WARSAW, Poland - Polish Archbishop Juliusz Paetz, a longtime acquaintance of Pope John Paul II, announced his resignation yesterday, making him one of the highest-ranking prelates to be brought down in a spate of sexual harassment allegations shaking the Roman Catholic Church.
"Not everyone understood my open attitude to people and their problems," Paetz, 67, of Poznan said of the allegations, which became public in February. The newspaper Rzeczpospolita cited unidentified priests as saying Paetz had been accused by numerous priests of having made sexual advances on young clerics.
At a Mass at Poznan's cathedral, Paetz said he was resigning "for the good of the church" but protested his innocence, saying that "my kindness and spontaneity were misinterpreted."
The Vatican said yesterday that the pope accepted Paetz's resignation and named his successor.
Rzeczpospolita reported that clerics in Poznan first complained to their superiors more than two years ago, asking them in vain to raise the issue with Paetz. The Polish church has said almost nothing about the case and its governing body, the Episcopate, declined to comment yesterday.
Paetz is the highest-ranking prelate to resign or be removed since Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer was forced to give up his duties in 1998 over allegations that he molested boys.
The archbishop's resignation came a week after the pope broke his silence on recent sex abuse cases rocking the church in the United States and several European countries, saying those who were guilty had succumbed to evil and cast a shadow of suspicion over all priests.
Yesterday morning, he invited prayers for "our brothers who didn't meet their commitments that came with priestly ordination or who are going through a period of difficulty and crisis." While thanking God for the gift of the priesthood, he said, "we cannot help but confess our infidelities."
Vatican sources said the pontiff, who is scheduled to visit his homeland in August for the first time in three years, has been deeply saddened by the scandal in the Polish church.
Paetz said yesterday that he resigned because "the Poznan church needs unity and peace."
His announcement, at a Mass in which priests renew their vow, was greeted by silence in the cathedral.
Priests applauded as another bishop read a letter from the papal nuncio in Poland, Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk, thanking Paetz for his service and noting that "you did not want your person to be an obstacle in the life of this church."
Paetz insisted that during a visit to the Vatican in February, he heard no "accusations or substantial charges." He said he was not questioned about the allegations and "no verdict was issued by any competent church authority."
At the Vatican, the pope struggled through Holy Thursday ceremonies in St. Peter's Basilica, ceding his place at the ornate main altar to other clerics in morning and afternoon ceremonies.
It was the second time in less than a week that the frail pope has let someone take his place in a major Holy Week ceremony.
During the afternoon ceremony, he let Cardinals Angelo Sodano and Roger Etchegaray perform the ritual washing and kissing of the feet of priests, the first time he has not done so since becoming pope in 1978.
A year ago, the pope was able to move down a line of a dozen seated, white-robed priests, pouring water on each man's right foot from a golden pitcher, wiping them dry and bringing the feet to his lips.
Holy Week is packed with public appearances for the pope. He is scheduled to perform a Good Friday service at the Colosseum, a vigil service tomorrow night and an Easter Mass in St. Peter's Square on Sunday.