Wednesday, January 24, 2007

State of the Union address

State of the Union address

23 January 2007

Thank you very much. And tonight, I have a high privilege and distinct honor of my own -- as the first President to begin the State of the Union message with these words: Madam Speaker. (Applause.)
In his day, the late Congressman Thomas D'Alesandro, Jr. from Baltimore, Maryland, saw Presidents Roosevelt and Truman at this rostrum. But nothing could compare with the sight of his only daughter, Nancy, presiding tonight as Speaker of the House of Representatives. (Applause.) Congratulations, Madam Speaker. (Applause.) Two members of the House and Senate are not with us tonight, and we pray for the recovery and speedy return of Senator Tim Johnson and Congressman Charlie Norwood. (Applause.)
Madam Speaker, Vice President Cheney, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens: The rite of custom brings us together at a defining hour -- when decisions are hard and courage is needed. We enter the year 2007 with large endeavors underway, and others that are ours to begin. In all of this, much is asked of us. We must have the will to face difficult challenges and determined enemies -- and the wisdom to face them together.
Some in this chamber are new to the House and the Senate -- and I congratulate the Democrat majority. (Applause.) Congress has changed, but not our responsibilities. Each of us is guided by our own convictions -- and to these we must stay faithful. Yet we're all held to the same standards, and called to serve the same good purposes: To extend this nation's prosperity; to spend the people's money wisely; to solve problems, not leave them to future generations; to guard America against all evil; and to keep faith with those we have sent forth to defend us. (Applause.)
We're not the first to come here with a government divided and uncertainty in the air. Like many before us, we can work through our differences, and achieve big things for the American people. Our citizens don't much care which side of the aisle we sit on -- as long as we're willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done. (Applause.) Our job is to make life better for our fellow Americans, and to help them to build a future of hope and opportunity -- and this is the business before us tonight.
A future of hope and opportunity begins with a growing economy -- and that is what we have. We're now in the 41st month of uninterrupted job growth, in a recovery that has created 7.2 million new jobs -- so far. Unemployment is low, inflation is low, and wages are rising. This economy is on the move, and our job is to keep it that way, not with more government, but with more enterprise. (Applause.)
Next week, I'll deliver a full report on the state of our economy. Tonight, I want to discuss three economic reforms that deserve to be priorities for this Congress.
First, we must balance the federal budget. (Applause.) We can do so without raising taxes. (Applause.) What we need is impose spending discipline in Washington, D.C. We set a goal of cutting the deficit in half by 2009, and met that goal three years ahead of schedule. (Applause.) Now let us take the next step. In the coming weeks, I will submit a budget that eliminates the federal deficit within the next five years. (Applause.) I ask you to make the same commitment. Together, we can restrain the spending appetite of the federal government, and we can balance the federal budget. (Applause.)
Next, there is the matter of earmarks. These special interest items are often slipped into bills at the last hour -- when not even C-SPAN is watching. (Laughter.) In 2005 alone, the number of earmarks grew to over 13,000 and totaled nearly $18 billion. Even worse, over 90 percent of earmarks never make it to the floor of the House and Senate -- they are dropped into committee reports that are not even part of the bill that arrives on my desk. You didn't vote them into law. I didn't sign them into law. Yet, they're treated as if they have the force of law. The time has come to end this practice. So let us work together to reform the budget process, expose every earmark to the light of day and to a vote in Congress, and cut the number and cost of earmarks at least in half by the end of this session. (Applause.)
And, finally, to keep this economy strong we must take on the challenge of entitlements. Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid are commitments of conscience, and so it is our duty to keep them permanently sound. Yet, we're failing in that duty. And this failure will one day leave our children with three bad options: huge tax increases, huge deficits, or huge and immediate cuts in benefits. Everyone in this chamber knows this to be true -- yet somehow we have not found it in ourselves to act. So let us work together and do it now. With enough good sense and goodwill, you and I can fix Medicare and Medicaid -- and save Social Security. (Applause.)
Spreading opportunity and hope in America also requires public schools that give children the knowledge and character they need in life. Five years ago, we rose above partisan differences to pass the No Child Left Behind Act, preserving local control, raising standards, and holding those schools accountable for results. And because we acted, students are performing better in reading and math, and minority students are closing the achievement gap.
Now the task is to build on the success, without watering down standards, without taking control from local communities, and without backsliding and calling it reform. We can lift student achievement even higher by giving local leaders flexibility to turn around failing schools, and by giving families with children stuck in failing schools the right to choose someplace better. (Applause.) We must increase funds for students who struggle -- and make sure these children get the special help they need. (Applause.) And we can make sure our children are prepared for the jobs of the future and our country is more competitive by strengthening math and science skills. The No Child Left Behind Act has worked for America's children -- and I ask Congress to reauthorize this good law. (Applause.)
A future of hope and opportunity requires that all our citizens have affordable and available health care. (Applause.) When it comes to health care, government has an obligation to care for the elderly, the disabled, and poor children. And we will meet those responsibilities. For all other Americans, private health insurance is the best way to meet their needs. (Applause.) But many Americans cannot afford a health insurance policy.
And so tonight, I propose two new initiatives to help more Americans afford their own insurance. First, I propose a standard tax deduction for health insurance that will be like the standard tax deduction for dependents. Families with health insurance will pay no income on payroll tax -- or payroll taxes on $15,000 of their income. Single Americans with health insurance will pay no income or payroll taxes on $7,500 of their income. With this reform, more than 100 million men, women, and children who are now covered by employer-provided insurance will benefit from lower tax bills. At the same time, this reform will level the playing field for those who do not get health insurance through their job. For Americans who now purchase health insurance on their own, this proposal would mean a substantial tax savings -- $4,500 for a family of four making $60,000 a year. And for the millions of other Americans who have no health insurance at all, this deduction would help put a basic private health insurance plan within their reach. Changing the tax code is a vital and necessary step to making health care affordable for more Americans. (Applause.)
My second proposal is to help the states that are coming up with innovative ways to cover the uninsured. States that make basic private health insurance available to all their citizens should receive federal funds to help them provide this coverage to the poor and the sick. I have asked the Secretary of Health and Human Services to work with Congress to take existing federal funds and use them to create "Affordable Choices" grants. These grants would give our nation's governors more money and more flexibility to get private health insurance to those most in need.
There are many other ways that Congress can help. We need to expand Health Savings Accounts. (Applause.) We need to help small businesses through Association Health Plans. (Applause.) We need to reduce costs and medical errors with better information technology. (Applause.) We will encourage price transparency. And to protect good doctors from junk lawsuits, we passing medical liability reform. (Applause.) In all we do, we must remember that the best health care decisions are made not by government and insurance companies, but by patients and their doctors. (Applause.)
Extending hope and opportunity in our country requires an immigration system worthy of America -- with laws that are fair and borders that are secure. When laws and borders are routinely violated, this harms the interests of our country. To secure our border, we're doubling the size of the Border Patrol, and funding new infrastructure and technology.
Yet even with all these steps, we cannot fully secure the border unless we take pressure off the border -- and that requires a temporary worker program. We should establish a legal and orderly path for foreign workers to enter our country to work on a temporary basis. As a result, they won't have to try to sneak in, and that will leave Border Agents free to chase down drug smugglers and criminals and terrorists. (Applause.) We'll enforce our immigration laws at the work site and give employers the tools to verify the legal status of their workers, so there's no excuse left for violating the law. (Applause.)
We need to uphold the great tradition of the melting pot that welcomes and assimilates new arrivals. (Applause.) We need to resolve the status of the illegal immigrants who are already in our country without animosity and without amnesty. (Applause.) Convictions run deep in this Capitol when it comes to immigration. Let us have a serious, civil, and conclusive debate, so that you can pass, and I can sign, comprehensive immigration reform into law. (Applause.)
Extending hope and opportunity depends on a stable supply of energy that keeps America's economy running and America's environment clean. For too long our nation has been dependent on foreign oil. And this dependence leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes, and to terrorists -- who could cause huge disruptions of oil shipments, and raise the price of oil, and do great harm to our economy.
It's in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply -- the way forward is through technology. We must continue changing the way America generates electric power, by even greater use of clean coal technology, solar and wind energy, and clean, safe nuclear power. (Applause.) We need to press on with battery research for plug-in and hybrid vehicles, and expand the use of clean diesel vehicles and biodiesel fuel. (Applause.) We must continue investing in new methods of producing ethanol -- (applause) -- using everything from wood chips to grasses, to agricultural wastes.
We made a lot of progress, thanks to good policies here in Washington and the strong response of the market. And now even more dramatic advances are within reach. Tonight, I ask Congress to join me in pursuing a great goal. Let us build on the work we've done and reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 percent in the next 10 years. (Applause.) When we do that we will have cut our total imports by the equivalent of three-quarters of all the oil we now import from the Middle East.
To reach this goal, we must increase the supply of alternative fuels, by setting a mandatory fuels standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017 -- and that is nearly five times the current target. (Applause.) At the same time, we need to reform and modernize fuel economy standards for cars the way we did for light trucks -- and conserve up to 8.5 billion more gallons of gasoline by 2017.
Achieving these ambitious goals will dramatically reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but it's not going to eliminate it. And so as we continue to diversify our fuel supply, we must step up domestic oil production in environmentally sensitive ways. (Applause.) And to further protect America against severe disruptions to our oil supply, I ask Congress to double the current capacity of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. (Applause.)
America is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that will enable us to live our lives less dependent on oil. And these technologies will help us be better stewards of the environment, and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change. (Applause.)
A future of hope and opportunity requires a fair, impartial system of justice. The lives of our citizens across our nation are affected by the outcome of cases pending in our federal courts. We have a shared obligation to ensure that the federal courts have enough judges to hear those cases and deliver timely rulings. As President, I have a duty to nominate qualified men and women to vacancies on the federal bench. And the United States Senate has a duty, as well, to give those nominees a fair hearing, and a prompt up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. (Applause.)

