The secret police captain accused of leading the abduction and murder of Father Jerzy Popieluszko suggested in court Tuesday that the pro-Solidarity priest was ultimately responsible for his own death.
Capt. Grzegorz Piotrowski said he was pressed to resort to illegal actions against Popieluszko by his commanding officer in the security service, who personified an atmosphere of mounting frustration in the service over the failure to prosecute the priest for subversive activity.
The captain said Popieluszko refused to curtail his political activities, the church resisted sending him abroad for study, and Poland's interior minister, Gen. Czeslaw Kiszczak, was reluctant to prosecute the priest for allegedly aiding the outlawed Solidarity union's underground organization.
"I and the other defendants . . . would never have found ourselves here in court if the law was law for Jerzy Popieluszko," the captain testified.
By late last summer, he said, "I agreed to take illegal action. I knew that what I agreed to was illegal." He insisted, however, that he and his fellow officers intended only to intimidate, not kill, the enormously popular priest.
Capt. Piotrowski, speaking from notes in a relaxed, conversational tone, repeatedly named his commanding officer and co-defendant, Col. Adam Pietruszka, as being responsible for instigating the kidnaping that led to the priest's death.
In an apparent effort to deflect responsibility from higher authority, the captain said he had once believed that a deputy interior minister, Wladyslaw Ciaston, had approved the plan but that he no longer thought this was the case.
"I now see that I had no firm proof that any higher-ups existed, though I believed it," the captain said. "Now, I know the only higher-up is (Col.) Adam Pietruszka."
Capt. Piotrowski and two secret police lieutenants, Waldemar Chmielewski, 32, and Leszek Pekala, 29, are accused of kidnaping the priest on Oct. 19, killing him and then throwing his body in a Vistula River reservoir. Col. Pietruszka, the deputy head of the security service department that monitors Poland's powerful Roman Catholic church, is accused of abetting the murder and attempting to protect the other officers.
All four face possible death sentences if convicted.
Piotrowski said the government's indictment was incorrect when it stated that he acted out of hatred for the priest. In a remark that evoked laughter in the courtroom, Piotrowski said, "For me, there existed only one issue--that of Popieluszko respecting the law."
Discussions of illegal covert action against Popieluszko and a second, outspokenly anti-Communist Warsaw priest, Father Stanislaw Malkowski, began at a meeting in September, the captain said.
He quoted Col. Pietruszka as declaring firmly: "Enough of games with Popieluszko and Malkowski. They should be shaken to bring them to the verge of a heart attack. They should be given the final warning."
The colonel, he testified, went on to assure them that physical action against the two priests had been approved at a high level. Pointing upward for emphasis, Pietruszka said, "I don't have to tell you, comrades, that it is a decision from on high."
Because the operational style of the security service is to refer even minor matters to "at least a deputy minister," Piotrowski told the court that he had assumed that this was the case with the orders to act against the priest.