Polish Catholic nuns withstood secret police

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Polish nuns withstood pressure from communist secret police better than male clergy, according to research by the country's women religious orders.

Nuns who researched Interior Ministry files found that no more than 30 people associated with women religious had been recruited by secret police during the 1980s, when collaborators were most active, said Mother Jolanta Olech, a member of the Ursuline Sisters of the Sacred Heart of the Agonized Jesus and president of Poland's Conference of Superiors of Female Religious Orders.

"Even the 30 informers we know about could include laypeople who worked in convents, as well as priests who came as chaplains and are noted as agents," Mother Jolanta said.

The communist secret police "tried to catch anyone of importance: superiors, catechists, sisters working for church institutions, even nuns from closed orders who seldom left their convents," Mother Jolanta said. "But they didn't succeed.

"Overall, nuns probably weren't as interesting ... as priests – we don't hold high positions in the church or have the same possibilities," she said. "But the documentation shows nuns were much tougher to recruit than priests. We can certainly say that, in this very difficult situation, the sisters passed the test."

At least 10 percent of priests are estimated to have acted as informers under communist rule, which lasted in Poland from 1947 to 1989, according to the official National Remembrance Institute.

Most of the country's 44 dioceses and at least 30 religious orders have set up commissions to investigate possible collaboration following the early January resignation of Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus of Warsaw after he admitted to working with communist secret police. Some Catholics have criticized the commissions because they are staffed by clergy and have not said when they would publish their findings.

Mother Jolanta said the secret police showed most interest in larger orders.

Police "were interested in absolutely everything, from the color of someone's stockings and what they ate for breakfast, to really important things such as attitudes to the Second Vatican Council," she said. "Their aim was to collect lots of little stones and form a mosaic."

A Polish church historian, Jan Zaryn, told the Gazeta Wyborcza daily Feb. 7 religious sisters were harder to blackmail than male clergy because of their stronger rules and traditions of obedience.

He added that unsuccessful efforts were made to force nuns to place bugs in local rectories or to accuse priests of sexual harassment.

Read entire article at Catholic News Service