AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis
Earlier this year, a series of leaked memos revealed that FBI field offices throughout the country were coordinating with one another to target so-called “radical-traditional Catholics” as “extremist threats” and even considered developing a network of informants within churches. This shocking display of federal law enforcement being weaponized against Christians calls to mind the story of Father Jerzy Popieluszko in Communist Poland that should serve as a warning to all religious Americans about the dangers of a left-wing authoritarian surveillance state.
In January of this year, an intelligence document produced by the Richmond, Virginia, FBI field office alleged a connection between “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists” and “radical-traditionalist Catholics” – defined as those who engage in the Latin Mass or observe the Sacraments.
Although FBI leadership quickly disavowed the document and claimed it did not represent the views of the FBI generally, Americans learned in August that the document was actually a joint project of FBI field offices in several other cities, including Los Angeles and Portland. Along with other actions like the FBI’s dawn raid on the home of pro-life activist and father of seven Mark Houck last year, there are legitimate reasons to believe that devout Christians are, at the very least, being closely monitored by politicized federal law enforcement agencies.
This type of surveillance and intimidation would have been quite familiar to Christians like Poland’s Father Jerzy, who was subject to around-the-clock reconnaissance from the early 1970s through his murder in 1984. A circle of at least two dozen Soviet agents and informants, including fellow clergy and even a trusted university mentor, regularly reported on Father Jerzy’s actions to the secret police and recorded his sermons.
Father Jerzy was born in 1947, two years after the end of World War II. The Soviet regime in Moscow, eager to dissolve the national and religious bonds which had for centuries united the people of Poland, was hopeful that a new generation raised under the watchful eye of the Party would establish a new godless culture in Central Europe. In their view, keeping children from “religious indoctrination” was the surest way to cement their hold on power.
But thanks to his parents, impoverished farmers and devout Catholics, the young Jerzy learned to love both his country and God. He rejected the Party’s attempts to turn the Church into an instrument of the state and pervert the truth of the Gospel.
Father Jerzy’s rejection of Moscow’s new worldview led him to become a chaplain for the Polish Solidarity Movement, a broad anti-authoritarian union of workers that eventually helped bring about the downfall of communist rule in Poland.
“A Christian fulfils his duties only when he is stalwart, when he professes his principles courageously, when he is neither ashamed of them nor renounces them because of fear or material needs,” Father Jerzy once said. He would repeat frequently that if a citizen lacks fortitude, the most important virtue after love, he becomes a slave and causes immeasurable harm not only to himself, but to his family and country.
“The source of our captivity lies in the fact that we allow lies to reign, that we do not denounce them, that we do not protest against their existence every day of our lives, that we do not confront lies with the truth but keep silent or pretend that we believe in the lies. Thus we live in a state of hypocrisy,” he said.
For his bravery and defiance of the regime, the Warsaw Communist Party soon launched a propaganda campaign against Father Jerzy. Newspaper articles falsely accused him of being a playboy surrounded by attractive women. They claimed he lived a frivolous, wealthy life in a luxury apartment funded by money of unknown origins. One report described him as a “mysterious figure involved in frauds not only against state authorities, but also against church superiors.”
Father Jerzy’s phone was bugged, and Soviet agents stood watch outside his house day and night. Police read his letters and reviewed his health documents. Wherever he drove, he was harassed by the police.
It wasn’t long before the secret police began concocting schemes to silence Father Jerzy for good. First they tried scaring him into silence by smashing his windows and attempting to burn down his apartment.
When that didn’t work, Soviet agents moved on to efforts to frame the priest, eventually succeeding by planting illegal weapons on his property in 1983. Father Jerzy was then arrested and subjected to interrogation sessions that sometimes lasted as long as 16 hours.
The intervention of other clergy helped secure his release, however. The Secretary of the Conference of Polish Bishops wrote a letter to the Minister of Internal Affairs of the Polish Communist party denouncing the harassment that Father Jerzy was experiencing on an almost daily basis.
During many of his interrogation sessions, Soviet agents sought to undermine Father Jerzy’s faith. Their goal was to make him depressed and destroy his conviction – a strategy that proved to be an utter failure.
By October 1984, the regime decided it was time to silence Father Jerzy for good. The priest was traveling by car when he stopped to help three men who appeared to be having car trouble. Instead, it was three Soviet agents who beat Father Jerzy, tied a large stone to his feet, and dropped him into a nearby reservoir.
Father Jerzy’s martyrdom became a rallying cry for people throughout Poland and the entire world. More than 250,000 people attended his funeral.
During his last sermon, Father Jerzy said that courageous witness to the truth leads directly to freedom, adding, “Let us pray that we would be free from fear, scare, and violence, but foremost violence.” That message reverberated throughout the country on the waves of Radio Free Europe.
Poles, directed by Father Jerzy’s teaching, imprisoned but did not kill his assassins. They were all subsequently released from prisons after their terms were halved or reduced by two-thirds. One of them, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, assumed a new name, became rich, joined the pro-abortion movement, and resumed his fight against Catholic priests.
But despite this, it’s worth remembering why the regime hated Father Jerzy so much – because he understood and was unafraid to say that the Gospel and Christian teaching is wholly incompatible with the edicts of socialism and left-wing radicalism. He called for a spiritual rebellion against the moral bankruptcy of modern secularism and conformism.
This message terrifies the leftists hoping to dominate American society today by wielding the powers of the surveillance state. But just like Father Jerzy showed, they can never prevail so long as there are those willing to stand up and tell the truth.
Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.