If it weren’t for Blessed John Paul II, Józef Cardinal Glemp would have been the sole face of Polish Catholicism in the waning days of that country’s Communist regime. Yesterday he died at the age of 83.
Born in the Polish heartland in 1929, the life of young Józef was marked by war. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, he was employed as a slave labourer. Despite this, which undoubtedly marked his teenage years, he was able to continue his seminary education, culminating in an ordination to the priesthood in 1956. He belonged to the priesthood of the Archdiocese of Gniezno, although he initially worked in neighbouring Poznań. After two years, he was sent to Rome, to study canon law at the Pontifical Lateran University. In 1964, Father Glemp earned his doctorate and also the title of Advocate of the Roman Rota. He also wrapped up studies in church administration, which no doubt prepared him for his future job.
Returning to Gniezno, Fr. Glemp took up work as chaplain to Dominican and Franciscan sisters and taught religion in a house for underage delinquents. He was also secretary of the Gniezno seminary, and had duties as notary for the Polish curia.
For fifteen years, starting in 1967, he was the secretary of Poland’s great wartime prelate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski. This took Fr. Glemp to Rome and all over Poland and made him a familiar face among the Polish bishops. In 1972 he was made a Chaplain of His Holiness, conferring on him the title of Monsignor. In 1976, Msgr. Glemp became a canon of Gniezno’s metropolitan chapter.
In 1979, Msgr. Glemp became bishop of Warmia, but he wouldn’t stay there long. In 1981, his longtime mentor and collaborator, Cardinal Wyszynski, died. The cardinal was archbishop of both Gniezno and Warsaw, and Bishop Glemp succeeded him in both sees, in part as a reflection of their respective importance: Warsaw as Poland’s capital, and Gniezno as Poland’s primatial see. Archbishop Glemp therefore became Primate of Poland. This gave him the right to wear a cardinal’s red zucchetto, although he wasn’t a cardinal yet.
In 1983, Archbishop Glemp became Cardinal Glemp, with the title church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. I 1992, Pope John Paul II decided to dissolve the union “ad personam” between Gniezno and Warsaw. Cardinal Glemp remained as archbishop of Warsaw alone, but he held the title of Primate until his 80th birthday in 2009. After that date, the title reverted to the archbishop of Gniezno.
Cardinal Glemp was president of the Polish Bishops’ Conference from 1981 to 2004, and was also ordinary of the Eastern-rite Catholics of Poland from 1981 to 2007. Following th sudden resignation of his successor in Warsaw, Archbishop Wielgus, Cardinal Glemp served as Apostolic Administrator of Warsaw for three months in 2007. Until his retirement, he was a member of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Apostolic Signatura.
Cardinal Glemp’s time as archbishop was marked with few controversies, chief among this perceived anti-Semitism. He later regretted that he was perceived as such. In the Cold War years, he worked with future president Lech Walesa, and was a careful intermediary between Church and Communist leadership. He was not a violent man, and never supported violent opposition to the regime, stating that his duty was the preservation of the Church, not the overthrow of the government. Although he urged restraint from the faithful, he expected the same from the Communists.
Cardinal Józef Glemp passed away afer a battle with lung cancer. He leaves a strong Catholic identity in Poland, having successfully averted the tides of secularism in his time.
The College of Cardinals remains with 119 electors out of 210 members.