Digging in the dirt; priests named in secret police files

FEW ORGANIZATIONS were immune to Communist infiltration, in which the overarching ideology of the day drove agents to modify each functioning cell of society.

FEW ORGANIZATIONS were immune to Communist infiltration, in which the overarching ideology of the day drove agents to modify each functioning cell of society.

Different sources suggest that before World War II broke out, thousands of Communist agents in the Soviet Union had been ordained as Catholic priests or were studying to enter the priesthood. The goal, more or less, was to form an efficient network of "anti-priests" that would infiltrate the Church and exert influence whenever possible.

In Slovakia, priests are historically perceived as having been frequent targets of Communist secret police suspicion. Slovaks are not surprised to learn that agents often pressed them to find out how fervently they believed in God and how resistant they were to the "grey religion", or Communism.

The names of Roman Catholic Archbishop Ján Sokol and General Bishop of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession (ECAV) Július Filo appeared in the recently released Bratislava files of the Communist secret police (ŠtB).

Greek Catholic Bishop Ján Hirka is also listed. However, his name was inserted into the files a week after the Velvet Revolution on November 24, 1989.

Hirka's collaboration with the red regime is certainly improbable, since he was previously recorded as an enemy of the state.

Though the above-named church officials promptly rejected having had any cooperation with the ŠtB, the files open up questions of fealty. Just how deeply did the Communist secret police penetrate the Church? How resistant were the priests?

After the names of several Catholic priests appeared in the published ŠtB files, the Conference of Slovak Bishops (KBS) issued an apology to all on behalf of those of its clergy who might have caused harm.

The KBS neither denies that some priests did, in fact, cooperate with the ŠtB nor cares to justify these individual's deeds. However, the KBS said that many "guilty" priests might have been recorded without their knowledge and thus did not consciously cooperate with the secret police.

Certainly, a question on our minds should be why didn't the KBS issue its apology earlier? Why did it wait until after the National Memory Institute disclosed the files?

The National Memory Institute has awakened many demons of the past by publishing the ŠtB files, which divulge the names of former agents as well those designated by the ŠtB as potential sources of information. Many say the publication of the files came far too late and will serve only to traumatize society instead of help it heal.

The Ecumenical Council of Churches, a group representing seven churches, called on the National Memory Institute to reveal the secret police files only to those citizens directly concerned.

Opponents continue to attack several aspects of the National Memory Institute's operation.

Ombudsman Pavel Kandráč received a complaint from a citizen claiming that his rights for the protection of personal data were violated because the files revealed his birth date in addition to his name. The ombudsman office accepted the complaint and is dealing with it.

According to Gyula Veszelei, the head of the Office for Personal Data Protection, the law is specific and gives powers to the National Memory Institute to determine the measure of personal data they would reveal in the ŠtB files.

A debate on the trustworthiness and authenticity of files also held sway. The National Memory Institute's chief, Ján Langoš, maintains the evidence in the files is credible, specifically in the case of those recorded as agents.

"Those who are recorded as agents must have given their approval to an ŠtB official. We exclude frauds or any manipulation of the evidence," Langoš said.

Lawyer Ján Čarnogurský, who himself was persecuted by the Communist regime, filed a complaint with the National Memory Institute on behalf of his client, a Catholic priest, whose name appears in the files as an ŠtB collaborator. Čarnogurský says his client never signed a document on cooperation with the secret police, although he did sign a document on secrecy.

The lawyer is confident the priest will win restitution in court, and he encourages others to sue if necessary.

On March 23, the cabinet appointee for expatriate Slovaks, Claude Baláž, tendered his resignation. His name appeared in the ŠtB files covering Bratislava.

Shortly thereafter the cabinet approved the appointment of another alleged former ŠtB agent, Dušan Podhorský, as Slovak ambassador to Kazakhstan.

The political parties' approach to former ŠtB collaborators differs. Some want to clean their ranks while others say let's not rake up the past.

One question persists: should former ŠtB collaborators hold political office in new EU member Slovakia?

By Beata Balogová

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