WARSAW, Poland – The priest in charge of caring for Polish pilgrims at the Vatican collaborated with the communist secret police in the 1980s during the reign of Polish native Pope John Paul II, an official said Wednesday.
An investigation into communist-era persecution of the Roman Catholic church in Poland turned up documents showing that the Rev. Konrad Stanislaw Hejmo (search), a Dominican, "was a secret collaborator of the Polish secret services under the names of Hejnal and Dominik," said Leon Kieres, head of the state-run National Remembrance Institute that investigated Nazi and communist crimes in Poland.
Hejmo, 69, was close to John Paul's entourage but not part of his inner circle. He could not immediately be reached for comment by The Associated Press.
Polish state television reported that he denied the allegations, and it broadcast audio of a phone interview in which he said, "There could have been some recordings tied, glued together ... It is hard for me to say now, I am not really aware now what this is."
It was not immediately clear what recordings he might have referred to.
Hejmo's Dominican superior, the Rev. Maciej Zieba, said he saw the files, which he termed "convincing and shocking."
Andrzej Paczkowski, a historian at the institute, said the files contain about 700 pages and cover the years through the 1980s.
The Vatican said it had no comment.
"We are still not sure of the type of the cooperation, whether he was simply talking about the Holy Father with the secret services or was actually providing secret information on him," Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek told The Associated Press. "If he was providing information, then this would be a very sad truth."
John Paul inspired resistance to Poland's communist rule and is credited by many with helping bring about its collapse in 1989.
"Everyone who was at the Vatican had ... ties with Father Hejmo and there was absolutely no suspicion" of him, said Marcin Przeciszewski, head of the Catholic Information Agency (search), a church news service. "He must have covered himself up well."
Hejmo started working at the Vatican in October 1979 after being recommended by the late Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, leader of Poland's church at the time, TVN24 reported.
Earlier this month, Kieres said he recognized the taped voice of a clergyman who was secretly telling agents of Poland's communist secret services about John Paul. He said the news would have been "painful" to John Paul, who died April 2.
The release of communist-era information has roiled Poland recently after the leak of an index to files in the custody of the institute.
That list, which was posted on the Internet, caused controversy and confusion because it lists both people who informed and people who were spied on without distinguishing them.
Accusation of collaborations are a serious matter in Poland, where having cooperated with the Soviet-backed communist government is considered shameful by many.
Hejmo is very popular among Polish pilgrims, who flocked to the Vatican after John Paul's election to the Holy See in October 1978.
In 1998, the former East German spy chief said his agency had planted a mole in the Vatican. Ex-Stasi chief Markus Wolf (search) told Italian television that the mole, a German Benedictine monk who worked in the science offices, supplied information on Vatican foreign policy.