For all of us in this room, there is no higher responsibility than to protect the people of this country from danger. Five years have come and gone since we saw the scenes and felt the sorrow that the terrorists can cause. We've had time to take stock of our situation. We've added many critical protections to guard the homeland. We know with certainty that the horrors of that September morning were just a glimpse of what the terrorists intend for us -- unless we stop them.
With the distance of time, we find ourselves debating the causes of conflict and the course we have followed. Such debates are essential when a great democracy faces great questions. Yet one question has surely been settled: that to win the war on terror we must take the fight to the enemy. (Applause.)
From the start, America and our allies have protected our people by staying on the offense. The enemy knows that the days of comfortable sanctuary, easy movement, steady financing, and free flowing communications are long over. For the terrorists, life since 9/11 has never been the same.
Our success in this war is often measured by the things that did not happen. We cannot know the full extent of the attacks that we and our allies have prevented, but here is some of what we do know: We stopped an al Qaeda plot to fly a hijacked airplane into the tallest building on the West Coast. We broke up a Southeast Asian terror cell grooming operatives for attacks inside the United States. We uncovered an al Qaeda cell developing anthrax to be used in attacks against America. And just last August, British authorities uncovered a plot to blow up passenger planes bound for America over the Atlantic Ocean. For each life saved, we owe a debt of gratitude to the brave public servants who devote their lives to finding the terrorists and stopping them. (Applause.)
Every success against the terrorists is a reminder of the shoreless ambitions of this enemy. The evil that inspired and rejoiced in 9/11 is still at work in the world. And so long as that's the case, America is still a nation at war.
In the mind of the terrorist, this war began well before September the 11th, and will not end until their radical vision is fulfilled. And these past five years have given us a much clearer view of the nature of this enemy. Al Qaeda and its followers are Sunni extremists, possessed by hatred and commanded by a harsh and narrow ideology. Take almost any principle of civilization, and their goal is the opposite. They preach with threats, instruct with bullets and bombs, and promise paradise for the murder of the innocent.
Our enemies are quite explicit about their intentions. They want to overthrow moderate governments, and establish safe havens from which to plan and carry out new attacks on our country. By killing and terrorizing Americans, they want to force our country to retreat from the world and abandon the cause of liberty. They would then be free to impose their will and spread their totalitarian ideology. Listen to this warning from the late terrorist Zarqawi: "We will sacrifice our blood and bodies to put an end to your dreams, and what is coming is even worse." Osama bin Laden declared: "Death is better than living on this Earth with the unbelievers among us."
These men are not given to idle words, and they are just one camp in the Islamist radical movement. In recent times, it has also become clear that we face an escalating danger from Shia extremists who are just as hostile to America, and are also determined to dominate the Middle East. Many are known to take direction from the regime in Iran, which is funding and arming terrorists like Hezbollah -- a group second only to al Qaeda in the American lives it has taken.
The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat. Whatever slogans they chant, when they slaughter the innocent they have the same wicked purposes. They want to kill Americans, kill democracy in the Middle East, and gain the weapons to kill on an even more horrific scale.
In the sixth year since our nation was attacked, I wish I could report to you that the dangers had ended. They have not. And so it remains the policy of this government to use every lawful and proper tool of intelligence, diplomacy, law enforcement, and military action to do our duty, to find these enemies, and to protect the American people. (Applause.)
This war is more than a clash of arms -- it is a decisive ideological struggle, and the security of our nation is in the balance. To prevail, we must remove the conditions that inspire blind hatred, and drove 19 men to get onto airplanes and to come and kill us. What every terrorist fears most is human freedom -- societies where men and women make their own choices, answer to their own conscience, and live by their hopes instead of their resentments. Free people are not drawn to violent and malignant ideologies -- and most will choose a better way when they're given a chance. So we advance our own security interests by helping moderates and reformers and brave voices for democracy. The great question of our day is whether America will help men and women in the Middle East to build free societies and share in the rights of all humanity. And I say, for the sake of our own security, we must. (Applause.)
In the last two years, we've seen the desire for liberty in the broader Middle East -- and we have been sobered by the enemy's fierce reaction. In 2005, the world watched as the citizens of Lebanon raised the banner of the Cedar Revolution, they drove out the Syrian occupiers and chose new leaders in free elections. In 2005, the people of Afghanistan defied the terrorists and elected a democratic legislature. And in 2005, the Iraqi people held three national elections, choosing a transitional government, adopting the most progressive, democratic constitution in the Arab world, and then electing a government under that constitution. Despite endless threats from the killers in their midst, nearly 12 million Iraqi citizens came out to vote in a show of hope and solidarity that we should never forget. (Applause.)
A thinking enemy watched all of these scenes, adjusted their tactics, and in 2006 they struck back. In Lebanon, assassins took the life of Pierre Gemayel, a prominent participant in the Cedar Revolution. Hezbollah terrorists, with support from Syria and Iran, sowed conflict in the region and are seeking to undermine Lebanon's legitimately elected government. In Afghanistan, Taliban and al Qaeda fighters tried to regain power by regrouping and engaging Afghan and NATO forces. In Iraq, al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists blew up one of the most sacred places in Shia Islam -- the Golden Mosque of Samarra. This atrocity, directed at a Muslim house of prayer, was designed to provoke retaliation from Iraqi Shia -- and it succeeded. Radical Shia elements, some of whom receive support from Iran, formed death squads. The result was a tragic escalation of sectarian rage and reprisal that continues to this day.
This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we're in. Every one of us wishes this war were over and won. Yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned, and our own security at risk. (Applause.) Ladies and gentlemen: On this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle. Let us find our resolve, and turn events toward victory. (Applause.)
We're carrying out a new strategy in Iraq -- a plan that demands more from Iraq's elected government, and gives our forces in Iraq the reinforcements they need to complete their mission. Our goal is a democratic Iraq that upholds the rule of law, respects the rights of its people, provides them security, and is an ally in the war on terror.
In order to make progress toward this goal, the Iraqi government must stop the sectarian violence in its capital. But the Iraqis are not yet ready to do this on their own. So we're deploying reinforcements of more than 20,000 additional soldiers and Marines to Iraq. The vast majority will go to Baghdad, where they will help Iraqi forces to clear and secure neighborhoods, and serve as advisers embedded in Iraqi Army units. With Iraqis in the lead, our forces will help secure the city by chasing down the terrorists, insurgents, and the roaming death squads. And in Anbar Province, where al Qaeda terrorists have gathered and local forces have begun showing a willingness to fight them, we're sending an additional 4,000 United States Marines, with orders to find the terrorists and clear them out. (Applause.) We didn't drive al Qaeda out of their safe haven in Afghanistan only to let them set up a new safe haven in a free Iraq.
The people of Iraq want to live in peace, and now it's time for their government to act. Iraq's leaders know that our commitment is not open-ended. They have promised to deploy more of their own troops to secure Baghdad -- and they must do so. They pledged that they will confront violent radicals of any faction or political party -- and they need to follow through, and lift needless restrictions on Iraqi and coalition forces, so these troops can achieve their mission of bringing security to all of the people of Baghdad. Iraq's leaders have committed themselves to a series of benchmarks -- to achieve reconciliation, to share oil revenues among all of Iraq's citizens, to put the wealth of Iraq into the rebuilding of Iraq, to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's civic life, to hold local elections, and to take responsibility for security in every Iraqi province. But for all of this to happen, Baghdad must be secure. And our plan will help the Iraqi government take back its capital and make good on its commitments.
