WARSAW (Reuters) - Cardinal Jozef Glemp, who played a central role in Poland's peaceful transition from Communism to democracy as the long-time primate of the country's Roman Catholic Church, has died. He was 83.
During Glemp's 28-year tenure from 1981 to 2009, which largely coincided with the papacy of fellow Pole John Paul II, the Church guided the opposition to authoritarian rule and provided backing to Solidarity, the Communist bloc's first independent trade union.
But the soft-spoken Glemp had often been criticized by some former dissidents for not doing enough as Poland's primate to support underground opposition and for being too accommodating to the Communist authorities.
On the day that Communist leader General Wojciech Jaruzelski implemented martial law in December 1981, public television broadcast Glemp's warnings that open opposition could result in bloodshed.
Church officials later insisted John Paul supported Glemp's stance at the time.
"This was the time of historic events, breakthroughs, the transition to freedom. There was a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of Primate (Glemp) and he fared well," said Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, who served under Glemp.
"Everybody makes mistakes and even he made some, but he fulfilled his responsibility and departed convinced of this," he told state agency PAP.
Glemp had said that one of his main regrets was not doing enough to save Jerzy Popieluszko, a priest close to Solidarity who was killed by Communist security forces in 1984.
Glemp, wearing make-up to make him look younger, played himself in a 2009 biopic about the dissident priest. He said acting in the drama was a way of setting the record straight about his relationship with Popieluszko.
The Warsaw archdiocese said Glemp died on Wednesday evening in hospital. In March 2012, he had undergone surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his lung.
(Reporting by Chris Borowski; Editing by Alison Williams)