WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Cardinal Jozef Glemp, the head of Poland’s influential Roman Catholic church from 1981 to 2004 – a time when it played a historic role in the fight against communism – has died at the age of 83.
Jozef Kloch, a church spokesman, said in a statement that Glemp died Wednesday evening in Warsaw. Glemp had been ill for many years, and the Polish news agency PAP said he had lung cancer. Earlier in the day Warsaw Archbishop Kazimierz Nycz had asked the faithful to pray for Glemp, noting that his condition was deteriorating.
Glemp oversaw the church at a critical time in its history and that of Poland.
He was the primate for most of the papacy of the Polish-born Pope John Paul II, who was elected pope in 1979. The church then enjoyed huge influence in Poland, with John Paul inspiring the Solidarity movement of Lech Walesa that helped topple communism in 1989.
A key moment for Glemp as church leader came in 1981, when communist authorities imposed the harsh crackdown know as martial law on the nation, aiming to crush Solidarity.
Some democracy activists at the time faulted Glemp for failing to confront the regime forcefully at that time, but he has explained any conciliatory gestures were meant to try to prevent a blood bath in the nation.