My fellow citizens, our military commanders and I have carefully weighed the options. We discussed every possible approach. In the end, I chose this course of action because it provides the best chance for success. Many in this chamber understand that America must not fail in Iraq, because you understand that the consequences of failure would be grievous and far-reaching.
If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. We could expect an epic battle between Shia extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists aided by al Qaeda and supporters of the old regime. A contagion of violence could spill out across the country -- and in time, the entire region could be drawn into the conflict.
For America, this is a nightmare scenario. For the enemy, this is the objective. Chaos is the greatest ally -- their greatest ally in this struggle. And out of chaos in Iraq would emerge an emboldened enemy with new safe havens, new recruits, new resources, and an even greater determination to harm America. To allow this to happen would be to ignore the lessons of September the 11th and invite tragedy. Ladies and gentlemen, nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East, to succeed in Iraq and to spare the American people from this danger. (Applause.)
This is where matters stand tonight, in the here and now. I have spoken with many of you in person. I respect you and the arguments you've made. We went into this largely united, in our assumptions and in our convictions. And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure. Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq, and I ask you to give it a chance to work. And I ask you to support our troops in the field, and those on their way. (Applause.)
The war on terror we fight today is a generational struggle that will continue long after you and I have turned our duties over to others. And that's why it's important to work together so our nation can see this great effort through. Both parties and both branches should work in close consultation. It's why I propose to establish a special advisory council on the war on terror, made up of leaders in Congress from both political parties. We will share ideas for how to position America to meet every challenge that confronts us. We'll show our enemies abroad that we are united in the goal of victory.
And one of the first steps we can take together is to add to the ranks of our military so that the American Armed Forces are ready for all the challenges ahead. (Applause.) Tonight I ask the Congress to authorize an increase in the size of our active Army and Marine Corps by 92,000 in the next five years. (Applause.) A second task we can take on together is to design and establish a volunteer Civilian Reserve Corps. Such a corps would function much like our military reserve. It would ease the burden on the Armed Forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them. It would give people across America who do not wear the uniform a chance to serve in the defining struggle of our time.
Americans can have confidence in the outcome of this struggle because we're not in this struggle alone. We have a diplomatic strategy that is rallying the world to join in the fight against extremism. In Iraq, multinational forces are operating under a mandate from the United Nations. We're working with Jordan and Saudi Arabia and Egypt and the Gulf States to increase support for Iraq's government.
The United Nations has imposed sanctions on Iran, and made it clear that the world will not allow the regime in Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons. (Applause.) With the other members of the Quartet -- the U.N., the European Union, and Russia -- we're pursuing diplomacy to help bring peace to the Holy Land, and pursuing the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security. (Applause.) In Afghanistan, NATO has taken the lead in turning back the Taliban and al Qaeda offensive -- the first time the Alliance has deployed forces outside the North Atlantic area. Together with our partners in China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, we're pursuing intensive diplomacy to achieve a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons. (Applause.)
We will continue to speak out for the cause of freedom in places like Cuba, Belarus, and Burma -- and continue to awaken the conscience of the world to save the people of Darfur. (Applause.)
American foreign policy is more than a matter of war and diplomacy. Our work in the world is also based on a timeless truth: To whom much is given, much is required. We hear the call to take on the challenges of hunger and poverty and disease -- and that is precisely what America is doing. We must continue to fight HIV/AIDS, especially on the continent of Africa. (Applause.) Because you funded our Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the number of people receiving life-saving drugs has grown from 50,000 to more than 800,000 in three short years. I ask you to continue funding our efforts to fight HIV/AIDS. I ask you to provide $1.2 billion over five years so we can combat malaria in 15 African countries. (Applause.)
I ask that you fund the Millennium Challenge Account, so that American aid reaches the people who need it, in nations where democracy is on the rise and corruption is in retreat. And let us continue to support the expanded trade and debt relief that are the best hope for lifting lives and eliminating poverty. (Applause.)
When America serves others in this way, we show the strength and generosity of our country. These deeds reflect the character of our people. The greatest strength we have is the heroic kindness, courage, and self-sacrifice of the American people. You see this spirit often if you know where to look -- and tonight we need only look above to the gallery.
Dikembe Mutombo grew up in Africa, amid great poverty and disease. He came to Georgetown University on a scholarship to study medicine -- but Coach John Thompson got a look at Dikembe and had a different idea. (Laughter.) Dikembe became a star in the NBA, and a citizen of the United States. But he never forgot the land of his birth, or the duty to share his blessings with others. He built a brand new hospital in his old hometown. A friend has said of this good-hearted man: "Mutombo believes that God has given him this opportunity to do great things." And we are proud to call this son of the Congo a citizen of the United States of America. (Applause.)
After her daughter was born, Julie Aigner-Clark searched for ways to share her love of music and art with her child. So she borrowed some equipment, and began filming children's videos in her basement. The Baby Einstein Company was born, and in just five years her business grew to more than $20 million in sales. In November 2001, Julie sold Baby Einstein to the Walt Disney Company, and with her help Baby Einstein has grown into a $200 million business. Julie represents the great enterprising spirit of America. And she is using her success to help others -- producing child safety videos with John Walsh of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Julie says of her new project: "I believe it's the most important thing that I have ever done. I believe that children have the right to live in a world that is safe." And so tonight, we are pleased to welcome this talented business entrepreneur and generous social entrepreneur -- Julie Aigner-Clark. (Applause.)
Three weeks ago, Wesley Autrey was waiting at a Harlem subway station with his two little girls, when he saw a man fall into the path of a train. With seconds to act, Wesley jumped onto the tracks, pulled the man into the space between the rails, and held him as the train passed right above their heads. He insists he's not a hero. He says: "We got guys and girls overseas dying for us to have our freedoms. We have got to show each other some love." There is something wonderful about a country that produces a brave and humble man like Wesley Autrey. (Applause.)
Tommy Rieman was a teenager pumping gas in Independence, Kentucky, when he enlisted in the United States Army. In December 2003, he was on a reconnaissance mission in Iraq when his team came under heavy enemy fire. From his Humvee, Sergeant Rieman returned fire; he used his body as a shield to protect his gunner. He was shot in the chest and arm, and received shrapnel wounds to his legs -- yet he refused medical attention, and stayed in the fight. He helped to repel a second attack, firing grenades at the enemy's position. For his exceptional courage, Sergeant Rieman was awarded the Silver Star. And like so many other Americans who have volunteered to defend us, he has earned the respect and the gratitude of our entire country. (Applause.)
In such courage and compassion, ladies and gentlemen, we see the spirit and character of America -- and these qualities are not in short supply. This is a decent and honorable country -- and resilient, too. We've been through a lot together. We've met challenges and faced dangers, and we know that more lie ahead. Yet we can go forward with confidence -- because the State of our Union is strong, our cause in the world is right, and tonight that cause goes on. God bless. (Applause.)
See you next year. Thank you for your prayers.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Religious freedom in Turkmenistan

