Archbishop in hot water over ŠtB ties

ARCHBISHOP Ján Sokol faces new charges he collaborated with the communist-era ŠtB secret police following the release of documents showing he voluntarily informed the ŠtB on church affairs and the doings of an emigrant priest he met on a trip to the Vatican.

ARCHBISHOP Ján Sokol faces new charges he collaborated with the communist-era ŠtB secret police following the release of documents showing he voluntarily informed the ŠtB on church affairs and the doings of an emigrant priest he met on a trip to the Vatican.

Coming in the wake of a claim by the Slovak Conference of Bishops that "we are not aware of any relevant information proving that Sokol was a collaborator", the documents, published by the Sme daily on February 13, are the clearest evidence yet that Sokol worked for the secret service.

The daily reports of the second division of the ŠtB station in Bratislava from 1987 and 1988 record that Sokol, then considered by the ŠtB to be a "candidate for secret cooperation", described the circumstances of his coming appointments as archbishop, and gave details on priests considered to be candidates for elevation to bishop. He also described a meeting with priest Milan Bubák in the Vatican.

Sokol's ŠtB handler gave him a code name - "Špirituál" - and recorded the information regarding Sokol's prospects in the third person.

"This was a typical conspiracy method that was often used by the ŠtB," said an expert on Central European security services who asked that his name not be used.

Until now, all that was known of Sokol's contacts with the ŠtB was that he was a candidate for secret cooperation from 1972 to July 1989, when he was given the status of ŠtB agent, two days after his appointment as the archbishop of the Bratislava-Trnava diocese.

Sokol's ŠtB file was destroyed on December 7, 1989 on the orders of the ŠtB's last communist-era director, Alojz Lorenc.

Earlier in January this year, when it was revealed that Sokol has also voluntarily informed on another fellow priest in 1981, Sokol said that "I want to state again and with a clear conscience that I never cooperated in any way with the state security service of the Czechoslovak socialist republic."

However, the security specialist told The Slovak Spectator that it was highly unusual for the ŠtB to keep someone on the books as a candidate for cooperation for 17 years. "Such people either refused to cooperate, in which case their file was closed within a year, or they performed well and were raised to the status of a secret collaborator in various categories.

"I think it is clear that Ján Sokol began working for the ŠtB long before they upgraded him to the status of an agent. The documents published in Sme prove this. They probably kept him at a lower status in order that as few people as possible knew about him, including those within the ranks of the secret police."

The Bratislava-based Nation's Memory Institute, which administers the surviving ŠtB documents and files regarding Slovakia, obtained the recent documents from an Interior Ministry archive in Prague while trying to reconstruct Sokol's ŠtB file from various sources. While the file itself was destroyed, most key information was recorded in more than one copy and filed in different locations before 1989.

According to information obtained by The Slovak Spectator, after 1979 Sokol regularly met with his ŠtB handlers (principally Ján Korbeľ and Dušan Kemény) as a secret collaborator without a specific category. Given the practices of the ŠtB at the time, he would likely have met his handlers in a secret location given that he was a well-known figure, and would likely have been paid for the information he provided.

Sokol is not the first Central European church figure to be accused of collaborating with communist secret police forces. In Warsaw, Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus resigned on January 7 before taking his oath of office following the release of documents just days before that proved he had collaborated with the Polish state security services.

However, the security expert said that such collaboration was more the exception than the rule among church figures, many of whom endured oppression and intimidation under communism.

"Most church representatives did not collaborate, but instead resisted the totalitarian regime," the source said. "This much can be ascertained from the documents kept by the secret service, most of which are accessible to the public."

Other affinities

Sokol has also recently been grilled over his apparent regard for the Nazi-puppet regime that ruled Slovakia during the Second World War under priest Jozef Tiso.

"I respect President Tiso, I really do, because as a child I remember we were very poor, but when Tiso took power we did alright," Sokol said in early January. "The country was prosperous. We lacked for nothing despite the war."

Sokol's words horrified Jewish and Roma groups, as some 70,000 Slovak Jews and Roma were sent to Nazi death camps under Tiso.

While the Conference of Slovak Bishops (KBS) defended Sokol's statements in January, by mid-February many church officials who had spoken up for him started to refuse comment. "That's someone else's job," said Bishop Rudolf Baláž of Banská Bystrica.

KBS secretary Marián Chovanec said that "Archbishop Sokol is most qualified to comment on his statements".

The Church also changed the leadership of its Council for the Interpretation of Church History recently, dismissing historian Jozef Haľko, who had vehemently defended Sokol in January.

Sokol recently underwent a hip operation and is recovering in private. Some church members expect him to resign when he returns to work.

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