The Truth About Pope Pius XII

Former Spy Speaks on Plot to Frame Pontiff

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By Edward Pentin

ROME, AUG. 16, 2012 (Zenit.org).- General Ion Mihai Pacepa is not easy to track down. He remains in hiding for his own protection, rarely gives interviews, and will only be contacted by email through an intermediary.

As a former Romanian intelligence chief who defected to the United States in 1978, the 84 year-old former spy holds secrets that even today would make establishment figures uncomfortable, most notably in Russia. But it’s his sensational claims of a Soviet plot to frame Pius XII for which he is best known, having said he was involved in such an operation in the 1960s and 70s.

In a 2007 article for National Review Online, Pacepa claimed he was part of “Operation Seat 12” - a KGB-led campaign of disinformation that centered on Rolf Hochhuth’s 1968 anti-Pius play “The Deputy”. The play served to discredit the wartime Pontiff as a Nazi sympathizer, ten years after his death and therefore unable to defend himself.

But historians and Cold War-era diplomats initially cast doubts on the story. Pius’s critics predictably dismissed the claim as “most unlikely” or the work of someone trying to build a "mysterious aura" for himself in his later years.  Some of Pope Pacelli’s defenders also voiced scepticism, including Ronald Rychlak, an American law professor, Vatican adviser, and a specialist in the Pius XII controversy.

However, rather than allow the allegations to pass unquestioned, Rychlak decided to investigate them himself, spending the next two years examining Pacepa’s claims. He then became so convinced of their veracity that he has now penned a forthcoming book with the former Romanian intelligence chief, called ‘Disinformation’.

“Bit by bit, all the pieces fell in place,” Rychlak tells ZENIT. “The new picture answered many questions and made sense out of things that had previously been inexplicable.”

He adds: “After corresponding with Pacepa for three years now, and after having read his books and many of his articles (and articles about him), I know that he has never steered me wrong.  My 2007 reaction was the natural, cautious comment of someone exposed to a new and unfamiliar proposal.  After two years of careful research, I changed my mind [… ] I am proud to be associated with him.”

Now that Pacepa’s story is gaining wider support, Pius XII’s defenders believe the new  book, which includes an introduction by former CIA director James Woolsey, promises to be a crucial contribution towards clearing Pius’s name.

Last month, with the help of the Pave the Way Foundation, I was able to contact the former spymaster, principally to find out his reaction to the recent decision of Yad Vashem’s Holocaust Museum to change its placard on Pius XII.

On July 1st, the museum announced it was altering the placard’s text to include some arguments defending Pius’s wartime record in saving Jewish lives. But the new version made no reference to any Soviet plot to smear his name. When I asked the museum’s head of research, Professor Dan Michman, why it had omitted those claims, he said he “didn’t really believe” the story, nor was he willing to investigate it.

Pacepa countered by saying “there is no hard, primary evidence” to support Michman’s rejection, but there is “plenty of hard evidence proving that the portrayal of Pius XII as Hitler’s Pope was born in Moscow.” He stressed that in order to find and recognize this evidence “one should be familiar with the Kremlin’s very secret “science” of changing the past in order to suit current priorities.

“In KGB jargon, changing the past was called “framing,”” Pacepa explained, “and it was a highly classified disinformation specialty” which were “like mosaics made up of hundreds or even thousands of tiny pieces fitted together.

“Only a handful of master designers know how the final image will turn out,” he said. “I was peripherally involved in changing the past of Pius XII, but at that time, even I did not know what the final image would look like.”

He gave examples of how such framing operations worked, such as Stalin’s ruthless methods to falsify historical facts to fit into his own plans in the 1930s, and Pacepa’s own disinformation operations as head of Romanian intelligence in the 1970s.

He recalled how he successfully managed to hoodwink Western heads of state, intelligence officers and others into believing that Romania’s dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, was an admirable, pro-Western leader when, in fact, “he was a two-bit Dracula.” So effective was this disinformation operation that US President Jimmy Carter described Ceausescu as a “great national and international leader” and Queen Elizabeth II granted him a state visit to Britain in 1978. Pacepa defected soon afterwards, revealing the lies to Carter and the Queen. Ceausescu was executed by his own people in 1989, but Pacepa says that few in the West “looked back to speculate about how they had been so misled.”

The former Romanian spy said his upcoming book “contains solid, primary evidence documenting how the immense KGB disinformation machinery was able to flip the image of Pius XII from lily white to coal black — just as it flipped the image of Ceausescu in reverse.”

He further explained how the framing of the ardently anti-communist Pope actually began in 1945. Concerned only for his own image, and fresh from victory after World War II, Stalin had one more enemy he wanted to defeat: the Ukrainian Catholic Church — the last Vatican enclave in the Soviet Union. After persecuting the Church there, he set about trying to portray Pius XII as a Nazi collaborator, proclaiming on Radio Moscow in 1945 that Pius XII had been “Hitler’s Pope.”

But the campaign fell flat as it came the day after Pius XII had condemned the “satanic specter of Nazism” on Vatican Radio. Moreover, Pius was being lauded for his wartime efforts to protect religious minorities by, among others, President Roosevelt, Winston Churchill (who described him as “the greatest man of our time”), and Albert Einstein.  

Stalin’s disinformation efforts were rejected by that contemporary generation “that had lived through the real history and knew who Pope Pius XII really was,” Pacepa said. ”The Kremlin tried again in the 1960s, with the next generation, which had not lived through that history and did not know better. This time it worked.”

Central to that second framing effort, Operation Seat 12, was the anti-Pius play, The Deputy. Pacepa explained how, in his new book, he will show evidence of how the play’s German author, Rolf Hochhuth, intended to smear anti-communists with each one of his plays, and that it contains “irrefutable evidence showing the KGB hand all over Hochhuth’s play.”

Furthermore, he revealed that one of Hochhuth’s closest friends, who also conducted research for him on two of his plays, is David Irving, the well-known anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying historian.  Pius XII’s defenders note the tragic irony that so many Jewish leaders continue to believe the image of Pius as Hitler’s Pope, one centered on a play written by someone with close links to Irving.  

In response to General Pacepa’s comments, Professor Michman said that research on Pius XiI is not limited to Hochhuth's claims, but is much broader, covering “many countries and many issues.”

“Materials for these issues are spread over many archives - both across Europe and beyond its borders,” he told ZENIT Aug. 16th. “There is virtually no way that the Soviets could have falsified and framed all these documents and the scholars who carried out the research come from a broad variety of circles and backgrounds. Therefore, the conspiracy theory that "it is all because of the Soviets/KGB/Stalin" does not seem sufficient to explain the body of research and the controversy.”

But Gary Krupp, the Jewish founder of the Pave the Way Foundation, dismissed Michman’s response, saying “the whitewash claim of so many documents from so many countries is nonsense.” Moreover, he pointed out that the professor cannot produce any legitimate documentation to support his position. “What they do produce are documents from other officials, and then make the case that "of course Pius XII had to approve this." But this logic is simply ignorance of the reality Vatican Politics.”

Krupp further argued that “no one ever suggested” that the Soviets changed history. “What they did do was to initiate what we call the Black Legend that Pius XII was Hitler's Pope,” he said. “The revisionists did the rest, through their mistranslations, secondary research and their personal hidden agenda.”