What Hope for Religious Freedom?

Felix Corley

Transitions online 4 January 2007

Imposition of an invented state religion in Turkmenistan resembles North Korea's "self-reliance" far more than it does Stalin's personality cult. From Forum 18.

In the wake of the death of Turkmenistan's veteran dictator, President Saparmurat Niyazov, on 21 December, observers and victims of his anti-religious freedom policy have told Forum 18 News Service that although it was the late president who personally instituted the policy, it has wide support among the country's leaders. Such observers fear this policy could continue. "The transition leaders have already praised Niyazov and his policies and vowed to continue them," one Protestant who had to flee Turkmenistan to escape persecution told Forum 18 on 21 December. "If the government is only going to continue the same policy I don't think there will be many chances, including in the area of democracy and religious freedom."

Most observers are holding off from immediate predictions as to whether Turkmenistan will continue its autocratic, isolationist course. "The whole country is in mourning," one analyst told Forum 18 from the capital Ashgabat on 21 December. "I believe it is too early to predict what will happen. A junta will come to power, but in a milder form. I don't think believers will face serious pressure – officials will all be engaged in intrigues about power and gas."

Forum 18 reached Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov by telephone on 21 December, but he declined to speak about the country's future course. Officials at the Registration Department of the Justice Ministry also declined to comment, as did the official who answered the phone of Murad Karriyev, deputy head of the government's Gengeshi (Committee) for Religious Affairs.

Although harassment of religious communities has eased in the past year or so, between 1997 and 2003 no religious communities apart from some state-approved Muslim and Russian Orthodox communities were allowed to function. Police raids and harsh punishments on those conducting religious activity without state permission were the norm. But the structure of state control – including complete control of Islam from the inside and control on all other faiths from outside – remains.

The exiled Protestant believes the anti-religious policy came from the president. "He instituted this policy because he was afraid of any movement in society."

The Protestant said that religious believers in Turkmenistan want the authorities to provide all the rights to religious freedom set out in the country's constitution and in international agreements. "We want the government to guarantee that registration will not be used as a restriction on religious freedom," the Protestant insisted, echoing long-standing complaints from religious leaders within Turkmenistan about the government's insistence that religious communities must register and thereby submit themselves to burdensome and intrusive state scrutiny.

"I don't know if any improvement is now likely, though we hope for the good," the Protestant added, saying it was too early to consider returning to Turkmenistan while the threat of being punished for peaceful religious activity remains.

Like the exiled Protestant, exiled human rights activist Farid Tukhbatullin, who heads the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, agrees that the anti-religious policy was instituted on the "personal instruction" of President Niyazov. "This does not mean though that his subordinates were merely implementing his will," Tukhbatullin told Forum 18 on 21 December. "Almost all of them shared his views on this entirely. And if the current authorities continue in the same way, then the anti-religious policy will carry on."

Tukhbatullin saw a small hope in the possibility that the future president – whoever he may be – will have to soften the government's policies to consolidate power both domestically and internationally. "However, the overwhelming majority of officials of the police and the Ministry of State Security secret police have a vested interest in preserving the current situation, under which they enjoy unlimited rights."

Jehovah's Witnesses have told Forum 18 that, throughout 2006, their members across Turkmenistan have been detained for up to 48 hours – especially while talking to others about their faith on the street or at people's doors – and meetings in private homes have been raided.

Following previous long-standing practices against religious minorities, local imam I. Janmedov joined police officers and an official of the local administration during a 15 May raid on a Jehovah's Witness meeting in a private flat in the northern town of Konye-Urgench. After being taken to the local police station, all the Jehovah's Witnesses were allegedly interrogated, insulted, and threatened before being released. Religious literature confiscated from them was not returned. In late June, R. Nasyrov, a Jehovah's Witness from Turkmenabad (formerly Charjou), was forcibly held for five days at a drug-treatment center in Atamurad (formerly Kerki) in southern Turkmenistan, where he became seriously ill.

In early June, military conscription officers from the northern Lebap region forcibly took Jehovah's Witness Serdar Satlykov to the detention center for those refusing to perform compulsory military service, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. After refusing pressure from the head of a military unit to accept military service, Satlykov reportedly was taken to the deputy defense minister, Kurban Muhammednazarov, who then ordered that he be held in a psychiatric unit. Satlykov – who refuses military service on grounds of his faith – was detained there from 6 to 20 June before being freed. He has not been harassed since his release. Fellow Jehovah's Witness Aga Soyegov was held in a psychiatric hospital in late 2005 to try to pressure him to accept compulsory military service.

Even the Russian Orthodox Church – one of only two legal faiths between 1997 and 2003 – faces restrictions on its activity. The Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights reported in October that final construction work on the women's convent next to St. Nicholas' Church in Ashgabat had come to a halt in late 2005, after President Niyazov warned the Orthodox clergy in a private conversation that if they carried on with the building work he would order the demolition of all the country's Orthodox churches.

Other places of worship – such as those of the majority religious community Islam, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the Armenian Apostolic Church have been demolished.

"The walls of the future convent were put up with the funds of parishioners and by their own efforts," the Initiative for Human Rights quoted Russian Orthodox parishioner Svetlana M. as declaring. "Unfortunately the powers that be don't understand that the prayers pronounced within the walls of a convent – just as those in mosques – call for peace and harmony."

