The Soviet Smear that Lingers Today

Author Discusses New Book on How Pius XII Was Maligned by Communists

Rome, (Zenit.org) Professor Ronald J. Rychlak | 988 hits

My first book on Pope Pius XII, Hitler, the War, and the Pope, came out in 2000. After several years of research, I had come to the same conclusion that most people had reached during and after World War II: Pius XII was a staunch opponent of the Nazis and a protector of their victims, Jewish or otherwise. Of course, by the time my book came out, this had become a controversial proposition.

For over a decade now, I have written articles and given talks all across the United States and occasionally elsewhere. I always encourage questions, and I take pride in answering them all. The question that most troubled me, however, came several years ago, at a seminary in Nebraska. At the end of the evening, an elderly priest said: “Professor, I believe what you have said, but if Pius XII did all of these great things, why do so many people think that he did not care about the Jews?”

I gave the standard answer to this question. In 1963, a fictionalized play about Pius, called The Deputy, opened in Berlin. This play, which pretty much coincided with release of the Diary of Anne Frank, the trial of Adolf Eichmann, and Vatican II, raised new issues to a generation that was looking at the war from a fresh perspective. Not having seen Pius XII in action, this new generation flipped his reputation from savior of the Jews to a virtual collaborator with Hitler.

While the answer has been repeated by numerous scholars – including me, I never liked it. It was unsatisfying. How does a play – a fictional one at that – change the world’s view of history?

Then one day in early 2007 I read an article written by Ion Mihai Pacepa, former head of the Romanian foreign intelligence service. Pacepa said that The Deputy was a Soviet bloc intelligence operation designed to discredit the Catholic Church and Western values, and that he had been involved in it. The play, he said, was shaped, published, translated, produced, and promoted by Soviet bloc intelligence experts. So, it was not just a play that changed Pius XII’s reputation, it was a campaign by the world’s foremost disintelligence organization. The play was just part of the operation.

First a word about Pacepa: He was a right hand man to the Romanian communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu. In that role, Pacepa lived a life of privilege. He traveled the globe and interacted with world leaders, including Jimmy Carter, Castro, and Khrushchev. When the horrors and abuse of the Soviet system finally became too much, he risked his life and everything he owned to defect to the United States. That made him the highest ranking Soviet bloc officer ever to defectto the West. Ceausescu put a $2-million bounty on his head and dispatched the notorious Carlos the Jackal to pull off the job.

Fortunately, Pacepa has avoided all attempts to collect the reward. He spent three years being debriefed by U.S. officials, and for over 30 years he has lived in the United States under a new identity. His book Red Horizons not only revealed the truth about Ceausescu’s murderous regime, it was used by the prosecution at Ceausescu’s trial, the result of which was a conviction for genocide and his execution. President Reagan called Pacepa’s book his “bible for dealing with dictators.”  So, while neither I nor any other scholars of Pope Pius XII had considered a Soviet hand behind The Deputy, Pacepa’s account merited serious consideration.

I spent about two years researching Pacepa’s assertions. Slowly but surely, pieces fell into place. The Soviet Union was actively engaged in disinformation campaigns in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and it was in an intellectual battle with the Catholic Church. Among its more common weapons were literature and theater. The German and American producers of The Deputy, the American publisher, and the French translator, were all Communists (at a time when one did not admit to such things lightly). The German producer had long produced plays under orders from the Communist Party, and the German theater at which The Deputy first opened was overtly dedicated to pro-Communist propaganda. Many of the early reviewers had Communist ties; at least one was paid by the KGB and another was a former KGB spy. Additionally, the play would not have opened on Broadway but for support from a “Catholic” magazine (Ramparts) that was falling under Communist influence. Moreover, the putative author of The Deputy, Rolf Hochhuth, was a perfect tool for a KGB-style operation like this.

The evidence verified Pacepa’s account. Our Sunday Visitor published a second edition of Hitler, the War, and the Pope in 2010, and this time I included a chapter on Pacepa’s revelations and my research. Shortly before that book went to press, I made direct contact with Pacepa. It developed into a very nice friendship, and we agreed to write a book that came out this year: Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategies for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism (WND Books). 

While Disinformation goes into other topics, including the history of Russian/Soviet disinformation, the promotion of Soviet bloc leaders, the Soviet response to the Kennedy assassination, and current events coming out of Moscow and Washington, the recurring theme is the Soviet attack on Western values through the effort to discredit Pope Pius XII. I’m happy to have had a hand in getting that story better known, and I am particularly proud that Fr. Peter Gumpel, the relator in Pius XII’s sainthood cause, has said that Pacepa and I should be praised for documenting the historical reality of the “concerted Communist campaign to infiltrate and compromise the Vatican.”

It is a story that Catholics need to know.

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Ronald J. Rychlak is the Butler, Snow Professor of Law at the University of Mississippi School of Law. His most recent book, co-authored with Ion Mihai Pacepa, is Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategies for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism (WND Books, 2013).