September 18, 1996

Associated Press

By DAVID BRIGGS AP Religion Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- In a partnership that involved trade-offs on such issues as abortion and nuclear arms, the U.S. government and Pope John Paul II secretly worked together to hasten the fall of communism in Poland, according to a new book co-written by Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein.

The pope met with the late CIA director William Casey and former Deputy Director Vernon Walters 15 times, exchanging sensitive information in a joint effort to bring democracy to Poland while avoiding Soviet military intervention, according to the book, written with Italian reporter Marco Politi.

As part of the informal alliance between the United States and the pontiff, the book claims, President Reagan cut off funding for family planning programs overseas, and the pope kept silent on U.S. efforts to install cruise missiles in Western Europe.

The authors say they obtained classified U.S. cables to the White House, CIA and State Department revealing the contents of secret discussions between the pope and the Reagan administration. They also conducted hundreds of interviews with key players in Rome, Washington, Warsaw and Moscow, they said.

The Vatican had no reponse Wednesday to the book, His Holiness: John Paul II and the Hidden History of Our Time, released this week by Doubleday.

But in 1992, after a Time magazine article written by Bernstein made similar claims of an alliance between the pope and the U.S. government, papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro called the conclusions "bizarre" and said the pope never met with Casey.

Also, the pope denied establishing a "formal alliance" with Reagan but said both men were committed to fighting totalitarianism.

Bernstein does not say the pope made specific deals with the U.S. government, but he does indicate the pontiff was given some of America's most closely guarded secrets, ranging from White House policy discussions to satellite photos.

According to the book, the pope was also told of secret U.S. aid to Solidarity totaling more than $50 million.

The decision to cut millions of dollars in family planning aid to countries around the world was done "in deference to the pope," the book says.

The book also notes that, after appeals from Reagan, the pope remained silent on the introduction of a new generation of cruise missiles into Western Europe.

"The pope was crucial to allowing cruise missiles in Western Europe," Bernstein said in an interview.

The U.S. government was not the only one to consider the Vatican a third superpower in the events in Poland.

The authors claim to have uncovered Politburo documents showing Soviet leaders were concerned about the pope's influence. And they were right to be worried, Bernstein said.

"How many divisions does the pope have?" Bernstein said, referring to Josef Stalin's contemptuous dismissal of the church. "Well, they found out."