Slovak bishops support Archbishop Sokol

THE PERMANENT council of Slovakia's Catholic Bishops' Conference (KBS) has come to the defence of Archbishop Ján Sokol of the Bratislava-Trnava diocese.

THE PERMANENT council of Slovakia's Catholic Bishops' Conference (KBS) has come to the defence of Archbishop Ján Sokol of the Bratislava-Trnava diocese.

According to documents recently published by the Nation's Memory Institute (ÚPN), Sokol received gifts from the communist secret service (ŠtB) at least six times. The highest valued gift came to Kčs3,000, which was worth a higher-than-average salary at the time.

The KBS council's official position reads: "The permanent council of the Slovakia's Catholic Bishop's Conference declares that it has no reason... not to believe Ján Sokol."

The council also stressed that as a Catholic official, Archbishop Sokol held important and sensitive information during the time of communism which could have gravely threatened the work of the underground Catholic Church. "Monsignor Sokol never disclosed any of this information to the ŠtB. On the contrary, his activities at that time were considered to be against the state," read the declaration that Jozef Kováčik, the spokesperson for the KBS provided to the media on March 7.

In addition, Archbishop Sokol wrote a letter to Pope Benedict XVI on March 7 addressing the media attacks against him that claim he collaborated with the ŠtB. According to the KBS council, he also assured the Pope that he "never did any harm to the Church with his behaviour, that he has always been faithful to it, and always intends to be".

According to documents that the ÚPN recently requested from the Czech Interior Ministry in Prague, Archbishop Sokol repeatedly visited a "safe house" where he passed on information to an ŠtB official.

The ÚPN managed to gradually restore Archbishop Sokol's file, which had already been disposed of and allegedly comes to about 300 pages. ÚPN employees were able to accomplish this after having found mention of Archbishop Sokol in other files and also through some of the ŠtB's financial records.

According to the file concerning the "Zora" safe house on Budovateľská Street in Bratislava, Archbishop Sokol repeatedly visited this flat as a confidant nicknamed Špirituál from April 7, 1979 until January 14, 1986. According to the files concerning the "Otex" safe house on Malinovského Street in Bratislava, today's Šancová Street, Sokol met with ŠtB agents in the flat several times between January 1989 and October 1989, which was after he became archbishop in July 1989.

Archbishop Sokol, according to ÚPN documents, received gifts from the ŠtB at least six times. It was recorded that on November 1984 he was given a gift valuing Kčs350 and the next three times he visited he received gifts of similar value. In December 1987, his gift was recorded as being worth Kčs1,000 and in June 1988, Kčs3,000.

It is not clear from the documents if all the gifts were cash or some of presents, but investigators have said that it was probably cash.

"Based on the fact that the sum is rounded off, I think we can say that in this case it was a financial reward," said ÚPN archivist Radoslav Ragač on March 1 for the TV channel Markíza.

The spokesman of the Archbishop's Office in Trnava, Tibor Hajdu, immediately reassured the Slovak public that Archbishop Sokol did not cooperate with the secret service and that he was forced to attend the meetings.

"A citation or a forced visit do not equal collaboration. These claims are not true. There is no signature from the Archbishop on these records," he said.

The Archbishop admitted at the end of February that he met ŠtB agents, but at the same time claimed that these meetings were forced. He said that even though he went, he tried to protect the interests of church and to distract the agents by speaking about unimportant issues.

The published ŠtB documents imply that he told his contact that he agreed with the crackdown on the demonstration commemorating the anniversary of death of Jan Palach, who burnt himself to death as a protest against the Soviet Army's occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1969.

He was also reported to have said that he did not understand why Cardinal Tomášek wrote a letter to the government condemning the crackdown. He also described his visit to the Vatican and the fact that he met with a Slovak priest, Milan Bubák, who had left Czechoslovakia after joining a religious community that was illegal at the time. He was also reported to have explained what Cardinal Korec's powers were and who had been nominated for the post of bishop.

The KBS council is made up of its president, Bishop František Tondra of Spiš, vice-president, Bishop Viliam Judák of Nitra, secretary general, Auxiliary Bishop Marián Chovanec of Nitra, and two elected members - Bishop Rudolf Baláž of Banská Bystrica and Archbishop Sokol, who did not take part in the meeting as he was recovering from surgery.

Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus of Warsaw resigned after the Polish daily, Gazeta Wyborcza, wrote that he had collaborated with the Polish communist secret service.

"After deep inner consideration and having appraised my personal situation, I have given my resignation from the post of Archbishop of Warsaw into the hands of Pope," Wielgus announced on the day that he was supposed to be officially installed as Archbishop of Warsaw.

There has also been a lot of public discussion in Poland that suggests that the Vatican's nuncio in Slovakia, Henryk József Nowacki, also collaborated with the communist secret police. Nowacki has not commented on issue and the Vatican has supported his innocence.

Archbishop Sokol also met with public outrage last December when he said during a television interview that he sympathises with Slovakia's fascist state that existed during the Second World War and with its President Jozef Tiso.

"I respect President Tiso," he said. "I respect him very much because I remember that as a child we were very poor, but when he was there, we had class. There was prosperity here. We had everything we needed, even though it was a time of war."

Archbishop Sokol was criticised heavily for these comments as well, as Tiso's Slovak Republic had been a Nazi-puppet state, which deported about 70,000 Slovak Jews to their deaths in concentration camps.

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