Investigation into the Cold War attempts by Soviet and East European Communist powers to infiltrate the Vatican and disrupt its populist influence.
Journalist and former Army intelligence officer Koehler (Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police, 1999) mines documents obtained from the files of the East German and Hungarian secret police, as well as Moscow’s Politburo, to build the story of a sustained effort over decades to blunt the power of the anti-communist Roman Church in socialist countries. Following the Soviet overthrow in Russia, the author avers, the revolutionary council may have planted its first spy against the Catholic Church in that country as early as 1922. Purges and even executions of clerics followed, sparing no Christian sect at first, but when the Soviets later cut a deal with the Russian Orthodoxy it created a rift that literally drove the Roman church underground by 1941. As the Cold War proceeded, the Russian KGB received a major intelligence report on the Vatican’s “Ostpolitik” policy—to resist the suppression of religious freedom in Eastern Europe and support anti-socialist movements—via the Polish authorities. The Soviet use of clerical agents, many Polish, became a regular threat, countered by the Vatican’s measures which at one point included an American Jesuit priest who became the Vatican’s top spy-catcher. Both sides occasionally “turned” each other’s agents to double agents. The CIA became actively involved, particularly during the Reagan administration, using the Vatican as an intelligence resource but also as a “leak” center to feed selected information to Moscow. Koehler diligently tracks the story through the decades, but the narrative is overloaded with facts and short on dramatic tension.
The heavy reliance on official documents imparts little human drama and undermines the intrigue the author often overplays.