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Saturday 30.04.2005, CET 01:27

April 29, 2005 10:50 AM


Priest denies spying on Pope John Paul


ROME (Reuters) - A Polish priest accused of spying on the late Pope John Paul said he had taken money provided by a suspected secret service agent, but denied he had been a spy.

"I was never an agent. You can call me foolish or naive, but not a spy ," Father Konrad Hejmo said in comments published in Italian newspaper La Repubblica on Friday.

A Polish state agency overseeing communist-era files said that Hejmo, who looked after Polish pilgrims coming to the Vatican for some 20 years and had access to John Paul, informed on the Polish-born pontiff during the 1980s.

Hejmo said a Polish agent based in Cologne, Germany had come to Rome shortly after John Paul became pope in 1978 and had befriended a number of Polish priests.

"This agent also gave me money via the priests," Hejmo told La Repubblica, adding that the agent had died of cancer.

Hejmo did not specify why he thought he was given the money. The paper quoted him as saying he was hard-up and "there were kind-hearted priests who gave me money".

The Vatican has declined comment on the affair.

The Polish National Remembrance Institute, which oversees and carries out research into the communist files, said it had evidence Hejmo was a conscious informer of the SB security service.

The SB tried to infiltrate the Church in the 1980s over its support for the Polish anti-communist opposition, led by the then-banned Solidarity movement.

The Polish Catholic Church has demanded a thorough investigation into the accusations.

The allegation dismayed many Poles. The pope, who died on April 2, was revered in his homeland as an unrivalled moral guide and played a major role in bringing down communism in Poland and across Central Europe.

Hejmo's religious order, the Dominicans, said their Polish chief Father Maciej Zieba would travel to Rome next week to talk to the priest.

John Paul had links with the democratic opposition while an archbishop in Krakow in 1960s and 1970s. His election as Pope in 1978 sparked a national awakening that resulted in the birth of Solidarity two years later.