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By Diogenes ( articles ) | Feb 26, 2007

In among the records smuggled out of Russia by KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin was a June 16th, 1980 communication from the KGB residency in Warsaw to Moscow Center. Cambridge scholar Christopher Andrew provides a translation:

Our friends [the SB -- Polish Security Service] have serious operational positions [agents] at their disposal in the Vatican, and these enable them to have direct access to the Pope and to the Roman congregation. Apart from experienced agents, towards whom John Paul II is personally well disposed and who can obtain an audience with him at any time, our friends have agent assets among the leaders of Catholic students who are in constant contact with Vatican circles and have possibilities in Radio Vatican and the Pope's secretariat.

The explanations in brackets are Andrew's. New assertions concerning East Bloc penetration of Catholic Rome have been made by Ion Mihai Pacepa, former general of the Romanian Secret Service. Reacting to Pacepa's revelations, Jesuit historian Fr. Peter Gumpel urges caution and scholarly prudence in testing the particular claims made by former intelligence agents, but makes no bones about the attempted penetration itself. I found the following detail noteworthy:

Regarding Pacepa's claims about the successful infiltration of the Vatican, Father Gumpel recalled that "the Soviets tried to insert seminarian spies in two institutions of the Jesuits, in the Pontifical Oriental Institute and in the Pontifical Russicum College." Father Gumpel said, "It was easy to discover them as their behavior provoked so many suspicions and was of such a nature that in the end they were thrown out. It was clear they did not have a vocation."

It doesn't do to ask what might count as "conduct unbecoming" in clerical Rome, but it's reassuring to know there were lines it was possible to cross. Of course one's imagination boggles at the thought of hapless KGB agent-recruits, in training for service as Catholic clergymen, being schooled at some remote camp in the enneagram and gender-inclusive language. To re-spin John LeCarré: "There are certain sacrifices, General Shlobodovitch, which not even your loyal pawn will make in the service of Mother Russia."

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