to kill him, he said. They also placed a burning candle close to his eyes and slid the flame down to singe his belly.
"It was a form of psychological terror," he recalled. "They wanted to cause a nervous breakdown in me."
He said that aside from the money and a canonical necklace, they took nothing.
Church sources said Ziomek, 51, is still shaken by the attack. He has since been transferred to a city church.
Details of the assault on him were learned from a priest who interviewed him about it. According to this account, Ziomek and his 80-year-old father were surprised at 1 a.m. by two men who took money and later drove off in Ziomek's car. The intruders held a burning candle to Ziomek's fingertips at one point, and, in a final act, gathered the personal belongings of his late mother, piled them at the bound priest's feet and set the pile afire.