One of the interesting revelations of Paul Kengor’s book The Pope and the President is that William J. Casey, Ronald Reagan’s head of the CIA, had to fight against the institutional Central Intelligence Agency to push the narrative that Soviet intelligence was involved in the assassination attempt on John Paul II. Furthermore, Kengor himself was rebuffed by CIA men when he proposed the theory, and as Kengor reveals, the CIA even went out of its way to attack Claire Sterling, the journalist who first proposed the Soviet connection in Reader’s Digest.
Of course, there is evidence of collaboration between elements of American and Soviet governmental bodies during the Cold War. Was there collusion in the attempt on John Paul II’s life? Or was it just a rock the CIA did not want to turn over?
This dismissal of Agca by the Central Intelligence Agency leaves us with some interesting questions.
- Why is the narrative of Soviet involvement in the attempt so important to Catholic neocons?
- Why would the CIA so vehemently deny the involvement of the KGB or any other intelligence agency in the attempt?
- Was Agca working for someone else outside the main channels of Soviet or American intelligence?
I’ll readily admit that I had largely bought the narrative that John Paul II grew more sympathetic to capitalism at the end of the Cold War and projected at least some of that sympathy into Centesimus Annus (even if the neocons were wrong to augment that sympathy into endorsement of American style late capitalism).
However, while reading John Allen’s The Francis Effect, I discovered two quotes from John Paul II in which he strongly and explicitly condemns capitalism. Allen points to a quote from 1993 (two years after Centesimus!) in which John Paul II said, “Catholic social teaching is not a surrogate for capitalist ideology…[which is] responsible for grave social injustices.”
Allen further notes quotes John Paul II as saying “the bourgeois mentality and capitalism as a whole, with its materialistic spirit acutely contradict the gospel.”
These very strong words further condemn the narrative that John Paul gave his blessing to American style capitalism that has been pedaled by Catholic neocons for two decades.
Apropos of John Paul II’s opposition to the second Iraq War, which Catholic neocons have unsuccessfully attempted to hide, I have found this gem from John Allen’s The Francis Miracle. Writing of Pope Francis’s successful prevention of an Obama war in Syria in 2013, Allen writes of “…John Paul II’s vain efforts to stop the Iraq offensive in 2003, which included dispatching personal envoys to both Sadaam Hussein and President George W. Bush in February and March of that year…”
So, who is misleading? John Allen or the neocons?
One of the great cracks that broke open in the face of neoconservative Catholicism in the early 21st century was the dissonance between the Vatican and self-appointed voices of John Paul II in the United States, the Catholic neocons, over the 2003 Gulf War. The failed attempt by Michael Novak who traveled to Rome on behalf of the State Department to garner support for the war is well known as is the efforts of George Weigel and others to downplay John Paul II’s apparent opposition.
However, it is often forgotten that the late Holy Father condemned even more explicitly the first Gulf War led by president George H.W. Bush. In his Urbi and Orbi speech at the end of March 1991, John Paul II stated of the war:
“A choice was made of aggression and the violation of international law, when it was presumed to solve the tensions between the peoples by war, the sower of death..”
These were not the only comments made by John Paul regarding the injustice of the Gulf War.
While Catholic neocons in the past have admitted that John Paul did oppose the first Gulf War, in his most recent work Lessons in Hope, George Weigel tells a different story. According to Weigel, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran
“confirmed that John Paul II had called President George H.W. Bush the night before the ultimatum to Saddam Hussein requiring him to evacuate Kuwait or face allied military action expired: the Pope said that if diplomacy couldn’t resolve a violation of international law that must not stand, he hoped the allies would win, Saddam would be ejected from Kuwait, and there would be as few casualties as possible.”
So, here we have a curious conundrum, and there are possibilities.
- Weigel is lying.
- Cardinal Tauran was lying.
- John Paul II told George H.W. Bush one thing and the world another (this is actually the worst possible scenario).
I have finished Paul Kengor’s book, A Pope and a President, which seeks to reboot the good ol’ days of neoconservative Catholicism that began in the Reagan era and climaxed with the reigns of George W. Bush and John Paul II. One the books main theses is that the message of Fatima was fulfilled in the struggle between atheistic communism and American liberalism. American liberalism triumphs in the end, and Russia is “converted” not to Catholicism but to a form of government that more closely resembles Western democracy.
One of the apexes of this triumph of liberalism (again NOT Christianity) is in Pope John Paul II’s meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on December 1, 1989. Kengor makes special effort to show that Gorbachev was “a closet Christian” whose liberalization of the Soviet Union ultimately was the catalyst for the “conversion” of Russia, and Kengor’s depiction of John Paul’s meeting with Gorbachev three weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall is especially curious. According to Kengor, John Paul II was adamant that Russia accept “fundamental human rights” as well as “freedom of conscience, from which stems religious freedom.” John Paul even argued for freedom of conscience for “…Baptists, Protestants, Jews, as well as Muslims.”
