ROME, FEB. 18, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Former spies’ testimonies need to be read prudently, says Jesuit Father Peter Gumpel, commenting on a report that the KGB tried to infiltrate the Vatican and defame Pope Pius XII.
Father Gumpel, relator of the cause for beatification of Pius XII, and an expert in the history and politics of the Holy See during the Communist years, referred to an article written by one of the highest ranking intelligence officers to defect from the Soviet bloc and published recently by National Review Online.
In the article, Ion Mihai Pacepa, former general of the Romanian Secret Service, wrote of the modes used by the Soviets to try to demolish the reputation of Pius XII, including infiltration of the Vatican Secret Archives, propaganda portraying the pontiff as an ally of Hitler, secret meetings with Vatican officials, and planting spies in Roman seminaries.
Yet Father Gumpel explained that when dealing with testimonies like Pacepa’s, “one needs to be extremely prudent and try to verify the facts.”
With regard to the credibility of Pacepa, Father Gumpel said “it is enough to keep in mind that he is the highest ever official of the secret service of the Eastern European countries to flee to the West, and that precisions have to be made in a lot of the stories he has told.”
Pacepa revealed a Soviet effort to gain access to the Vatican Secret Archives to doctor documents in order to incriminate Pius XII, who was pope from 1939 to 1958.
He claimed that during 1960-62, the KGB and Romanian Secret Service “succeeded in pilfering hundreds of documents connected in any way with Pope Pius XII out of the Vatican Archives and the Apostolic Library.”
Despite two years of work, Pacepa said, “in actual fact, no incriminating material against the pontiff ever turned up in all those secretly photographed documents.”
Regarding the verification of what the Soviets were able to acquire from the Vatican Secret Archives, Father Gumpel doubts the documents in question were available.
Father Sergio Pagano, prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives, wrote to Father Gumpel explaining that during the years Pacepa describes “the letters of Pius XII were no longer in the Vatican Secret Archives. The documents they were interested in were to be found in the archive of the Secretary of State.”
Father Gumpel speculated that Soviet spies, unfamiliar with how things work in the Vatican, must have easily confused “the Vatican Secret Archives with the Archive of the Secretary of State.”
Pacepa maintained that the play, “The Deputy,” by Rolf Hochhuth was made and used by the KGB to discredit Pius XII. The film was made solely to foster an image of the Pontiff.
“Today, many people who have never heard of ‘The Deputy’ are sincerely convinced that Pius XII was a cold and evil man who hated the Jews and helped Hitler do away with them,” Pacepa wrote.
Father Gumpel agreed with Pacepa’s assertions, stating that the film was a tool of propaganda by the Soviets. “This was confirmed by the fact that in the countries under occupation by the Communists after the Second World War, the showing of ‘The Deputy’ was obligatory at least once a year in all big cities,” he said.
“If one looks at the daily newspapers and the communist journals, such as L’Unitá in Italy and L’Humanité in France, it is easy to see the immense propaganda they made and still make for this play,” Father Gumpel continued. “Therefore, from this point of view, there are no doubts about the Communist influence.”
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.”
Father Gumpel concluded by urging caution when reading the work of former spies: “It is necessary to take into account that spies need to justify their existence, and must give value to things that have very little importance or none at all.”