MAKING THE POPE AN ALLY Series: JOHN PAUL II AND THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF OUR TIME PART THREE

By Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), November 5, 1996 | Go to article overview

MAKING THE POPE AN ALLY Series: JOHN PAUL II AND THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF OUR TIME PART THREE


Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


BILL CASEY had summed up his philosophy in the first weeks of the Reagan administration, in a speech to the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick - of whom he was decidedly one: "Some things are right and some things are wrong, eternally right and eternally wrong."

The Catholic Church which had shaped him, was eternally right. Communism, which he had railed against since his days as a high school orator, was eternally wrong.

Ronald Reagan's basic view of both the Vatican and Catholicism was quite different from that of previous presidents, including John F. Kennedy, the only Catholic to be elected to the White House. Since its inception, America had been a "Protestant country," where the Catholic Church, until the later decades of the 20th century, was viewed with suspicion by many. But Reagan, the son of a working-class Irish-Catholic father and a Protestant mother, had won the lion's share of the Catholic vote. He was extremely comfortable with and drawn to men from working-class Catholic backgrounds, self-made men like CIA director William Casey who shared many of his own values. Almost invariably they were, like Reagan, the first in their families to attend college, and they weren't Ivy Leaguers. Because of this congeniality and partly by coincidence, almost all the men Reagan appointed to the most important or visible foreign policy positions early in his administration were Catholics. And they all saw their church as the crucible of anti-communist conviction. Like Reagan, their basic view of the Marxist-Leninist canon was theological: communism was spiritually evil. And whereas Kennedy had done everything possible to insulate himself from the Church, Reagan sought both openly and covertly to forge the closest of ties with Pope John Paul II and the Vatican. "I wanted to make them an ally," he explained years later. Toward that end he established diplomatic relations with the Holy See, something none of his predecessors had been willing to do. The Polish Solidarity movement, it was clear, represented an unprecedented internal threat to Moscow, an "infection" that was already spreading dissent within the communist system, especially in the Baltic republics. "If you were able to shake and disrupt Poland, then the shock waves would radiate out in many directions: into Ukraine, the Balkans, into Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, Czechoslovakia," said national security adviser Richard Allen. Reagan fastened on the situation in Poland as evidence for his own belief that a revolution within the communist empire was inevitable. On Jan. 30, 1981, only 10 days after his inauguration, Reagan met the senior members of his national security team: Vice President George Bush, Allen, Casey, Secretary of State Alexander Haig and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. …

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