Spies in the Vatican: The Soviet Union's Cold War Against The Catholic Church Paperback – Jan 25 2011
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Though it‘s well known that the U.S.S.R. spied on everyone, readers will be amazed by this account of its extensive infiltration of the Catholic Church. — Publishers Weekly
About the Author
John Koehler is the author of Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police. He has worked as a journalist for nearly forty years with the Associated Press and is a former U.S. Army Intelligence Officer, specializing in counter-espionage and intelligence collection. An adviser to President Reagan from 1985-1989, John is retired and lives in Stamford, Connecticut.
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Eastern European agents occupying prominent positions in the church hierarchy were able to be present and had direct contact with U.S. and allied leaders in briefing sessions with the Papacy. Cold War strategies used to brief the Pope were reported to the Soviet Union in a matter of days. The author is a lifetime journalist and former U.S. Army intelligence officer.
From its inception, Communist Russia was an atheist regime. And, from Lenin onwards, the Communists had the Orthodox, the Catholic, and the Protestant clergy rounded up like cattle, and shipped to the Gulag to die of starvation or neglect. Or, for those members of the clergy who were more prominent, murdered quickly. Lenin wrote "'Now, and only now, when people are being eaten in famine stricken areas, and hundreds, if not thousands, of corpses lie on the roads, we can (and therefore must) pursue the removal of church property with the most frenzied and ruthless energy and not hesitate to put down the least opposition" (p 7). Atheists are always such charmers, aren't they?
The election of Pope John Paul sent the Politburo into a tailspin of worry. They noted in horror the reaction in Poland where "people embraced each other and got on their knees on the streets" (p 58) after John Paul's election. The Stasi's report on the crisis was "more than an inch thick, 214 pages" (p 69).
Worse news was to follow. The pope promptly visited Poland, and, at one point, "well over 800,000 Poles gave the pontiff a joyous welcome to Krakow" (p 77). It was clear that the pope, furthermore, had been elected "at a time when his land was on the verge of chaos with ever-increasing anti-Soviet sentiment among the people, especially the working class" (p 87). Anti-communist sentiment grew among the Poles, and the movement Solidarity was formed.
Koehler details the way the Soviets responded, including naming the names of some of the more notable spies the Soviets sent to the Vatican. But their real response came in late April 1981.
Agca shot the pope, but the bullet went slightly astray, and the pope was only wounded.
The Communists had lost. As Solidarity grew into a vast political force, the Soviets faced a determined Ronald Reagan and a clearly anti-Communist Pope John Paul.
This is one book you will certainly want in your library. Also, any Catholic interested in this book will also want to read "Catholic Martyrs of the 20th Century" which goes into detail about how the Communists murdered priest, nuns, and the laity in places as diverse as Mexico, Spain, and China during the past century.
Koehler relies on information gathered from archives of the former communist states but also utilizes some primary sources and defectors to paint the picture of their ongoing battle with the Roman Catholic Church.
The greatest strengths of the book is the vivid illustration of the panic of the Soviets after the election of John Paul II to the papacy and both their and particularly East Germany's Erich Honecker's unsuccessful efforts to keep reform from spreading from Poland to the rest of the eastern bloc. Particularly griping are the repeated urgings of Honecker's state for the forcible repression of Poland and the Eastern Bloc's involvement in the attempt to Murder the pontiff.
The disinformation campaigns, including the attempts to re-write the history of Pius XII are touched on and the naming of traitors and spies within the church both lay and ordained are given solid attention. The willingness of JP II to go against his Curia and Zbigniew Brzezinski to go against the state department to support a free Poland is also pretty good. Apparently Dr. Brzezinski nationalism trumped his realism in this situation and the world is better for it.
The book's weakness is it's over-reliance on the actual reports sent by agents. A lot of them contain such repetitive boilerplate communist nonsense that they are almost impossible to read. Maybe it's just my impression looking at things after the fact but a lot of the information from the particular reports don't seem to be worth the effort. The spies almost seem to be stating the obvious, but then again those reports might be the most true "news" stories out of the areas. The Author's idea might have been to give examples of how the reports were made but I think they they are overused and deflect from the readability of the book.
In that sense it reminds me of an improved version of Sherman: A Soldier's Life in that it takes an interesting subject and doesn't do it justice. I really vacillated between 3 and 4 stars on this one, finally giving it a reluctant 4 stars due to information that was new to me. If you want a better understanding of cold war intel then you should pick it up, but if that is not a big interest then there may be other books that warrant your money first.
The Russian Communist Party that came to power in 1917 was implacably hostile to all religion, especially Christianity. Koehler describes how it destroyed the Catholic Church in Russia and brutally suppressed the dominant Orthodox Church over which eventually gained total control. The staunchly anti-communist Catholic Church posed a special problem for Moscow in Easter Europe, especially in strongly Catholic Poland. Thus, there was considerable interest in discovering what the Vatican was up to. To that end Bloc security services made a determined effort to plant spies in the Vatican, most of whom, alas, were bribed or blackmailed members of the clergy including, according to Koehler, ten to fifteen percent of the Polish clergy who collaborated with the SB. One of these was a very senior prelate who was even named Archbishop of Warsaw, but was exposed just before he took this position. These are all pretty shocking revelations, especially to those of us who are Catholic. What most alarmed the Kremlin was the ascendancy to Peter's Throne of Polish John Paul II who made a wildly triumphant -- and deeply disturbing to Moscow -- nine day tour of his native land in 1979, described in detail in the book. This led to a November 13, 1979, meeting of the nine most senior members of the Soviet Party Central Committee where a document was produced which, in elliptical language, in effect iniated the 1981 attempted assassination of the Pope. One of the nine signing was none other than Mikhail S. Gorbachev. To me that most interesting part of this book was a description of how this assassination attempt was organized and how it became exposed.
William LLoyd Stearman, Ph.D., KHS
Senior US Foreign Service officer (Ret.)
White House National Security Council staff, 1971-76, 1981-1913
Academician, The Catholic Academy of Sciences in the USA