WARSAW -- Cardinal Jozef Glemp, who headed Poland's powerful Roman Catholic Church through the dark days of martial law and the country's later jump to free-market democracy, stepped down as archbishop of Warsaw yesterday after more than 25 years.
Pope Benedict XVI accepted Glemp's resignation, submitted for reasons of age, and named the bishop of Plock, Stanislaw Wojciech Wielgus, as his successor.
In a letter from the pontiff to Glemp, 76, Benedict expressed "thanks and singular esteem" for his work, and said Glemp will remain Poland's primate until his 80th birthday.
Glemp was appointed archbishop of Warsaw and primate of Poland by the late Polish-born Pope John Paul II in July 1981, a year after a wave of strikes rocked Poland and gave rise to the Solidarity trade union, the Soviet bloc's first mass opposition movement. Months after Glemp took the post, Poland's communist leaders declared martial law to try to crush the burgeoning Solidarity movement.
Glemp trod softly during the conflict, trying to shield the church and millions of its followers from repression and avoid a confrontation with the government. However, he offered support to Solidarity during the crackdown, with churches becoming a safe haven and stronghold of the democratic opposition. Later, under his leadership, the church helped mediate a peaceful transition of power at the end of communism in 1989.
Possibly the most controversial episode in Glemp's career came in 1990, when he criticized Jewish protests against the location of a Carmelite convent directly outside the former Auschwitz Nazi death camp. The nunnery was eventually moved, after John Paul II stepped in.
While he was widely respected, Glemp never had the charisma of his predecessor, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski. He also worked in the shadow of John Paul II, who effectively ran the Polish church from Rome.