The Church and the Communists - new allegations from the archives

In the 1950's the communist regimes of Central and Eastern Europe saw the Church as a threat, the result was many priests spending time in jail. For many believers these were martyrs but the opening of the archives of the communist era secret police is shedding new light on priests and their relationshop to the secret police. Anca Dragu reports from Bratislava on allegations a prominent Roman Catholic Archibishop cooperated with Czechoslovakia's communist era secret police.

On Wednesday the Archbishop of Bratislava and Trnava Jan Sokol claimed that he never spoke to anyone who was working for the Communist era secret police the so called Stb. His claim came in the form of a letter issued to the media more than a week after three reports- two from 1988, and another from 1987 - that researchers found recently in the archives of the Czech interior ministry in Prague indicated that he might have reported on fellow priests to the Stb. His code name was "Source Spiritual". The reports were published by a major Slovak daily.

"It is obvious that the information was provided by another person or other persons and didn't come from me. The names of the persons named in the document to whom I was supposed to have given the information are unknown to me," read Sokol's letter.

It was, however, not the first time that Sokol's name was linked to communist era secret police. In February 2005 the director of the state run institue in charge of researching the archive of the communist regime said Sokol had been listed as an StB candidate for 17 years and as a full agent as of 1989. He became the new bishop of the Trnava diocese in 1973, taking over from a predecessor, who is also listed as an agent on the StB files. Also on the files are two bishops who were appointed in the same year as Sokol. The three of them were the first new bishops since 1949 to obtain the necessary agreement from the Communist regime. Sokol firmly denied it.

"It is well known that the Stb repeatedly tried to discreditate the Catholic Church therefore such claims belong to that type of operations."

In 2005 there were historians who questioned the accuracy of the documents found in the Slovak archive because many were incomplete. It is known that secret police agents partially destroyed the archive in November 1989 during the Velvet Revolution. The documents recently found in Prague, however, seem to leave little space for interpretation. Patrik Kosicky a researcher from the institute in charge of researching the archive explains.

"The StB always worded their reports in this manner, and it is almost certain that no other agent apart from Sokol with the code-name "source spiritual" ever existed."

The leadership of the Catholic Church had a diplomatic reaction. Its Secretary Marian Chovanec said Sokol has their full support so far.

"We will have a look at these documents to see whether they bring some new information. Otherwise we stick to our position in 2005. Only the Vatican can strip Jan Sokol of his archibishopric."

In 2005 the Slovak Catholic Church issued a statement in which it aknowledged the fact that some of its priests might have cooperated with the Stb and encouraged them to appologize to believers for the suffering their actions might have caused.