Polish priest's abduction: signal that political climate worsening?
Vienna — The mysterious kidnapping of a young anticommunist Polish priest has added a potentially grave new dimension to the Polish political scene and that country's uneasy church-state relationship.
The Roman Catholic Church espicopate in Warsaw issued a statement Monday raising the possibility that Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko was murdered after his abuction last Friday.
''The abduction appears to be political and there must be fears for his life, '' a communique issued by Cardinal Josef Glemp and his bishops said.
There is concern in both church and other circles that the kidnapping may mark a possible new turn in hard-line opposition to dialogue between church and state and a sharpening of opposition to the policies of Polish leader Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski. Some worry that kidnapping may signal a fear-inducing type of pressure tactic that Poles associate more with Central America than Poland.
An informed Warsaw source told the Monitor by telephone that there is growing concern that the kidnappers are trying to embarrass the Jaruzelski government and provoke it into adopting a tougher line against the Church generally.
Acute official embarrassment was evident in the breaking of the news on television Saturday and subsequent broadcasts of appeals to anyone with information on the case to come forward.
Fr. Popieluszko has been one of the most outspoken and uncompromising of the small group of Roman Catholic priests who have emerged as the main critics of Polish government since Jaruzelski lifted martial law and began an amnesty for political prisoners.
Prior to the bishops' statement on the kidnapping, the church and the independent Solidarity labor union had confined comment to expressions of shock.
In the past, the union's remaining spokesmen have repeatedly alleged that minor acts against priests or opposition spokesman were sponsored or inspired by the government. But former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa has refrained from any such charges concerning Father Popielszusko.
''There is no suggestion of blaming the government,'' the source contacted by phone says, ''because Walesa and Solidarity realize - as everybody - that most probably the kidnapping is the handiwork of other quarters.''
The one person possibly able to throw some light on the affair is Popieluszko's chauffeur, who was driving the priest from a provincial town to his Warsaw parish when the abduction occurred. The driver managed to escape from the kidnappers but is reportedly in a military hospital recovering from a severe beating.
This itself is a matter of concern to some observers. What the driver may say could embarrass authorities.
Some observers worry that the results of investigation may never be made public if evidence points to certain Jaruzelski opponents - those most angry about the recent political amnesty - as the kidnappers.
The kidnapping is particularly embarrassing for the Polish regime just now because West European governments are beginning to resume diplomatic contacts, which were broken off in December 1981.
The kidnapping is also embarrassing at a time when the effects of Western sanctions are being acknowledged as considerably more damaging than admitted earlier, and when the lifting of the harshest sanctions of all - the American ones - are becoming more imperative for the Polish economy, which grows increasingly worse.