Gorbachev responded positively, explaining that “freedom of conscience and religion” was connected to perestroika, or the liberalization of Soviet society.
Kengor describes the rest of their conversation as a mild debate over moral relativism versus objective moral values.
What we get from this meeting and Kengor’s description of it is especially interesting. Kengor is suggesting that perestroika was part of Our Lady’s plan of converting Russia not to a Catholic country but to a liberal country that allowed freedom of religion and conscience.
We also get a glimpse into John Paul II’s humanist thinking, which seems (at least in this scene) to be very concerned with liberal rights and less concerned with the salvation and conversion of souls.
It is clear that the neocons are desperate to seize the message of Fatima away from groups like the Fatima Center and traditional Catholics and fit it into their own narrative of the triumph of liberalism and not the Social Reign of Christ the King.
Our Lady of Fatima, Pray for us.
Many arguments given in favor of religious liberty argue that Vatican II’s Dignitatis Humanae was crafted to protect the Church by giving it breathing room in the new modern liberal secular states that had solidified power after the two World Wars. However, it is clear that Dignitatis Humanae (or at least the interpretation of the document) has been used to deconstruct and destroy traditionally Catholic countries in which the Church was given pride of place.
In his his forth coming Lessons in Hope, George Weigel argues that he (and the other Catholic neocons) wanted to use John Paul II as a figure not only to try to secure the Church a space in the public sphere in liberal democracies but to cripple traditionally Catholic countries. While visiting Poland in 2012, Weigel writes of his shock that the Polish people had not accepted American liberalism and still wanted to be Polish Catholics :
“Throughout the week, though, I was struck by how poorly John Paul II’s intellectual project had been received and internalized in Poland, with the exception of my Polish Dominican friends, a few other scholars in Lublin and elsewhere, and a scattering of journalists, politicians, and laypeople. Poland’s emotional attachment to the late Pope was massively evident the year before in Rome, at his beatification. But John Paul’s vision of a public Church that was not a partisan Church, a Church that shaped public life by forming culture through the evangelization and catechesis of the people, was not much in evidence in twenty-first century Poland, sadly. That impression was a portent of difficulties to come in Polish public life.”
Weigel thus believes that the Church in Poland is still too militant, too traditional and too strong, and the Polish people should have heeded Weigel’s presentation of John Paul II and Vatican II as advocating American style “religious freedom.” He further strangely argues that this militancy of the Polish Church would lead to “difficulties” in Polish public life. Was that supposed to be a threat? What exactly is the goal of Catholic neocons? Should he be happy that Poland is still so proudly Catholic?
I am in the midst of Paul Kengor’s book A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century. This book is very curious, for it tries to seize the message of Fatima and craft a purely 20th century narrative from it, i.e., the real message of Fatima is the struggle between the United States and her allies and the Soviet Union and there is no future chastisement to come. The book also seeks not only to canonize Ronald Reagan but even members of the Reagan family who were known for their irreligiousness.
There is much to say, but I want to focus on Kengor’s curious attempt to prove (once again) that the attempted assassin of John Paul II, Mehmet Ali Agca was working for Soviet intelligence and DEFINITELY NOT WESTERN INTELLIGENCE.
Kengor admits that (without saying so overtly) that Agca had all of the characteristics of a CIA operative, including:
- Unstable family life / and loner genius personality.
- Ties to fascism.
- Ties mafia in a NATO country.
- A mysterious jail break.
- Experience murdering.
However, Kengor explicitly ridicules the idea of the Central Intelligence Agency using a mafia linked criminal from a NATO country to perform an assassination: “It did not take long before both the Bulgarians and Soviets were contending that the CIA had tried to kill the pope. Yes, the CIA. Truly, nothing was beyond the communist propagandists.” This is the typical post-Cold War neocon (and even neoliberal narrative): The Soviets believed that Agca was a right wing assassin because he sure looked like one, but, of course, the Soviets were a bunch of crazy, stupid liars who lost the Cold War, so everything they said was a lie.
Reader, let me leave you with some rhetorical questions.
- Did the CIA ever employ a fascist mafia hitman from a NATO country to perform any criminal activity?
- Is it true that the Soviet intelligence and press were composed of the cartoonish bungling Keystone cops that neocons depict them as being?
- Is it is more likely that the attempted assassinations of John Paul and Ronald Reagan (by a friend of the Bush family) have a CIA not a KGB link?
- Why does every neocon biographer of John Paul II go out of the way to try to prove the KGB assassination theory?
- Why doesn’t Kengor mention the ties between John Hinckley, the attempted assassin of president Reagan, and the Bush Family?