Unclear at present is whether the new government will continue with the cult of personality around Niyazov that was imposed during his lifetime. Niyazov's two-volume Ruhnama (Book of the Soul) has become compulsory reading in schools and other institutions and has been imposed on religious communities. Quotations from it have even – in an action that is for devout Muslims blasphemous – been carved around the interior of the dome of a vast new mosque built in Niyazov's home village of Kipchak near Ashgabat, where he is now buried.

Turkmenistan's cult of the leader's personality and state imposition of an invented religion is far closer to North Korea's Juche, or self-reliance, than it is to Stalin's personality cult. North Korea's Juche is – in a similar way to Turkmenistan's Ruhnama – synonymous with the cult of the deceased North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung, or Kimilsungism.

"Although religion here is separate from the state, imams and ordinary believers appealed to the government and the local authorities to be allowed to quote from the Ruhnama in mosques," one Ruhnama teacher – who preferred not to be identified – insisted to Forum 18 back in October. "This was the initiative of imams and believers, who wanted to do so out of respect for the president." The teacher alleged that imams only read parts of the work connected with religion. He said mosques hold Ruhnama days each Saturday, but said he did not know if communities of other faiths do the same. "For Christians and others it's their affair – they have their own rituals."

The teacher denied that the presence of copies of the Ruhnama in mosques on a par with the Koran was an insult to Muslims' faith. "If you want to read the Ruhnama you can – you're free to do so or not." He also denied that Muslims are offended by quotations from the Ruhnama at the Kipchak mosque. "People are calm about this," he told Forum 18. "They come to the mosque to worship Allah – it doesn't matter if the quotation is from the Koran or the Ruhnama, as the Ruhnama also speaks of Allah."

The teacher explained that each local administration across the country has an official or officials who "help" local Muslims and other faiths. He was unable to explain to Forum 18 why communities wanted such help. He claimed initially that "ordinary believers" choose their imams, but when pressed explained that the leading imams in each region and district are named by the local authorities in agreement with the Gengeshi for Religious Affairs. He said the government had issued an instruction that the hundred or so regional and district imams should not ask believers for money as they are already paid by the state, a subsidy no other faith gets.

The teacher made no comment on the cases of mosques destroyed for, apparently in some cases, failure to honor Niyazov's books of alleged "spiritual writings."

He said he did not know the background to the removal by Niyazov of successive chief muftis, and declined to discuss the case of Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, removed as chief mufti in 2003 and sentenced in 2004 to 22 years' imprisonment on charges the government has persistently refused to make public. Despite rumors that he had been freed in the October 2006 prisoner amnesty, it is believed Nasrullah is still being held.

The teacher defended the government's controls on the number of pilgrims going on the haj to Mecca, currently set at 188 annually. He said lists of applicants are held by the religious affairs officials in each local administration, adding that he is 3,000th on the list. Turkmenistan still imposes the strictest controls in Central Asia on haj pilgrims.

In early November 2006, the Turkmen government announced that, as in previous years, only 188 pilgrims would be permitted – only enough to fit on one aircraft of the state-run Turkmenistan Airlines – far below the quota allocated to Turkmenistan by the Saudi authorities.

The teacher claimed that local imams – who are also part of the local administration – play no role in evaluating whether religious minorities are allowed to register religious communities in their area. "In the case of non-Muslim communities, they merely pass on the applications to the local administration before it goes to the justice ministry in Ashgabat. Usually religious people don't say no to others who believe in God," he claimed, but could not then explain why imams have taken part in recent years on raids on religious minority communities and threatened them at interrogations at local administrations.

The teacher also claimed that local authorities cannot refuse to allow a religious community to function, if the Justice Ministry has given it registration.

While many ordinary residents of Turkmenistan fear potential instability in the wake of Niyazov's death, religious believers have told Forum 18 they hope their ability to practice their faith freely will improve. But they remain cautious, as the new leaders have so far indicated they will continue the current course.

Before Niyazov's death, many within religious communities doubted whether limited access to state registration – trumpeted by the regime as a "liberalization" – made any real improvement to their situation in practice. Unregistered religious activity remains – against international human rights standards – illegal. Despite regime claims of the abolition of exit visas, an exit ban against those the state dislikes is still in place.

In June 2006, a Baptist, Aleksandr Frolov, was deported, apparently solely for his religious activity. This was despite that the deportation separated him from his wife and their two young children.

Turkmenistan has not been able to explain to Forum 18 News Service why requests by Asma Jahangir, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, to visit the country have gone unmet.
This article originally appeared on Forum 18 News Service. Forum 18 is an Oslo-based group that monitors religious freedom in the former Soviet Union.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Captain Scott's last letter to his wife

In full - Captain Scott's final letter to his wife

Captain Robert Scott's final letter to his wife, Kathleen, written as the explorer prepared for death, will go on display at Cambridge University in January, 95 years after he and his team reached the South Pole.

Here it is published in full, for the first time:

Times 10 January 2007

"To my widow

"Dearest Darling - we are in a very tight corner and I have doubts of pulling through - In our short lunch hours I take advantage of a very small measure of warmth to write letters preparatory to a possible end - the first is naturally to you on whom my thought mostly dwell waking or sleeping - if anything happens to me I shall like you to know how much you have meant to me and that pleasant recollections are with me as I depart - I should like you to take what comfort you can from these facts also - I shall not have suffered any pain but leave the world fresh from harness and full of good health and vigour - this is dictated already, when provisions come to an end we simply stop where we are within easy distance of another depot. Therefore you must not imagine a great tragedy - we are very anxious of course and have been for weeks but on splendid physical condition and our appetites compensate for all discomfort. The cold is biting and sometimes angering but here again the hot food which drives it forth is so wonderfully enjoyable that we would scarcely be without it.

"We have gone down hill a good deal since I wrote the above. Poor Titus Oates has gone - he was in a bad state - the rest of us keep going and imagine we have a chance to get through but the cold weather doesn't let up at all - we are now only 20 miles from a depot but we have very little food or fuel.

"Well dear heart I want you to take the whole thing very sensibly as I am sure you will - the boy will be your comfort I had looked forward to helping you to bring him up but it is a satisfaction to feel that he is safe with you. I think both he and you ought to be specially looked after by the country for which after all we have given our lives with something of spirit which makes for example - I am writing letters on this point in the end of this book after this. Will you send them to their various destinations?

"I must write a little letter for the boy if time can be found to be read when he grows up - dearest that you know cherish no sentimental rubbish about re marriage - when the right man comes to help you in life you ought to be your happy self again - I hope I shall be a good memory certainly the end is nothing for you to be ashamed of and I like to think that the boy will have a good start in parentage of which he may be proud.

"Dear it is not easy to write because of the cold - 70 degrees below zero and nothing but the shelter of our tent - you know I have loved you, you know my thoughts must have constantly dwelt on you and oh dear me you must know that quite the worst aspect of this situation is the thought that I shall not see you again - The inevitable must be faced - you urged me to be leader of this party and I know you felt it would be dangerous - I've taken my place throughout, haven't I?

"God bless you my own darling I shall try and write more later - I go on across the back pages.

"Since writing the above we have got to within 11 miles of our depot with one hot meal and two days cold food and we should have got through but have been held for four days by a frightful storm - I think the best chance has gone we have decided not to kill ourselves but to fight it to the last for that depot but in the fighting there is a painless end so don't worry. I have written letters on odd pages of this book - will you manage to get them sent? You see I am anxious for you and the boy's future - make the boy interested in natural history if you can, it is better than games - they encourage it at some schools - I know you will keep him out in the open air - try and make him believe in a God, it is comforting.

