Death of the Polish cardinal who stood at a turning point of history


Józef Glemp, priest,

18 December 1929 - 23 January 2013

Cardinal  Józef Glemp, the spiritual leader of Poland’s Roman Catholics for 25 years, who helped steer his nation through a historic and relatively peaceful transition from Communism to democracy in 1989, but who was dogged by allegations of anti-Semitism, died last monthin Warsaw. He was 83.

Józef Kloch, a church spokesman, announced the death. The Polish news agency PAP said Cardinal Glemp had lung cancer.

For a thousand years, the church has been a repository of nationhood in overwhelmingly Catholic Poland, and for decades Cardinal Glemp, as the archbishop of Warsaw and Gniezno and the primate of Poland, was both mediator and power broker in the struggle between the Communist government and the resistance led by the Solidarity labor union.

His approach was nonconfrontational, urging calm when the government declared martial law in 1981 and even when State security officers murdered a popular dissident priest, the Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko, in 1984.

Through repeated crises, Cardinal Glemp was an ally, though a fitful one, of the Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, and a hostile but pragmatic and useful intermediary for Warsaw’s Communist leader, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski.

Cardinal Glemp was named primate by his countryman Pope John Paul II in 1981, becoming the representative of 34 million Catholics, about 95 percent of the population. (He became a cardinal in 1983.) But he disappointed Poles who wanted a national savior to fight Communism with the dynamism of his predecessor, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski.

Unlike Cardinal Wyszynski, a thundering autocrat, Cardinal Glemp was a quiet, unprepossessing man with a homespun modesty strangely becoming in the ornate splendor of great cathedrals and his palatial Warsaw residence. He listened to subordinates, strived for consensus and sometimes appeared indecisive.

Though criticized by priests and laity who supported the outlawed Solidarity, Cardinal Glemp insisted that his mission was the preservation of the church, not the overthrow of Communist rule. He opposed violence and general strikes, urged restraint by the government, and conferred with both sides to ease tensions as Soviet communism and the walls dividing Eastern and Western Europe crumbled.

In 1988, when labor unrest shook Poland, Cardinal Glemp named Tadeusz Mazowiecki, his close associate and a Solidarity adviser, to mediate the peace and pave the way for talks on political reforms and national elections. In 1989, the cardinal was a voice in Mr. Mazowiecki’s selection as Poland’s first non-Communist prime minister since the 1940s.

He burnished his standing by accompanying John Paul during his pilgrimages to Poland. After the democratic transition, he backed Mr Walesa’s successful presidential campaign in 1990, but his support was less helpful in 1995, when Mr Walesa lost to a former Communist, Aleksander Kwasniewski, whom the cardinal called a ‘neopagan…’

Full obituary in The New York Times:

Wikipedia on Cardinal Glemp:

Obituary in The Guardian:

Obituary in The Telegraph:

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