Tag Archives: George Weigel

Pope John Paul II, September 13, 2001: “We must stop these people who kill in the name of God.”

World Trade Center Fallen Heroes American Flag
The Pope and 9/11
By Hon. James R. Nicholson
Former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Jim Nicholson meets with Bl. John Paul II

Pope John Paul II, although a man of the Church, was possessed with an uncommon sense for the dynamics of globalism and the complexities of peoples and cultures.

My first one-on-one meeting with Pope John Paul II was on September 13, 2001. The occasion was the formal presentation of my diplomatic credentials as the new United States Ambassador to the Holy See.  It was planned to be a festive occasion; instead, it was a sad event as the world was grieving the horrific events of just 48 hours prior.

The first thing the Pope said to me was how sorry he felt for my country, which had just been attacked, and how sad it made him feel.  We next said a prayer together for the victims and their families.

Then the Pope said something very profound and very revealing of his acute grasp of international terrorism.  He said, “Ambassador Nicholson, this was an attack, not just on the United States, but on all of humanity.”  And, then he added, “We must stop these people who kill in the name of God.”

The Pope’s words about the attackers of America on 9/11, and our need, indeed our moral obligation “to do something” was invaluable to the U.S. in assembling a “Coalition of the Willing,” as President Bush called it.  It was the Pope’s instant and keen grasp of the situation – the Afghanistan-based launching of these terrorist attacks — that compelled him to lend his moral influence to his friend and ally, the United States.

He knew exactly what he was saying and the effect it would have on the other countries who were trying to decide whether or not to join us as military partners in Afghanistan against Al Qaeda and its collaborators. The Pope didn’t pause, hesitate or equivocate when he communicated through me to our President and the leaders of like-minded countries to push back against those stateless terrorists who tried to align themselves under the protective wall of Afghanistan’s sovereignty.

Pope John Paul II grew up under the repressive regimes of both the Nazis and the Communists.  He knew well the effects on freedom and dignity that those with an ideological agenda and matching military resources could wreak on innocent people.

The Pope had played a key role in what George Weigel call the “revolution of conscience” in Poland. He was instrumental in the demise of the Soviet Union and European Communism, and he was well practiced in the intricacies of using discreet moral force to influence international bodies.

Being first and foremost a man of peace, Pope John Paul II also understood the Just War doctrine of the Church and the responsibility of leaders to protect innocent people from evil forces. He respected President Bush and his “prudential judgment” in deciding what was legitimate to protect the common good.

In 2004, President Bush, with gratitude and respect for his solidarity with American values, presented the Pope with the Medal of Freedom, which is the highest award the United States bestows on a civilian.

Jim Nicholson is the former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See


“It was all war, all the time.” — Catholicism vs. Communism

John Paul II will be beatified by Pope Benedict on May 1st, (May Day) 2011.

EDITOR: This post is dedicated to my friend in arms, Charles, who I know joins with me in opposing those forces which would seek to threaten all that is true, good, and beautiful concerning Our Lord Jesus Christ, His Church, our faith, and the freedom He offers each man.

That Pope John Paul II was a pivotal figure in the fall of European Communism is accepted as a truism, but many details of that drama have remained hidden in archives.

A US biographer of the late pope has now provided particulars of what he describes as the full-scale war by Communism against the Catholic Church, and Pope John Paul’s astute and successful counter-strategy.

The Polish pope displayed political savvy and “a shrewdness that combined steadiness of strategic vision with tactical flexibility”, George Weigel told an audience of seminarians, diplomats and Vatican officials at the Pontifical North American College on Sunday.

One of Pope John Paul’s moves, Mr Weigel said, was to appoint as his own Secretary of State Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, the architect of the Vatican’s “Ostpolitik” efforts to reach workable compromises with communist regimes.

By doing so, he “created tactical advantages for the Church: as the pope preached moral revolution over the heads of Communist regimes, speaking directly to their people, [Cardinal] Casaroli continued his diplomacy, thus denying the Communists the opportunity to charge that the Church had reneged on its commitment to dialogue,” Mr Weigel said.

Mr Weigel said he based his conclusions on previously secret cables and memos that have emerged from behind the former Iron Curtain. He came across the information while researching his latest book on the life of Pope John Paul, The End and the Beginning, which looks at the pope’s final years and evaluates his legacy.

As a point of orientation, he quoted Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Pope John Paul’s longtime secretary, who once remarked about the Church’s battle with Poland’s Communist regime: “You must understand that it was always ‘them’ and ‘us’.” What he meant, Mr Weigel said, was that “the struggle between Communism and Catholicism could not be understood as a matter of episodic confrontations… It was all war, all the time.”

Certainly that was how Communist leaders from Moscow to Budapest saw it, Mr Weigel said. He catalogued efforts by Communist regimes to place spies in local Catholic hierarchies and the Vatican, to exploit the Church’s moves toward openness and dialogue, to create ecumenical confusion and to compromise Church leaders by planting false stories.

In 1983, Mr Weigel recounted, the Polish security police even decided to blackmail Pope John Paul. The instrument chosen was a fake diary said to have been written by a deceased female employee of the Archdiocese of Krakow, in which the diarist reported she had been the future pope’s lover. The plot fell apart when one of the conspirators, after successfully planting the diary in the home of a Krakow priest, got drunk, crashed his car and blabbed to police about what he’d just done.

Although the story has a Keystone Kops flavour, Mr Weigel noted that the same security police operative would surface a year and a half later – as one of the men who beat Solidarity activist Fr Jerzy Popieluszko to death and dumped his body in the Vistula River.

Mr Weigel said Soviet bloc intelligence services tried to manipulate the debates of the Second Vatican Council for political ends, a process that continued as the “Ostpolitik” policy of the Vatican developed and prevailed. He said the Hungarian regime used the Vatican’s diplomatic opening to take control of the Catholic Church in the country; most bishops nominated after 1964 were co-operators with internal security and foreign intelligence services, he said.

At the Pontifical Hungarian Institute in Rome, all the rectors and half the students in the late 1960s were trained agents of Hungarian secret intelligence, he said.

Mr Weigel said Communist moles were placed successfully at Vatican Radio, at the Vatican newspaper and in pontifical universities. When Pope John Paul II was elected, he took some counter-intelligence steps; for one thing, materials dealing with Poland were no longer archived in the Secretariat of State but were kept in the papal apartment “where there was no chance for mischief-makers to prowl around”, Mr Weigel said.

When Pope John Paul met leaders such as Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, the pope decided not to keep a written record of their conversations, so that the notes would not fall into the wrong hands. Instead, Mr Weigel said, the pope and then-Mgr Dziwisz would discuss the encounters, and the secretary kept notes in diaries that remained under his control.

Mr Weigel said he thinks some lessons can be drawn by the Church’s experience with European Communism, as it looks to present challenges in the world’s remaining Communist states and in Islamic states. For one thing, he said, Vatican efforts to reach beneficial compromises with communist powers “rarely, if ever, paid significant dividends”.

He said a much more valuable witness was provided by church leaders who spoke courageously against the regimes, sometimes paying with their lives.

“Deeply committed and politically shrewd Christian pastors and laity eventually won out over communism. The blood of martyrs, however, was the seed of victory. Their sacrifice, and what we can learn from it about the cardinal virtue of fortitude – courage – must never be forgotten,” he said.