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
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. …