WARSAW, Poland (AP) - Warsaw's new archbishop resigned Sunday over his involvement with the communist-era secret police, and the Vatican said his past actions had "gravely compromised his authority" in the Roman Catholic homeland of the late Pope John Paul II.
Stanislaw Wielgus announced his decision at the capital's St. John's Cathedral, packed with worshippers gathered for a Mass that was to have marked his formal installation. The congregation included President Lech Kaczynski.
A forlorn-looking Wielgus read from a letter to Pope Benedict XVI in which he offered his resignation "after reflecting deeply and assessing my personal situation."
Though Kaczynski and some others applauded, many in the church and a large crowd packed outside in the rain shouted, "We welcome you," "Stay with us," and "No, No!"
Dressed in a resplendent golden miter and robes, Wielgus, 67, made his brief announcement less than an hour after Poland's church said in a statement that he had resigned.
Revelations that Wielgus had contacts with the hated secret police of the communist regime, which ended in 1989, had shaken a country where many view the church as a moral authority that bravely opposed the regime.
The case, which had simmered since mid-December, expanded into a full-blown crisis on Friday when a church historical commission said it had found evidence that Wielgus had cooperated with the regime.
Wielgus initially denied that, but then issued two statements acknowledging that he did sign an agreement in 1978 promising to cooperate with the security force in exchange for permission to leave Poland to study in West Germany.
However, he stressed that he did not inform on anyone or try to hurt anyone, and he expressed remorse for both his contacts with the secret police and his failure to be forthcoming from the beginning.
The church said the pope has asked the outgoing archbishop, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, to administer the archdiocese until a replacement is found.
In place of the installation, Glemp devoted Sunday's Mass to a homily defending Wielgus. He called him "God's servant" and warned of the dangers of passing judgment based on incomplete and flawed documents left behind by the communist authorities.
"Today a judgment was passed on Bishop Wielgus," said Glemp, who is also Poland's primate.
"But what kind of judgment was it, based on some documents and shreds of paper photocopied three times over? We do not want such judgments," Glemp said to loud applause.
He said that Wielgus was intimidated and threatened into agreeing to cooperate with the communist police.
But the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the spokesman for the Vatican, said Wielgus' behavior "in past years during the communist regime in Poland gravely compromised his authority." In an interview Sunday with Vatican Radio, Lombardi added that Wielgus was right to resign "despite his humble and moving request for forgiveness."
But Lombardi said that the revelations were not necessarily motivated by a search for transparency.
"It is right to note that the case of Monsignor Wielgus is not the first, and probably won't be the last attack against a church official based on documentation from the (secret) services of the past regime," Lombardi added. "It is an endless amount of material ... and we must not forget that it was produced by officials of an oppressive and blackmailing regime."
The Vatican spokesman said the renewed push in Poland toward uncovering details of the church under communism seemed to be motivated by a wish for "revenge on the part of those who in the past persecuted (the church) and were defeated by the faith and desire for freedom of the Polish people."
John Paul's opposition to communism is credited with inspiring the rise in the 1980s of Poland's pro-democracy Solidarity movement, which helped end communist rule in 1989.
Associated Press writers Monika Scislowska in Warsaw and Maria Sanminiatelli in Rome contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.