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The History of Fr. Popiełuszko’s Beatification Process.

27 kwietnia 2010 | 10:28 | maj/maz Ⓒ Ⓟ

Beatification, or pronouncing Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko blessed, will allow a public cult of his person in the Church, even if for the time being this is going to be local and optional cult.

Only after canonisation someone’s cult becomes obligatory for the Church worldwide. Beatification, as canonisation, is connected with the pronouncement of an authentic sanctity of some Christian, whose virtues practiced to an heroic degree or martyrdom were previously considered and confirmed during a due process.

In the beatification process where someone’s heroic virtues need to be confirmed, it is moreover necessary to include a testimony of a miracle worked through the intercession of the candidate to the glory of the altars. A miracle in not required for the beatification of a martyr. It is enough to prove that someone was a martyr for the faith.

The tradition of the Church regards martyrdom as the most conspicuous sign of a full imitation of Christ until the sacrifice of one’s life. In its unique way martyrdom serves the strengthening of a community: Sanguis martyrum – semen christianorum – ‘the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians’, wrote Tertullian in his Apologeticus. In addition, according to Catholic theology martyrdom absolves one of all sins. In order to recognise someone as a martyr it is necessary to prove that his death was effected by persecutors who acted out of hatred for the faith, and was accepted voluntarily out of supernatural causes. This was precisely the objective of the beatification process of Fr. Popiełuszko.

Before the start of the process

After the priest’s death the conviction of his martyrdom was widespread. Public opinion demanded the commencement of a beatification process. Countless requests to this effect were sent to the Warsaw Curia and the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.

On 24 June 1995, Cardinal Józef Glemp set up a Commission for the preparation of the beatification process of Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko. On 15 November 1996 the Congregation for the Causes of Saints consented to the commencement of the proceedings. The intervening 11 years of waiting were mistakenly attributed to the fact that the Primate of Poland was reluctant to take action. According to the binding canonisation provisions of canon law, the process may not start earlier than 5 years after the death of the candidate to the glory of altars. In Fr. Popiełuszko’s case the delay was moreover caused by certain doubts of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints as to forms of commemorating him, which may have been seen as public cult (such a cult of non-beatified persons is a definite obstacle for the commencement of the process) as well as fears of an opportunistic use of the person of Fr. Jerzy by certain political circles, or the unfinished court trials of people accused of instigating the murder of the priest.

Information process in the diocese

The beatification process starts with the so-called diocesan information process which aims to gather comprehensive and reliable evidence of martyrdom for the faith. It is conducted by the bishop of the diocese where the death occurred. In the case of Fr. Jerzy this was the Diocese of Włocławek. On 21 June 1996, however, the Bishop of Włocławek ceded work to Archbishop of Warsaw.
The first public session was held on 8 February 1997 in the Church of St. Stanislaus Kostka in Warsaw. Cardinal Primate set up and swore in the beatification Tribunal. The work of the Tribunal took 4 years. During this time a very comprehensive evidentiary material was collected, e.g. sworn witness testimonies (44), documents submitted by the Historical Commission with its ‘Report’ and opinions of a commission of theologian-censors. Taken into consideration were the writings of Fr. Popiełuszko, all documents concerning his life and activity, the circumstance of the death for the faith, the question of persecution and finally the glory of sanctity and martyrdom as well as graces attributed to his intercession to God. While it is not necessary to confirm a miracle through someone’s intercession during the beatification process of a martyr, such graces count as an important argument during the overall assessment of the person.

Work on the Positio

On 21 March 2001, the files of the information process were submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. On their basis Fr. Dr. Tomasz Kaczmarek, since 2003 the Postulator of the process, began the compilation of so-called Positio super martyrio, i.e. ‘Process statement of martyrdom’, a comprehensive report giving account of all the major elements and causes of martyrdom against a broad background of the case. This document becomes fundamental for a debate within the Congregation.

As the Postulator of the process underlines, the preparation of the Positio required a number of supplementary studies. Moreover, additional difficulties appeared which affected the pace of work. The most important of those were related to the hypothesis put forth in 2005 by prosecutor Andrzej Witkowski from the National Remembrance Institute, who suggested a different version of the murder and date of Fr. Popiełuszko’s death than those established during studies over the case and during the killers’ court trial. The hypothesis, although ultimately disproved, called for additional research conducted both by the National Remembrance Institute and the postulation. An additional archive research was necessary also in 2007 on account of the acquisition by the Institute of new documents related to the case and unknown by then.

Finally the Positio was officially submitted for debate on 20 June 2008. It numbers 1,157 printed pages of A-4 size and 16 pages of photographic records.

Stages of discussion in the Congregation

At this stage the case of Fr. Popiełuszko’s martyrdom would probably have had to wait around 10 years for a consideration by the Congregation. In response to a letter by Polish bishops and upon consultation with the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, in November 2008 Benedict XVI made a decision to treat this process on a priority basis. Nevertheless, there were some delays caused by the National Remembrance Institute’s publication scheduled to come out in March 2009: ‘Aparat represji wobec księdza Jerzy Popiełuszko 1982-1984’ [Repression measures used with respect to Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko]. Only after it became clear that it did not add anything significantly new to the case, could the discussion in the Congregation begin.

The debates were held in two stages – within a group of Theologians-Consultors and in the Commission of Cardinals and Bishops. The opinion of theologians announced in early June 2009 was unanimously approving. On 1 December 2009 the case was examined by the Commission of Cardinals and Bishops. Here, too, it was announced that Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko is a martyr for the faith.
On 19 December 2009, Benedict XVI approved the decision of the Congregation and authorised the Prefect of the Congregation, Archbishop Angelo Amato, to promulgate a decree of martyrdom on his behalf. This meant a decision of beatification. Upon consultation with Archbishop Kazimierz Nycz, the Secretariat of State set the celebration for 6 June 2010.


Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko’s death was unanimously considered as genuine martyrdom as understood by theology. This was a death accepted on account of the faith and perpetrated out of hatred for the faith rather than only for political reasons.

The communist system, with all its conditions impacting the direct perpetrators of the murder, was considered as the persecutor. The system was inherently inimical to the Church and to the faith, as noticed already in 1937 by Pope Pius XI in the encyclical Divini Redemptoris (On Atheistic Communism). The reality of Poland under communist rule proved this judgement right.
An analysis of Fr. Jerzy’s stand demonstrates that he was aware that he might be faced with a radical choice: life and a discontinuation of the road he had chosen, or fidelity to it and death. He developed a consciousness of a Christian obligation of being a witness to truth, even at the price of life.

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