When you can’t beat them, join them. That’s what the Soviet Union did to curtail Christianity’s anti-communist influence. In a new book titled Disinformation, a covert campaign to discredit Pope Piux XII is revealed. In addition, the Soviets tried to influence the church with a Marxist-friendly version of Christianity.
The communists’ strategy against the church had three pillars: A propaganda offensive; the implanting of agents of influence and the promotion of Liberation Theology, an anti-Western spin on scripture.
Disinformation is written by Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest-ranking Soviet bloc defector and Ronald Rychlak, Professor of Law at the University of Mississippi. A related documentary has also been released, titled Disinformation: The Secret Strategy to Destroy the West. They disclose how a primary target of Soviet “active measures” was Pope Pius XII.
“The Soviets understood that Pius XII was a mortal threat to their ideology, despising communism as much as he did Nazism. They thus embarked on a crusade to destroy the pope and his reputation, to scandalize his flock, and to foment division among faiths,” Rychlak told me in an interview.
The claim that Pope Pius XII was “Hitler’s Pope” originates in a 1945 broadcast from Radio Moscow or, in other words, the Soviet propaganda apparatus. Later, the Soviets reacted to his death in 1958 with a new disinformation campaign. It’s a lot easier to lie about someone when they can’t respond.
Pacepa, who was serving in Romanian intelligence at the time, says Soviet Premier Khrushchev approved the KGB-drawn plan in February 1960. It was code-named “Seat-12” and Pacepa says he was the Romanian representative for it. He is now publicly detailing his involvement.
Revealing this operation against Pope Pius XII isn’t only important for historical analysis. It teaches us a sober lesson about the effectiveness of enemy influence operations that are undoubtedly ongoing.
“It tells us that disinformation experts can convince us of anything. They took a person widely regarded as a champion of the Jews and other victims—someone who was despised by Adolf Hitler—and convinced the world that he was a virtual collaborator,” Rychlak said.
The second leg of the KGB’s anti-church strategy was to influence those it could not destroy using East Bloc churches, particularly the Russian Orthodox Church.
KGB defector Vasili Mitrokhin provided a secret 1961 directive to infiltrate the Russian Orthodox Church. The objective was to implant agents of influence that could then push out “reactionary” and “sectarian” church figures that were seen as threats to communism.
Mitrokhin disclosed a secret meeting of senior East Bloc intelligence officers in Budapest in July 1967. Two KGB officers gave instructions regarding “work against the Vatican; measures to discredit the Vatican and its backers; and measures to exacerbate differences within the Vatican and between the Vatican and capitalist countries.”
Pacepa illustrates the success of this operation with multiple examples. For example, in January 2007, the newly-appointed archbishop of Warsaw had to resign amidst revelations that he had been a secret collaborator with the Polish secret service during the Cold War.
Rychlak said that Soviet efforts to influence Protestants were also targeted. In 1944, the Soviets established the All-Union Council of Evangelical Christian Baptists, now named the Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists of Russia.
The president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, Mark Tooley, has written about the communist use of the World Council of Churches. He notes that hundreds of Protest and Orthodox churches belonged to it as it towed the Soviet line and even went so far as to finance Marxist guerillas.
The third leg was promoting an anti-capitalist, anti-Western brand of Christianity. If the KGB could not eliminate Christianity, it reasoned it might as well manipulate it. Liberation Theology was born.
Pacepa recalls hearing Khrushchev say in 1959, “Religion is the opiate of the people, so let’s give them opium.” He flatly says that Liberation Theology is “KGB-invented.” He has first-hand knowledge of secret Romanian agents being dispatched to Latin America to spread it among the religious masses.
Pope John Paul II had a Vatican committee study Liberation Theology in 1984, Pacepa documents in a 2009 article for FrontPage. It concluded that it was a mixture of “class struggle” and “violent Marxism.”
Robert. D. Chapman writes in the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence:
“Without doubt, the Theology of Liberation doctrine is one of the most enduring and powerful to emerge from the KGB’s headquarters. The doctrine asks the poor and downtrodden to revolt and form a Communist government, not in the name of Marx or Lenin, but in continuing the work of Jesus Christ, a revolutionary who opposed economic and social discrimination.”
In my interview with Rychlak, Pacepa’s co-author of Disinformation, he remarked that the book was written today for a reason. These strategies are still in play.
“When Nazism was removed from Germany, we had de-Nazification panels…That never happened when the Soviet Union fell. The same people were left in charge,” Rychlak said.
He continued, “In fact, today Russia is run by a former KGB officer who has surrounded himself with his old associates. We are looking at the first superpower that is being run by intelligence officers.”
Pacepa is trying to wake the West up about how its enemies, including him in his past life, exploited its weaknesses. It isn’t easy to admit that one has been manipulated or beaten in some way but the West must, or it will happen again.
This article was sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
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