by Peter Stanford CONCERN is growing in Church circles for the safety of Fr Jerzy Popieluszko, an outspoken supporter of the banned trade union Solidarity, who was abducted by unknown assailants last Friday.
Fr Popieluszko, who suffers from haemophilia and. is therefore in delicate health, was driving back to Warsaw from the northern town of Bydgoszcz when his car was flagged down by men in police uniform. They then bungled the 37-year-old priest into a waiting car, and he has not been heard of since. No ransom demand has been received.
His driver, who escaped the attack, is now under military guard at a local hospital.
Earlier this week, a Polish government spokesman, Jerzy Urban, claimed that he had received information that Fr Popieluszko had been spotted since the kidnap. He said that police were making every effort to trace him and spoke of the abduction as "a carefully timed provocation aimed against us". This was taken in church circles to indicate that the Government suspects a publicity hoax.
However, the Polish Church has been quick to dismiss any such rebuke. The bishops have expressed their "grave concern" about Fr Popieluszko and their fears that the crime might be politically motivated. "On the one hand", they said, "there is fear bout his life, and on the other there is fear that kidnapping may become a method of political strife in our country".
Before the kidnapping Fr Popieluszko had received numerous threatening calls and letters, it has been revealed this week. Among those to attack his, radical sermons in support of Solidarity has been one Jan Rem, widely taken for Mr Urban himself, who has, in newspaper articles, described Fr Popieluszko's Masses as "hatred shows" and the priest himself as one who "inspired disgust".
An unconfirmed report reached Keston College on Tuesday evening that Fr Popieluszko was dead.
Fr Popieluszko was accused in December of concealing Solidarity pamphlets and arms in his Warsaw flat, but all charges against him were dropped in the recent amnesty.
As a gesture of support for the missing priest, thousands gathered at his Warsaw church on Sunday to hear Lech Walesa warn of the dire consequences of any harm coming to Fr Popieluszko. Mr Walesa said: "If so much as a hair on Fr Jerzy's head is harmed, someone will have taken a very great responsibility upon himself . . such things should not happen in our country".
Local Solidarity groups in the area where Fr Popieluszko was abducted reported that there had been an active anti-Solidarity group in the region which had been responsible for a series of attacks on Solidarity supporters.