The head of Poland's Roman Catholic Church today rejected accusations of illegal activity leveled against a slain pro-Solidarity priest and other clerics, saying the government had presented no proof to back up its allegations.
The remarks by Cardinal Jozef Glemp, at a rare meeting with the press, came amid a rise in official attacks on clerics said to be engaged in antisocialist activity and on church leaders accused of being overly tolerant of such behavior.
The criticisms by officials -- including a warning from the religious affairs minister that radical priests will be jailed from now on -- have generated renewed tension in Polish church-state relations -- which often are a barometer of the country's overall political stability.
Glemp, who in 3 1/2 years as primate of Poland has tended to avoid the press, said he had decided to meet with western reporters today in connection with a planned trip to Britain. But the visit is not scheduled to start until Feb. 21 and the press conference seemed timed rather to respond to the government's propaganda offensive and the end last week of the trial of the murderers of the Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko.
Glemp, talking to reporters in an ornate room at his central Warsaw residence, accused Polish authorities of trying to use the trial to judge Popieluszko and the attitudes of the Polish church.
"There was an attempt to hold a trial of Father Popieluszko, not in a formal manner, but through the means of propaganda," Glemp said. He said the government had offered nothing to support its claims that Popieluszko acted against the law and national accord.
"It is alleged that Popieluszko was an obstacle on the road of agreement. I don't think this was the case," Glemp said, characterizing the priest's sermons as being "within the limits of theological correctness." He added that the church is preparing to study Popieluszko's teachings and attitudes -- presumably in response to calls for his canonization.
Four secret police agents were convicted after a 25-day trial of instigating or carrying out the killing and were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 14 to 25 years.
Glemp also denied testimony by a police general at the trial that a decision had been reached in church councils before Popieluszko died to transfer the outspoken priest to Rome to study.
"I had talks with Popieluszko but there was never a decision made about his going abroad," Glemp said. "Yes, there were suggestions from very serious people who were aware of the danger Popieluszko was in. They wanted to send him away from this danger. But Popieluszko was so attached to people. He had a charisma that drew people to him."
Glemp said Popieluszko had left it to him to decide whether the priest should change his parish. "Had I made a decision, he would have accepted it," Glemp said. "But we know how disadvantageous that would have been considering the pressure he and the church were under. That is why he stayed where he was."
The attacks on Popieluszko at the trial were widely seen as an awkward attempt by the government to balance its humiliation at seeing several of its secret agents prosecuted and a part of the Interior Ministry exposed. But many Poles now say the authorities overdid the criticism of the slain priest, undermining whatever credibility the government might have gained by holding the trial. Many took particular offense at summary remarks by the prosecutor, who accused Popieluszko of fomenting hatred and provoking his own death by his alleged political extremism.
The Cabinet, in a statement Friday, denied that a "new phase of tensions in church-state relations" had been unleashed by the authorities, saying such views are being spread by "antisocialist forces and their foreign promoters."
But the minister for religious affairs, Adam Lopatka, acknowledged that day in an interview with western reporters: "We have stopped keeping quiet. We have started to speak out about various irregularities that exist within the church."
He added: "The error of the authorities consisted in the fact that Popieluszko was not imprisoned long ago when he deserved it. We do not want to allow a situation in which various extremisms are translated into criminal activities. If there is a priest who deserves it, he will certainly be arrested."
On the subject of priests and politics, Glemp said he was opposed to clerics getting involved in "pure politics, in a direct way" and would not condone illegal activity by priests. But, he added, "we do not see any evidence of the law being violated" by clergymen.
Commenting on the recent wave of antichurch statements in the state-controlled press, Glemp said they are "not a frontal attack but rather local pinpricks" reflecting the "ideological struggle" by the Communist rulers against the Catholic Church, to which about 90 percent of Poland's population belongs.