Saturday, 23 January 2010

KGB and the plot to taint Pope Pius XII

by John Follain, from The Sunday Times
February 18, 2007

THE KGB hatched a plot to smear the late Pope Pius XII as an antisemitic Hitler supporter and fostered a controversial play that tarnished the pontiff, according to the highest-ranking Soviet bloc intelligence officer to have defected to the West. Former Lieutenant-General Ion Mihai Pacepa, who headed the Romanian secret service before defecting in 1978, has broken a silence of nearly half a century to reveal that he was involved in the operation code-named Seat12, a Kremlin scheme launched in 1960 to portray Pius XII “as a cold-hearted Nazi sympathiser”. The result, according to Pacepa, was the 1963 play The Deputy, by Rolf Hochhuth, which argued that Pius XII had supported Hitler and encouraged him to launch the Holocaust. It ignited a furious debate over Pius XII’s attitude towards Hitler.
     The controversy was revived when the director Costa-Gavras adapted the play for his 2002 film Amen, whose poster depicted a swastika twisted into the cross. The cold war plan had the motto “Dead men cannot defend themselves” as the Pope had died in 1958. “Because Pius XII had served as the papal nuncio in Munich and Berlin when the Nazis were beginning their rise to power, the KGB wanted to depict him as an antisemite who had encouraged Hitler’s Holocaust,” Pacepa wrote in an article published by the National
Review. To obtain original Vatican documents, the KGB recruited the Romanian foreign intelligence service to pretend that Romania was ready to restore its broken relations with the Vatican. Pacepa said he was granted access to its archives by Mon-signor Agostino Casaroli, who was in charge of confidential talks with Soviet bloc authorities. Pacepa persuaded Casaroli, whom he met at a Geneva hotel, that he needed to find historical roots that would help Romania to justify publicly its change of heart towards the Vatican. For two years, three spies posing as priests smuggled documents out of the Vatican archives and the Apostolic Library to be photographed. “Everything was immediately sent to the KGB via special courier,” Pacepa said. “In fact, no incriminating material against the pontiff ever turned up. Nevertheless, the KGB kept asking for more documents.” On a visit to Bucharest in 1963, General Ivan Agayants, chief of the KGB’s disinformation department, told Pacepa that Seat12 had “materialised into a powerful play attacking Pope Pius XII, entitled The Deputy”, Pacepa related. In his article he claims that Agayants took credit for the outline of the 1963 play, by the unknown Hochhuth, and added that its appendices of background documents had been put together by his experts with the help of the material that Pacepa had obtained.
    The play, published in book form with an appendix that Hochhuth called “historical documentation”, was translated into some 20 languages. “Today, many people who have never heard of The Deputy are sincerely convinced that Pius XII was a cold and evil man who hated the Jews and helped Hitler to do away with them,” Pacepa said. Asked about Pacepa’s article, Hochhuth has denied any KGB influence and insisted that the play was all his own work. In the early 1960s he defended his portrayal of Pius XII, saying: “The facts are there — 40 crowded pages of documentation in the appendix to my play.” Hochhuth later wrote another controversial play, Soldiers, in which he accused Churchill of ordering the murder of Wladyslaw Sikorski, the Polish general.
   The Vatican is now pursuing its efforts to have Pius XII declared a saint. Among those who have defended Pius is Israel Zoller, the chief rabbi of Rome in 1943-44, who said the Pope had instructed bishops to allow Jews to seek refuge in convents and monasteries. Father Peter Gumpel, a member of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, said of Pacepa’s article: “We already knew that Soviet Russia was very hostile to Pius XII and started a fully fledged campaign against him. “There was definitely a communist influence over the play.”