The Plot to Kill the Pope

There seems little doubt left that the KGB was behind the attempted assassination of John Paul II and the question arises as to what should follow from this certainty. Pontiff, by two British journalists stationed in Rome, can be described as a novelization of the shooting of the Pope by Mehmet Ali Agca on May 13, 1981. The more recent Cet homme est en Danger by Roger Senart and Noel Hauterive (Paris: Le Carousel-FN, 1983) places the attempt on the Pope in a general context of terrorism, real or alleged Vatican financial shenanigans and the like. Paul Henze, in The Plot to Kill the Pope (Scribners, 1983) follows the trail back to Andropov and the KGB. The conclusion is inescapable: the Soviet leaders decided in cold blood to make use of Agca to kill the Pope.

The full horror and significance of this realization is not as apparent in certain recent events as it should be. But then the shooting down of an unarmed commercial jet by Soviet fighters with the loss of hundreds of innocent lives has been all but forgotten mere months after it occurred. Why is this?

Solzhenitsyn’s painstakingly detailed revelations in the volumes of his Gulag Archipelago seem more ignored than cited. It is becoming increasingly the practice for news pro-grams to feature “opposite numbers” from Moscow, discussing events of the day and commenting, adversely of course, on American words and deeds. That the tools of this bloody regime should thus be treated as ordinary journalists is an abomination which, so far as I know, only William Buckley, on the Ted Koppel show, has pointed out.

It will not do to explain this incredible brevity of attention-span by our incapacity to speak for long of the evil men do, so natural is it for us — journalists included — to draw attention to human virtues. If the ironic tone is not apparent, try to imagine American journalists pushing out of their consciousness real or alleged turpitude on the part of the U.S. or any of its beleaguered friends. It is a sad fact that our networks seem eager to act as conduits of Soviet disinformation. The analogy of Potemkin Villages has been found in Cuba and Nicaragua, and the relentless undermining of the efforts of El Salvador to save itself from Communist takeover continues in American media. Has the press yet acknowledged what was going on in Grenada?

If the worst of which the United States and its friends are accused were true beyond question this would amount, on any sensible moral scale, to infinitely less than what the Soviets and their surrogates are unquestionably guilty of. Thus the tendency to speak of “the two super- powers” as of moral equals who are up to roughly the same thing in the world, can only be regarded as a coup of unprecedented proportions for Soviet disinformation. Many Americans have been schooled to think that there is not a dime’s worth of difference between their own government and that of the Soviet Union, l2etween Ronald Reagan and Yuri Andropov. The mind boggles.

It would be one thing if there were the widespread recognition (a) that the Soviets are ruthless butchers with aspirations for global conquest who lie, cheat, steal and murder to achieve their ends, but (b) nonetheless we should engage in negotiations with them in the full knowledge of what for the Soviets negotiations are, viz. yet another instrument of their global project. To do business with a merchant whose policy it is to lie and cheat requires special caveats to the emptor. I think this is what Reagan had in mind when he spoke of the Soviet regime as evil.

It is evil. Yet Reagan was criticized. Why? Because there are those who believe, or want to believe, that Soviet Russia is a country like any other. I have heard it said that it is possible to negotiate with the Russians because they too have grandchildren and do not want war. In the light of Henze’s book, such a remark can no longer be dismissed as naive; it becomes willful ignorance.

Pope John Paul II would not have been the first Pope to be martyred, if Agca’s attempt had been successful. He is not the first modern Pope to be the target of evil men. Pius VI was kidnapped and so was Pius VII. Nonetheless, for the Catholic, such treatment of Christ’s vicar on earth carries with it a special horror.

In the light of this, the attitude of the American bishops with respect to relations between the Soviet Union and the United States, seems the result of some dreadful absence of mind. The French bishops drew attention to the special character of the Soviet menace. But our bishops, some of them, champion a regime in Nicaragua which insulted the Pope when he visited and which has persecuted the Church before and after that papal visit. One almost wonders if there are moles in the NCCB. There is something Orwellian in the characterization of this blindness as the introduction of moral considerations into political issues.

The morality to which the bishops should call us does not counsel that we forget any of the above reminders in the foolish hope that bears treated as puppies will learn to frolic in the park. The fact is that our foreign policy is already moral by any sane estimation. The immorality rampant in the United States which has an indirect bearing on our foreign policy concerns sex. Sex, pornography, extramarital sex, divorce, contraception, abortion, the pervasive snickering sensuality of our entertainment, the championing of perversion and hooting at normality, the growing and more offensive attacks on religion: These are the problem. As Christ wept over Jerusalem, so might our bishops weep over America. But for the love of God, let our estimate not be that of the world that holds the faith in contempt.

The KGB was behind the attempt to assassinate John Paul II. This forcibly reminds us of the evil character of our adversary. Our prayers for the conversion of Russia should be accompanied by a moral reformation. If our bishops wish to carry signs their legend should not be Peace but Repent.


Ralph McInerny was a popular writer, philosopher, and teacher, as well as the co-founder of Crisis Magazine. He passed away on January 29, 2010.

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