April 4, 2005


Freedom’s Men: The Cold War team of Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan. (Mark Riebling, 4/03/05, National Review)

Though Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan will be remembered as the pope and the president who defeated Communism, the exact nature of their relationship has remained elusive. Some journalists have posited a “holy alliance” between the two, with the CIA briefing the pope each Friday. Others, like George Weigel writing in National Review, have argued that “there was neither alliance nor conspiracy [but] a common purpose born of a set of shared convictions.”

Which view is more correct? The documentary record is incomplete, but clues to the answer may be found in formerly top-secret National Security Council files, now available at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. These materials reveal, often in granular detail, how the U.S. Vatican relationship evolved during Reagan’s first term. The documents describe the first contacts between the pope and the president; nuclear brinksmanship and disarmament; the Solidarity crisis in Poland; and Vice President George Bush's private 1984 meeting with the pope.

These papers yield tantalizing snapshots of buoyant goodwill and tireless diplomacy on both sides. There was, sometimes, a de facto alliance between this president and pope. But relations were not so close that they could be taken for granted by the president's men. In fact, the documents reveal a continuous scurrying to shore up Vatican support for U.S. policies. They also reveal a Vatican which acts politically, but always in a highly spiritual way.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the papers show that that, as late as 1984, the pope did not believe the Communist Polish government could be changed.

At the time there were rumors that Reagan asked for John O'Connor to be elevated to Cardinal in exchange for establishing formal diplomatic relations with The Vatican.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 4, 2005 7:43 PM

Huh? When was the last time an archbishop of NY didn't get a red hat? Everyone in the 20th c got one, why would O'C have been denied?

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at April 5, 2005 12:58 AM

The theory was that's how he got NY.

Posted by: oj at April 5, 2005 1:06 AM

As NY Archbishop he is also the Vicar of the Military.

Posted by: bart at April 5, 2005 6:42 AM