COLUMN

A cardinal sin to be atoned

Barbara Amiel January 17 1983
COLUMN

A cardinal sin to be atoned

Barbara Amiel January 17 1983

A cardinal sin to be atoned

COLUMN

Barbara Amiel

Once, in conversation with Mordecai Richler, I suggested that if special-interest groups continued to proliferate, we would soon have a group demanding necrophiliac rights. Such a group might send out cards to relatives named in obituaries asking for access to the deceased through a simple message like, “Don’t be selfish: share.” Richler shrugged. “There’s a group like that already in Montreal,” he said. “That’s the trouble. Life is so absurd, it’s beyond satire.”

At the time, I never knew whether he was pulling my leg or not. But the anecdote comes to mind now. The Western World is behaving on such an unprecedented scale of lunacy that one begins to move reluctantly into the camp of shrugged shoulders.

Does the West deserve to survive? Shrug. Are individual liberty and equality before the law worth the price of tightening one’s belt? Shrug. What outrage could be sufficient to excite our emotions? Not something as ordinary as the lunacy of necrophiliac rights, obviously. How about a Soviet government plot to kill the Pope? Shrug. They wouldn’t really do that, would they?

It is astonishing. In the election of Pope John Paul II, formerly known as Karol Cardinal Wojtyla of Poland, the West came up with the first effective postwar weapon against communism. Only a KGB sharing the Canadian government’s generous attitude to state enemies would have refrained from seeking ways to get rid of such a pope.

And yet, in the days and months after the assassination attempt, the Western world and press seemed intent on doing only one thing: reducing the whole matter to some mad right-wing Turk’s scheme that would not disturb the trade and cocktail parties our civilized nations carry on with the bloody murderers behind the Iron Curtain.

It is not beside the point to mention that this column, and columns like it, ought to have been published in our press some months ago. But the paralysis of the West—its belief that material survival depends on spiritual and moral passivity in the face of whatever immoral act the enemy may carry out— is manifest in its reluctance to come to grips with the possibility that the Soviet Union organized the attempt on Pope John Paul Il’s life.

The attempted assassination took place last May. Who could have done it?

Two possibilities: either a madman unhinged by anything from sunspots to religious mania, or someone who would benefit from the Pope’s death. Only a few people, including U.S. author and terrorist expert Claire Sterling, had the courage to pose and pursue the obvious question: cui bono—whom would such an act benefit? Those people could safely be disregarded by most of the Western press because they were not affiliated with The New York Times or, indeed, The Globe and Mail. But their question had a commonsense basis. Who did stand to profit from the Pope’s death? The answer was the Soviet Union.

When cardinals convene to elect a new pope, the church has always made the claim that, even though the cardinals themselves are fallible human beings, when sitting in conclave, the Holy Spirit may inspire them to elect an infallible pope. Doubtless, the cardinals chose John Paul for the highly fallible,

secular reason of effecting a reconciliation between radicals and conservatives. But it could only have been the Holy Spirit that caused them to depart from the centuries-old tradition of anointing an Italian. For, in selecting a Pole, the cardinals unleashed the one possible great spiritual answer to the advance of postwar communism.

Yuri Andropov, at the time head of the Soviet KGB, learned a lot from Stalin but he would not have been so silly as to swallow the famous sentence about the Pope, attributed to Stalin: “How many divisions has he?” (Frankly, I doubt Stalin would have uttered such silliness. The power of an idea was wellknown to Stalin, who would not have dismissed Lenin, Gandhi or an old man sitting in Paris by the name of Khomeini with such a silly question.)

The influence of an idea can be worth all the divisions of the czar or the Red Army. The minute John Paul II was elected, Andropov knew that the Soviets were in for major trouble. He had to be dealt with. And the Soviets might have understood further that they could murder the Pope secure in the

knowledge that the West would pull in its collective neck and not cause too much trouble.

A wrench was thrown into this by the diligence of a highly respected Italian magistrate and the reluctant but still kicking U.S. press, which, in a Newsweek cover story of two weeks ago, titled The Plot to Kill the Pope: Was the KGB Behind It?, finally asked the question in a popular forum.

So long as we had accused assassin Mehmet Ali Agca’s word that he was hired by the Bulgarians, the case was not proven. Any Western court would have to give a jury the traditional warning against accepting the uncorroborated evidence of a partner in crime.

But, if the assassin’s story were corroborated by other evidence leading as far as the secret service in Sofia, Bulgaria, we would then be at the door of the KGB, since, to anyone with the slightest knowledge of East European affairs, it is unthinkable that the Bulgarians could do this independently.

'The paralysed West is reluctant to face the possibility that the KGB wanted Pope John Paul out of the way’

In fact, unless one can believe that itinerant Turks can nip into Bulgaria at will, stay at luxury hotels and so on at an estimated cost of $50,000, it seems impossible to escape clear corroboration of Agca’s story that he was the hired assassin of Bulgaria, i.e. the KGB. And an act of such magnitude could only be initiated, approved and ordered by the then head of the KGB—Yuri Andropov, now leader of the Soviet Union.

What to do? “We want justice to be done but we don’t want to unnecessarily hurt relations with the East,” Vatican sources are quoted as saying. But, alas, at some point the Vatican sources will have to choose. In fact, the West would be better off not to try and cool the investigation. If, in fact, the evidence is conclusive, relationships between the East and the West will not collapse. Vatican sources, not to mention Ottawa and Washington, need not tremble. The Soviets are, above all, pragmatists.

The Soviet Union will either get rid of Andropov or find a convenient scapegoat and deliver his head on a platter. The Soviets will note, to their mild astonishment, that the West seems to be discovering some backbone again. Worldwide condemnation of the act might give renewed vitality to a visibly discouraged John Paul II.

And the West might discover that the best way to defeat evil does not lie in compromises with it.