TORUN, Poland — The key defendant in the trial of four secret police officers accused of killing a pro-Solidarity priest startled the court Wednesday with a bitter tirade against Poland's Roman Catholic Church and the government itself for failing to curb militant clergymen.
Capt. Grzegorz Piotrowski admitted that he was "guilty to some degree" in the death of Father Jerzy Popieluszko last October. But he said the kidnaping and beating of the popular priest was born of a frustration felt so keenly within the secret police at restraints on their activities that on one occasion-- when Popieluszko was arrested, then released within 24 hours--he saw "grown men weep like children."
Piotrowski and two lieutenants in the Polish security service have admitted kidnaping and beating the 37-year-old priest last Oct. 19. His body, bound and a gagged, was found 11 days later in a Vistula River reservoir near Torun, 125 miles northwest of Warsaw.
Charges Against Colonel A fourth secret police officer, Col. Adam Pietruszka, is charged with aiding and abetting the crime and attempting to protect his three subordinates from arrest.
Testifying on the eighth day of a trial that has seized the attention of predominantly Catholic Poland, Piotrowski read a statement that lashed out at the church, the government and at Popieluszko.
Earlier, Piotrowski had insisted that he felt no hatred for the priest, only cool professional detachment for a man he alleged was engaged in subversive activity, possibly at the direction of Western intelligence agencies.
Pressed by Presiding Judge Artur Kujawa to explain his motivations, Piotrowski, his voice rising, said, "I misled the court. . . . My attitude was not one of official coolness. How can you be calm when you know a bishop collaborated with the Nazis? . . . How can you keep calm when you know that 80 million zlotys ($615,000) in Solidarity union funds is in the safe of the bishop of Wroclaw and the priest laughs at attempts to get it?"
The church, he said, addressing the panel of seven judges, evades taxes, foments "hatred of the state" among schoolchildren and provides protective cover for anti-Communist subversion.
The priest himself, Piotrowski claimed, was acting to distribute 65 million zlotys to the underground organization of the now-outlawed Solidarity and allegedly kept 4.7 million zlotys for his personal use.
The frustrations felt by security service officers monitoring the church, Capt. Piotrowski said, were compounded by long hours and frequent weekend duty that disrupted family life.
"There were no free Saturdays, no Sundays," he complained, "just because some priests want to make trouble."