By Timothy Fitzpatrick
December 23, 2023
While many believe that the Soviets were behind the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II, insights by Soviet defector Anatoliy Golitsyn indicate that they were not behind it but they did use it to their advantage.
Golitsyn provides several reasons why the Soviets, contrary to popular belief, did not orchestrate the assassination attempt on Polish-born Karol Józef Wojtyła (“Saint” Pope John Paul II) on May 13, 1981. Golitsyn’s theory makes sense. It seems even more plausible when we interpret this assassination attempt under the belief that a). John Paul II was a Communist agent seeking to undermine the Church from within, and b). Poland’s break with the Soviet Union and path to independence was a farce as part of Soviet long-range deception.
Aside from Pope Francis, many believe Wojtyła was one of the worst or even most heretical popes in the Church’s 2,000+ year history. If it is true that John Paul II’s papacy was in line with the Communist agenda, then it would make no sense for the Soviets to assassinate him and would make perfect sense to portray him as an anti-Communist in order to hide his true role as a Soviet subverter.
Here are Golitsyn’s points on the matter, taken from his first book New Lies For Old (1984), pgs. 352-354, published a mere two years after the assassination attempt:
The author does not share the view that the KGB and the Bulgarian service are involved in the assassination attempt against the Pope perpetrated by Agca, a Turkish gunman. This conclusion is based on the following reasons:
1. This assassination attempt does not fit into the rationale of assassinations as practiced by the KGB. According to the author’s understanding, the Soviet government and the KGB would resort to a political assassination of a Western leader only under the following conditions:
A. If a Western leader, who is a recruited Soviet agent, is threatened in office by a political rival. This is based on a statement made by Zhenikhov, a former KGB resident in Finland. He stated that if
his agent, holding a high office, were threatened by an anticommunist social democrat during the elections, the latter would be poisoned by a trusted KGB agent.
B. If a Western leader became a serious obstacle to communist strategy and to the strategic disinformation program, he would be quietly poisoned at a summit meeting during negotiations or while visiting a communist country, since detente provides such opportuni ties in abundance. The practical lesson here is that a Western leader who is involved in furthering an effective counterstrategy against the communists should not visit communist countries or take part
in any summit meetings with their leaders. The technique for a poisoning was described in a statement made by a KGB general, Zheleznyakov, at an operational briefing devoted to an assassination proposal against Tito in 1953 in Moscow. Zheleznyakov stated that the major requirement for success is mere physical contact with the target, as the Soviet service has technical means (special poisons) to inflict mortal diseases without leaving traces of the poison, so that death will be attributed to natural causes.
C. If the assassination of a leader provides the opportunity for a controlled Soviet agent to take over the position. According to Levi- nov, a KGB adviser in Czechoslovakia, this rationale was used by both the Soviet and the Czech services in the assassination of Presi dent Benes, thus vacating a place for a communist leader, Gottwald.
D. If a communist leader decided to eliminate his communist rival. It is a well-known fact that, based on this rationale, Stalin got rid of many of his rivals, including Trotskiy in Mexico. According to the author, this rationale is not used any longer because of the cessation of the struggle for power in the Soviet party leadership.
2. In view of the arguments and reasoning made about Polish develop- ments in this book, particularly those concerning Solidarity as a product of “mature socialism,” it is clear that there is no motive for such an assassination (of the Pope) by the KGB and their communist partners.
3.The author regards as erroneous the perception that the KGB is a primitive and inefficient service that would resort to the use of the Bulgarian service to recruit a killer for hire, especially one who was guilty of murdering a progressive editor in Turkey, and who had earlier escaped from prison and had somehow made a strange visit to Bulgaria. According to the author’s understanding, the KGB is always apprehensive about using escapees, suspecting the possibility of their being police provocateurs. The KGB would not consider such a candidate, unknown to them and over whom they had no control, for an operation of such importance and sensitivity.
4. If the Soviet strategists had reason for such assassinations, they would not attempt to act through the Bulgarian service. More likely, the KGB would undertake such a mission through their trusted illegals or through opportunities available to the Polish service. It is well known that the Pope maintains a vast staff of secretaries and kitchen help, almost all consisting of Polish nationals. He further receives visitors from Poland. The Polish security service, through its antireligious department, would study the relatives of people on the Pope’s staff and would use them as hostages in the preparation of such an operation. It would be a quiet, secret operation.
5. The author is also of the opinion that the Italian services, which are seriously weakened by recent scandals and investigations, are too inexpe- rienced to assess the strategic complexity and implications of such an operation. This affair can be assessed and understood only in terms of communist strategies (communist liberalization and Western disarmament and its implications for the West).
6. The author is more inclined to agree with the views of the Israeli and West German services, as expressed in a December 17, 1982, New York Times article written by Henry Kamm, in which he states that implicating the KGB in the assassination affair is outright disinformation. The author, however, does not agree with the article as to the purpose of such disinformation. In his opinion, the purpose was not to undermine or discredit Andropov, but to confuse the strategic implications.
7. There is also a serious contradiction in the actions of the Polish and Soviet governments regarding this affair. If the Soviet government perceives the Pope as an anticommunist involved in subversive activities against Poland and other communist countries, as implied in a TASS statement, it is incongruous that the Polish government would invite the Pope to visit Poland in June of 1983, since all such matters are coordinated with the Soviets.
Another relevant comment probably should be added here. In view of the ardent public statements of some Italian socialist ministers regarding their acceptance of the communist involvement in this affair, such a position strengthens their vulnerability to an erroneous response to future Polish developments. Despite their genuine anticommunism, they would be pressured to accept the Polish “liberalization” as spontaneous.
The assassination attempt was botched and, therefore, makes it even less likely that it was an attempted KGB hit, as the Soviets are known for having much more precision in their assassination operations. What seems more likely is that the event was at least somewhat spontaneous or organic, and the Soviets capitalized on it, even to the point of implicating themselves in the drama, so as to feed the illusion that John Paul II, the Vatican leadership, and Poland were anti-Communists that needed to be put in their place, when the opposite was likely the case.
The Soviets using the KGB assassination narrative to alleviate any suspicion of traditional Catholics (especially those uncomfortable with the Second Vatican Council) and the non-Communist world that Poland and the Vatican might be on the Communist path. Giving validity to this seeming disinformation operation was helped by widely publicized theories of the events being Soviet-originated and statements from the would-be assassin Mehmet Ali Ağca loosely implicating the Pope with capitalism.