"Oh my dear my dear what dreams I have had of his future and yet oh my girl I know you will face it stoically - your portrait and the boy's will be found in my breast and the one in the little red Morocco case given by Lady Baxter - There is a piece of the Union flag I put up at the South Pole in my private kit bag together with Amundsen's black flag and other trifles - give a small piece of the Union flag to the King and a small piece to Queen Alexandra and keep the rest a poor trophy for you! - What lots and lots I could tell you of this journey. How much better it has been than lounging in comfort at home - what tales you would have for the boy but oh what a price to pay - to forfeit the sight of your dear dear face - Dear you will be good to the old mother. I write her a little line in this book. Also keep in with Ettie and the others- oh but you'll put on a strong face for the world - only don't be too proud to accept help for the boys sake - he ought to have a fine career and do something in the world. I haven't time to write to Sir Clements - tell him I thought much of him and never regretted him putting me in command of the Discovery."

Monday, January 08, 2007

Archbishop Wielgus resignation in Warsaw

Tearful archbishop resigns at first mass as he admits spying for the secret police

Matthew Day in Warsaw and Malcolm Moore in Rome

Daily Telegraph 8 January 2007

The Archbishop of Warsaw resigned yesterday minutes before he was due to celebrate his inaugural mass, after admitting that he had been an informant for Poland's communist-era secret police.
Mgr Stanislaw Wielgus, who was appointed archbishop of the Polish capital last Friday, tearfully read out his resignation to cries of disbelief from the congregation in Warsaw Cathedral.
"Stay with us," shouted several worshippers, despite repeated calls for quiet. Outside, many of the conservative supporters of Mgr Wielgus jostled and exchanged insults with a handful of demonstrators opposing the archbishop's appointment.
After initially denying that he had any links with the Cold War secret services, Mgr Wielgus admitted last Friday that he had been a collaborator after two independent commissions condemned him.
His accusers say he was first approached when studying at Lublin University in 1967, and was referred to by his spy masters as either Agent Grey or Adam Wisocki.
He was allegedly asked to keep tabs on the "antisocial activities" of other priests and was once asked to infiltrate the Polish office of Radio Free Europe, an assignment he declined.
His dramatic resignation came after overnight talks between the Vatican and the Polish government. Previously, the Vatican had supported Mgr Wielgus, declaring before Christmas that Pope Benedict had been "fully aware" of all the details of the priest's past before making his choice.
However, the prospect of a split within the Polish Catholic Church finally convinced the Vatican to abandon its nominee on Saturday night.
Father Federico Lombardi, the Pope's spokesman, said yesterday: "The behaviour of Mgr Wielgus in the former years of the communist regime in Poland has severely compromised his authority.
"The relinquishment of his position in Warsaw and the Pope's ready acceptance of his resignation appeared to be an adequate solution, despite his humble and moving request for a pardon."
Just before the beginning of the service, the Vatican's embassy in Poland issued a statement saying that the Pope had asked Cardinal Jozef Glemp, the former Archbishop of Warsaw and a key figure in the country's struggle against communist rule, to resume his role temporarily until "further decisions have been made".
Inside the cathedral, there were chaotic scenes as Cardinal Glemp defended his colleague and suggested that he had not lost the support of the higher levels of the Polish Church.
Addressing hundreds of worshippers, he said the judgment against Mgr Wielgus was based on "scraps of papers and documents" and added that "this is not the kind of judgment we need".
His remarks, in front of Poland's president, Lech Kaczynski, and Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwicsw, the former private secretary of Pope John Paul II, were frequently interrupted by applause.
The scandal will increase pressure on the Polish Church to confront the issue of how many clergy worked for the communist secret police. One Vatican source suggested yesterday that "as many as 15 per cent" of priests in the former communist bloc had collaborated with the regime.
However, the Vatican pinned the blame firmly on former communists who, it said, were "seeking revenge" for the defeat of the system by the "faith and desire for freedom of the Polish people".
Fr Lombardi said: "The current wave of attacks against the Catholic Church in Poland appears to be the result of a strange alliance between those who were once the persecutors and other adversaries."

Jonathan Petre says the Church can expect to be implicated by more scandal

Daily Telegraph
8 January 2007

At the funeral of Pope John Paul II in St Peter's Square nearly two years ago, millions of Poles chanted for the canonization of their nation's favourite son, not least as a tribute to his role in freeing them from communism.
The Pope was credited with undermining communism from within by using high-profile visits to his homeland and coded sermons to bolster the Solidarity movement.
Solidarity, with Lech Walesa at its head, eventually led to the overthrow of the Soviet-backed regime of General Jaruzelski in 1989.
But yesterday, they had to endure the shock and the humiliation of an archbishop resigning from one of the Polish Church's most senior posts following revelations about his collaboration with secret police during the communist-era.
The debacle reflects a profound crisis at the heart of the Polish Church as it struggles to rid itself of the ghosts of its past, and the ramifications may damage the authority of John Paul II's successor, Pope Benedict XVI.
According to some observers, the resignation of Mgr Stanislaw Wielgus could prove to be just the beginning of a painful bout of soul searching.
Further disclosures about the security services' penetration of the Church are expected to emerge over the coming months, and other bishops may be implicated. Mgr Wielgus has insisted that no one was harmed as a result of information he passed on.
He said he only co-operated with the secret police so that he would be allowed to travel abroad, a benefit to the Church at a time when it was isolated from the rest of the world.
He nevertheless appears to have been less prudent than the late John Paul II who, when he was Cardinal Carol Wojtyla of Cracow, urged his clergy to avoid any contact with the security forces if possible, and if not, to report it to a superior.
Critics of the Polish Church say that much of its current embarrassment could have been mitigated if it had confronted its past much earlier.
But such a potentially painful process may have been postponed partly to avoid distressing Pope John Paul II in his final years.
Now, they say, former communists who blame the Church for their downfall are manipulating the historical records as an act of revenge against the Church. Many will be surprised, however, that the scandal had not been foreseen by Pope Benedict XVI, as he was expected to be painstaking in his choice of bishops, following criticism of his predecessor's less scrupulous approach.
The Pope now has the difficult task of finding a successor whose record is beyond reproach if he is fully to restore faith in his judgment.

Communist-era links force out new Polish archbishop

Ian Traynor, Europe editor

January 8, 2007

One of the most senior clerics in Poland's Roman Catholic church was forced to resign yesterday 48 hours after becoming archbishop of Warsaw because of revelations that he had collaborated with communist security services for decades.
Draped in gold vestments and wearing a bishop's mitre, Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus told hundreds of worshippers at Warsaw's St John's Cathedral that he was stepping down, a decision applauded by the Vatican only a month after Pope Benedict XVI appointed him.

