The Pope’s CIA File


WASHINGTON, D.C. — CIA documents recently made public under the Freedom of Information Act provide an unusual, behind-the-scenes portrait of the importance of the Catholic Church and its new Polish pope, John Paul II, to Poland’s rapidly unfolding Solidarity movement of the late 1970s and early ’80s. John Paul was buried today in Rome, at the age of 84.

Headed by Lech Walesa, Solidarity was a nonviolent federation of labor groups, church people, and noncommunist leftists. For thhis fledgling resistance to Soviet bloc rule, the pope became a galvanizing figure. The CIA papers hint at the extent of the planning to force a confrontation with the Soviet Union, but in such a way as to avoid a direct invasion by Soviet forces.

Rising in what turned out to be the waning days of the Soviet Union, Solidarity presented a direct challenge to Moscow, and sent a message across the eastern bloc. These papers, posted by, include ongoing reports and analyses of the situation as the movement spread. The files track the struggle of church leaders who traveled back and forth from Rome to the Polish churches to support Solidarity and at the same time made efforts to cooperate with the communist government in such a way as to prevent violence. Most of all, the CIA is shown as carefully watching for signs of a Soviet invasion of Poland and a crushing of the movement, along the lines of what had happened in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

The Polish government did come down on Solidarity, declaring martial law, suspending the trade union, and imprisoning its leaders. Martial law was lifted in 1983, although repressive policies remained for much of the decade. Supported by the church and the CIA, the movement finally pushed the government to negotiate. In April 1989, it was legalized and went on to participate in elections. Solidarity was the first of a series of peaceful revolts that toppled the Soviet Union and broke up the eastern bloc.

The CIA documents provide detailed analysis of military and economic implications of an invasion. They reveal the CIA’s close relationship with the Vatican and, while never stating an open liaison, certainly suggest the two were working closely together.

Among their treasures is a detailed description of events leading up to a proposed papal visit in August 1982. The CIA reports that John Paul II had ordered church leaders in Poland to get ready for his arrival. Solidarity welcomed the visit and said it would “improve morale.” The pope planned to visit internment camps, and perhaps would refuse to meet with Premier Wojciech Jaruzelski, thereby risking a serious confrontation. The CIA discussed how the pope’s trip could “force the regime” to take a stand on the visit “and take any blame for any postponement.” It was expected that the visit might set off “massive” public gatherings. The implication here is that the Pope’s visit could have set off open revolt. The danger, of course, was that a revolt could set off a Soviet invasion.

But before things got any further, the Polish government rejected the proposed trip on the grounds that it couldn’t “guarantee public order.”

The Latest