IN OTHER WORDS: Hard lesson

The stunning resignation of Warsaw’s new archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus on Sunday, after Vatican authorities verified documents showing he collaborated for 22 years with the communist secret police, illustrated a truth well-known to people in Poland and other former Soviet bloc countries. They know that tentacles of the communist era are twitching still in politics and private life. They have no illusions about an abrupt end of history. Two independent commissions confirmed that Wielgus was a informant for the communist security services that murdered the fiercely anti communist priest, Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko, in 1984.

Each country of the former Soviet bloc had its own way of trying to ensure a clean break with its past. The laws passed for this purpose were called lustration laws. In the Czech Republic, they were meant less to achieve truth and reconciliation than to make certain that communist functionaries and collaborators would be excluded from the new democratic governments and security services. Nowhere has the lustration, or screening, process been completely satisfactory. It takes decades to escape from the long shadows of a police state. This is a lesson that even Poland’s Catholic Church — the institution that most steadfastly resisted the communist reign — is still learning.