The cathedral Mass was to have been a ceremony of investiture for the cleric who took up the post on Friday.
The denouement to a fortnight of disclosures in the Polish press made the bishop the most prominent casualty of the centre-right government's determination to root out former communist collaborators in Poland, a campaign that has been criticised by liberals as a witchhunt.
Bishop Wielgus was forced to admit his relationship with the communist secret services until the collapse of communism in 1989 after initially denying newspaper allegations last week. The collaboration scandal also represented a fiasco for the Vatican which had initially sought to defend the appointment, but yesterday confirmed the bishop was right to resign.
Only on Friday the Vatican announced it had "every confidence" in the bishop, named last month by Pope Benedict to replace the Polish primate, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, as the archbishop of Warsaw.
Since the Pope appointed Bishop Wielgus as archbishop early last month, the Polish press has published copious detail on his alleged collaboration with the communists, said to have started in the 1960s when the clergyman was a student at the Catholic University of Lublin, an institution he later headed.
The respected newspaper, Rzeczpospolita, published documents from secret police archives showing that the bishop held dozens of meetings with communist security servicemen. The documents alleged he had reported on fellow clerics to the communists and a Polish church inquiry last Friday concluded there was "substantial" evidence Bishop Wielgus had shown "willingness for conscious and secret collaboration".
Until then, the bishop had denied the allegations. On Friday he admitted a track record of informing, regretted the earlier denials, but insisted his actions had not harmed anyone. He had talked to the communist services purely to be allowed to study abroad.
Broadly seen as a patriotic bulwark that rallied Poland to defeat the communists, the Polish church has been rocked since John Paul's death in 2005 by revelations of how the communists penetrated the Vatican under the Polish pope.
Cardinal Glemp sought to defend the bishop, telling the congregation "Wielgus was forced by harassment, shouts and threats to become a collaborator. Today a judgment was passed on Bishop Wielgus. But what kind of judgment was it, based on some documents and shreds of paper photocopied three times over? We do not want such judgments."

Archbishop of Warsaw resigns over secret police spy scandal

Stephen Castle, Europe Correspondent

08 January 2007

The Archbishop of Warsaw resigned less than an hour before a mass marking his installation, after revelations that he co-operated with Communist-era secret police plunged Poland's Roman Catholic Church into crisis.
Stanislaw Wielgus appeared to fight back the tears as he made his announcement in St John's Cathedral in Warsaw. It ended a scandal that has divided the country, embarrassed the Vatican and dealt a blow to Poland's highly influential church.
Earlier he had denied he was a spy but admitted he had agreed to communicate with the secret police because he feared refusal to do so would have threatened his studies. The actions had, he conceded, failed to show "decent prudence, courage and determination".
The dispute has reopened wounds from the years of struggle against Poland's Communist regime. While the Catholic Church was a source of support for the Solidarity democracy campaigners, some historians estimate that about one in 10 members of the clergy collaborated with the government of the time.
Yesterday Archbishop Wielgus, 67, bowed to growing anger among the public and stood down minutes before the ceremony Shaking visibly, he said: "I place my resignation from the post of Metropolitan Archbishop of Warsaw in Your Holiness's hands." While the announcement was greeted by applause, some among the congregation shouted "no" and "stay with us".
Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation, according to a statement half an hour earlier from the Vatican's mission in Poland. The Vatican has asked Cardinal Jozef Glemp, Archbishop Wielgus's predecessor, to return to his post temporarily.
Yesterday's ceremony, attended by the Polish President, Lech Kaczynski, became a service in honour of Cardinal Glemp who defended the outgoing Archbishop. He said: "Today, a trial of Archbishop Wielgus took place. What kind of trial was it? Based on bits of papers, copies of copies of some documents. We don't want such trials."
Nevertheless the unprecedented departure seems to have been forced by pressure from the public and politicians. More than half of the 1,024 people questioned in a survey for the broadcaster TVN said they were against the nomination after learning about the collaboration with the secret service.
Moreover the scandal has coincided with a renewed push by the right-wing government led by the Law and Justice Party to purge from public office those deemed to have co-operated with the Communist authorities. Mr Kaczynski applauded after the Archbishop announced his resignation. The President hascalled for those who co-operated with the Communists to be on rooted out of national life.
Andrzej Paczkowski, a historian who was asked by Poland's human rights ombudsman to investigate allegations that Archbishop Wielgus was a spy, said last week there was evidence that he had such a role in the 1970s. Poland's Catholic Church Historical Commission said he had co-operated with the secret services before the collapse of Communism.
In a statement last month the Vatican said it took into account "all of the circumstances" of the Archbishop's life "including those regarding his past" when it appointed him.
The Pope made no comment on the resignation when addressing Polish pilgrims at St Peter's Square in Vatican City.
A spokesman for the Polish episcopate said the legal basis for the resignation was part of church law requiring a bishop to stand down if he is "unable to properly exercise his office [and therefore] is strongly requested to submit his resignation".

Archbishop who spied for secret police resigns minutes before inauguration

Roger Boyes

Times 8 January 2007

Angry cries of “Stay with us!” echoed around Warsaw Cathedral yesterday as a tearful, shaking Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus bowed to political pressure and announced his resignation because of his former involvement with the Polish communist secret service.
It was a moment of extraordinary theatre that symbolised some of the deep rifts running through the Church leadership in one of Europe’s most devoutly Catholic countries. It left many Polish commentators doubting the judgment of Pope Benedict XVI, who over the weekend retracted his support for the compromised Archbishop.
Until 30 minutes before his planned inaugural Mass it seemed that the Archbishop would be sworn in as Metropolitan Archbishop of Warsaw.
On Friday the 67-year-old priest had admitted co-operating with the secret police and confessed that he had not told the whole truth about his past when rumours started to circulate a fortnight ago. Scholarly churchman claimed that none of the information that he had passed on had damaged any individual. Moreover, the Vatican was still expressing “full confidence” in its candidate for one of the most powerful positions in the Church hierarchy.
The Archbishop, however, seemed to be counting too heavily on the personal support of the Pope. In his statement, read out in churches on Saturday, he said: “Today before you I confess this mistake made many years ago, as I have already confessed to the Holy Father.”
Vatican officials were alarmed that the Pope’s name was being used in a way that could rip asunder the Polish Church leadership. Some leading lights of the Church — including the anti-communist veteran Archbishop Tadeusz Goclowski of Gdansk — had declined to attend the installation service because of “other engagements”.
On Saturday night crisis talks were held between the Vatican, the Polish Church leadership and the Government. The lights burnt late in the Warsaw residence of Josef Kowalczyk, the Papal Nuncio. According to a Church source, there was also a long conversation between the Pope and Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Metropolitan Archbishop of Krakow and one of the closest advisers to Pope John Paul II.
One of the key questions for Polish public opinion has been whether the tarnished Archbishop — who was recruited formally by the police in 1973 — spied on the Polish Pope. So far the files suggest not, but many documents have been destroyed and the uncertainty about his past lingers.
The outcome of Saturday night’s talks was that the Pope would accept the Archbishop’s “resignation” if offered. Soon after dawn yesterday a statement was agreed and it was released at 10.27am — barely 30 minutes before the ceremony.
The protocol of the Mass was changed quickly and it became an improvised service of thanksgiving for Cardinal Josef Glemp, the outgoing Metropolitan Archbishop of Warsaw. He will now stay in office until the crisis has been settled. Archbishop Wielgus is likely to retain his title but will not head the Warsaw Archdiocese.
Most of yesterday’s congregation knew nothing of the behind-the-scenes horse-trading. Outside the cathedral, supporters of the Archbishop had to push past other Catholics demanding his resignation. The cathedral was full; the atmosphere electric. When the Archbishop announced his resignation at the altar, “after deep reflection and consideration of my personal situation”, there was a collective gasp. Some of the congregation yelled: “No!” Then, after a short pause, there was ragged applause led by President Lech Kaczynski, who has made clear from the beginning that the Archbishop should go.
Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s top spokesman, said that Archbishop Wielgus’s conduct had “gravely compromised his authority” and his resignation was an “adequate solution”. The episode was a “moment of great suffering for the Church,” he added.
The hunting down of former police collaborators — from school teachers to ministers — has been a hallmark of the ruling twin brothers. The Pope, perhaps resenting a political attempt to interfere with Church policy, ignored the pleas and nominated the Archbishop on December 6. Soon afterwards, secret police documents were leaked to the press.
As a result, one of the most religiously motivated Governments in Europe finds itself in an icy relationship with the Vatican. And the Poles, who enthusiastically accepted Joseph Ratzinger as successor to Pope John Paul II, are beginning to wonder about his judgment.

