Pope John Paul II, Part I
"How many divisions has the Pope?"
A few weeks ago, in my weekly review, I stated that Pope John
Paul II was one of the towering figures of the past century and
that he was highly influential in the collapse of the Soviet Union.
While this topic is a slight deviation from the norm for "Hott
Spotts," I feel as if I should offer some proof. Utilizing the
Mitrokhin archives, from the KGB defector Vasili Mitrokhin, as
well as other more standard reference works, it is easy to see why
Communist authorities in Poland, as well as in Moscow, were
concerned about this holy man and his impact.
Whereas the Hungarian Uprising and Czechoslovakia''s Prague
Spring had failed to dislodge Communist regimes, the lengthy
struggle for freedom in Poland not only changed the face of a
nation, it led to the dismantling of the entire Soviet empire. And
through it all stood the man who would become Pope, Karol
Born in 1920, Wojtyla was the archbishop of Cracow in the early
1970s when he first got the attention of the KGB in Moscow.
Then "Cardinal" Wojtyla was a former actor and a charismatic
figure. Author Christopher Andrew notes, "The undermining of
the empire built by Stalin after Yeltsin was begun not by the
military might of the West but by the moral authority of the first
Polish Pope, which rapidly eclipsed that of the Polish
KGB and SB (the Polish security apparatus) monitoring of
Wojtyla commenced in 1971. Authorities were concerned over
his "subversive" behavior and as early as 1973-4, there were
thoughts of prosecuting the cardinal for his sermons. Three of
them during this period were deemed to be violations of the
Criminal Code, which provided for terms of imprisonment of up
to ten years for sedition.
According to an informant, during one sermon Cardinal Wojtyla
"The Church has the right to criticize all manifestations and
aspects of the activity of the authorities if they are unacceptable
to the people."
After World War II, the Communists in Poland tried to
implement their system of agriculture, which proved to be a
disaster for the nation''s peasant farmers. Collectivization, the
grand experiment throughout Eastern Europe, was such a failure
in Poland that it was suspended in 1956. The government thus
had to heavily subsidize food and it was a major reason that as
the 1970s progressed, the country was crippled with a huge
foreign debt. And as the debt burden increased, the government
attempted to raise consumer prices, with disastrous results. In
1970 and 1976, there were massive strikes and riots against the
Commenting on the principle that started it all, Cardinal Wojtyla
"Collectivization led to the destruction of the individual and of
It was easy to see why both the KGB and SB were concerned.
Wojtyla had the guts to make these kinds of statements and it
was clear he was committed to ideological subversion.
During the food riots of 1976, he set up a fund to assist those
who had been imprisoned for taking part in the clashes, and he
began a concerted effort to involve himself with the formation of
the Workers Defense Committee (KOR), what was to become an
alliance of workers and dissident intellectuals. The future Pope
met with KOR''s leadership frequently.
And around this time, Wojtyla began to invoke the example of
St. Stanislaw, a martyred bishop of ancient Cracow, as a symbol
of resistance, proclaiming:
"St. Stanislaw has become the patron saint of moral and social
order in the country...He dared to tell the King himself that he
was bound to respect the law of God...He was also the defender
of the freedom that is the inalienable right of every man, so that
the violation of that freedom by the state is at the same time a
violation of the moral and social order."
In May 1977, Cardinal Wojtyla spoke before 20,000 after a KOR
activist was allegedly murdered by the SB.
And then in 1978, Pope Paul VI died. Pope John Paul I was
elected, but he lived a mere two months. So on October 16,
1978 the puffs of smoke rising from the Vatican announced to
the world that the first non-Italian pope since the 16th century,
Karol Wojtyla, was the new leader of the world''s Catholics. In
deference to his immediate predecessor, he took the name John
Paul II. Church bells rang throughout Poland. Attempting to
associate itself with the joy in the streets, the Communist Party
leadership sent a note to the Vatican expressing gratitude that "a
son of the Polish nation...sits on the papal throne." Of course,
there was little real joy amongst the authorities, and, for its part,
the KGB was concerned that what did exist may actually be
The day after the Pope''s elevation, the head of the KGB mission
in Warsaw sent the following assessment to Moscow.
"Wojtyla holds extreme anti-Communist views. Without openly
opposing the Socialist system, he has criticized the way in which
the state agencies of the Polish People''s Republic have
functioned, making the following accusations:
--that the basic human rights of Polish citizens are restricted;
--that there is unacceptable exploitation of the workers, whom
''the Catholic Church must protect against the workers''
--that the activities of the Catholic Church are restricted and
Catholics treated as second-class citizens;
--that an extensive campaign is being conducted to convert
society to atheism and impose an alien ideology on the people;
--that the Catholic Church is denied its proper cultural role,
thereby depriving Polish culture of its national treasures."
The stage was set for a showdown between Warsaw and Moscow
over how to handle John Paul II. Clearly, he would want to
return to his homeland. That wasn''t a good thing.
Next week, the Pope and the rise of Solidarity.
"The Sword and the Shield," Christopher Andrew and Vasili
"A History of Modern Europe," John Merriman
"A History of Europe," Norman Davies
"One World Divisible," David Reynolds