See also Ruth Gledhill’s (Times’ Religious correspondent) blog on

New Warsaw Archbishop Quits Over Communist Collaboration

Craig S Smith

New York Times 8 January 2007

WARSAW, Jan. 7 — The newly appointed archbishop of Warsaw, Stanislaw Wielgus, abruptly resigned on Sunday at a Mass meant to celebrate his new position after having admitted two days earlier that he had worked with the Polish Communist-era secret police.
There is no direct evidence that Bishop Wielgus spied on any of his fellow clergy members. But the revelation and the resignation have shaken one of Europe’s largest concentrations of Catholics and refocused scrutiny on collaboration with the Communist government by some of the clergy in Poland even as the church was supporting dissidents trying to free themselves from that political system.
Moments before he was to symbolically ascend to his new place in the church hierarchy by taking his seat on the archbishop’s throne at St. John’s Cathedral in Warsaw, Bishop Wielgus read from a letter he had sent Pope Benedict XVI earlier in the day offering his resignation “after reflecting deeply and assessing my personal situation.”
A roar of shock arose from the crowd inside the cathedral and stunned many people watching the proceedings live on television. The Vatican had announced the resignation a half hour earlier, though few had heard the news.
“Stay with us, we want you here!” people in the church shouted as a clearly troubled Bishop Wielgus removed his glasses and sat down beside Warsaw’s departing archbishop, Cardinal Jozef Glemp.
The Vatican reappointed Cardinal Glemp to the position until a new archbishop could be found, and he took the throne instead. But Cardinal Glemp, who supported Bishop Wielgus’s promotion, was also clearly troubled by the sudden turn of events and defended him later in his homily.
The Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, who was sitting at the front of the congregation, applauded Bishop Wielgus’s resignation then stopped, apparently realizing that the commotion from the crowd was overwhelmingly against it. Mr. Kaczynski has led the country’s renewed efforts to expose former Communist secret police agents and their informants.
Outside the cathedral, scuffles erupted between supporters and detractors of the bishop among the hundreds of Catholics gathered beneath umbrellas in the rain. Some of his supporters shouted that “Jews” were trying to destroy the church. Anti-Semitism, long present in Poland, is a particular problem within some conservative branches of the Polish Catholic church.
The resignation of an archbishop, or even a bishop, so soon after an appointment is rare, if not unprecedented, and raises questions about how he could have been given the job with such serious doubts surrounding his past.
Bishop Wielgus, 67, had tried to minimize reports of his collaboration, which surfaced two weeks after the pope appointed him to the post on Dec. 6. He insisted that his contacts with the country’s feared Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa, or Security Service, were benign and routine.
Bishop Wielgus may have believed that there were no longer documents linking him to the secret police. Gen. Czeslaw Kiszczak, who served as chief of secret services and minister of internal affairs during the Communist years, told the Polish clergy in the early 1990s that all files related to them had been destroyed, according to Andrzej Jonas, editor of the Warsaw Voice, a weekly newsmagazine. But microfilm of some of the documents on Bishop Wielgus survived. They do not include any reports written by the bishop, though in one document a secret police agent praised him for providing information on fellow priests while teaching at the Catholic University of Lublin. He admitted deeper involvement Friday after the Polish news media published the documents, though he maintained that he did not spy on anyone or hurt anyone. Two groups of experts, one from the church, said the documents proved his willingness to work for the secret police even though they did not prove what he did.
That judgment set in motion negotiations with the Vatican that ended with his resignation. In its statement, the Vatican said the charges surrounding Bishop Wielgus had “gravely compromised his authority.”
Allegations that the secret service archives contained incriminating documents concerning Bishop Wielgus first appeared in the Polish media in the middle of 2006, shortly after he was mentioned as a potential successor to Cardinal Glemp. The documents that led to his resignation had been located by Dec. 20, when the Polish news media began reporting their contents.
Still, the Vatican was sufficiently confident of Bishop Wielgus’s innocence to allow him to take the canonical vows for the post Friday. It even reissued a statement saying that it had taken into account “all the circumstances of his life, including those regarding his past,” and that Pope Benedict had “every confidence” in him.
Many people believe that the pope changed his mind only after personally reviewing the documents in question or at the urging of Polish government officials.
“Definitely there must have been somebody very high up, maybe the president, who was in touch with the Vatican,” said Zbigniew Lewicki, a professor at the University of Warsaw. “Otherwise, why would he have changed his mind without anything new surfacing.”
It is the second major miscalculation by Pope Benedict since he was chosen as pontiff in April 2005. In September, he caused an uproar among Muslims with a speech he gave in Germany that seemed to equate Islam with violence.
Any cooperation between the Polish clergy and the secret police is troubling to Poles because the church under the Polish-born pope, John Paul II, was considered a beacon of hope and encouragement to people opposing the Communists.
That the head of the Warsaw archdiocese could be a former Communist collaborator would have been a cruel twist for many people here who remember the murder of Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko, one of the first priests from the influential archdiocese to support the pro-democracy Solidarity movement. He was beaten to death by police agents in 1984. They dumped his body in a reservoir.
Poland screened thousands of people for past Communist collaboration in the early 1990s, but the process lost momentum until President Kaczynski revived it last year. He has argued that the country’s 1989 transition left much of the Communist apparatus in place, fueling corruption and distorting democracy. He says society cannot move forward without breaking with that past.
But many people argue that the secret police files are in many cases too incomplete or unreliable for conclusive judgments and are too easily manipulated for political ends.
It was not clear what Bishop Wielgus would do in the wake of the resignation. The bishop said his contact with the secret police started when he applied to study in what was then West Germany.
He spent 1973-75 at the University of Munich and went there again in 1978 when Pope Benedict, then Joseph Ratzinger, was teaching there. He spent the rest of his career teaching philosophy at the Catholic University of Lublin, where he served three terms as rector. Pope John Paul II appointed him bishop of Plock, north of Warsaw, in 1999 and he served in that post until being appointed archbishop of Warsaw.
The drama over Bishop Wielgus was, in part, a battle between opposing forces in the Polish church — mirrored in societies across the post-Soviet bloc — between those willing to forgive and forget and those who insist that past Communist collaborators be exposed and be excluded from positions of authority.
“Today a judgment was passed on Bishop Wielgus,” said Cardinal Glemp in a homily defending the prelate that was interrupted repeatedly by applause. “But what kind of judgment was it, based on shreds of paper photocopied three times over? We do not want such judgments.”
Had the church managed to keep Bishop Wielgus in his new job, the program to purge former collaborators would have been severely weakened, Mr. Jonas of the Warsaw Voice said.
“It wouldn’t be possible to accuse somebody or blame somebody for being a spy or former member of the secret service if the archbishop of Warsaw was himself one,” he said.