Two Actors Who Changed History


I picked up a copy of His Holinessby Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi at Barnes and Noble in Washington last weekend. What a fantasic book! It is meticulously researched, objectively written and totally absorbing and fascinating.

Bernstein and Politi take you into the corridors of power in Moscow, Washington, Poland and the Vatican. They show just how close Ronald Reagan’s government was with Pope John Paul II. They show what the two famous actors had in common. Reagan was opimistic and idealistic even to the point of political naivety. JP2 was mystical, spiritual and driven by the same conviction as Reagan, that Communism would collapse from within because of the spiritual and moral vacuum at the heart of the Marxist ideology. They were both criticized for dangerous idealism, a lack of normal political saavy and a risky misreading of the situation. In the end history proved both of them right.

The story of JP2’s life in itself, is worth re-reading. From the beginning of JP2’s life we see not a great politician or a great scholar or even a great pope, but a great saint in the making.

In addition to the great insights on JP2 as a person, a pope and a politician we are also introduced to two Catholic laymen who changed the course of history. William Casey, head of the CIA and top diplomat Vernon Walters were both daily Mass Catholics. Both were orthodox in their beliefs and totally committed to the faith. Both were in Reagan’s inside circle, and were in regular meetings with JP2 and church officials. They believed that what was going on in Poland in the early 80s would transform the world. Their role was not only crucial (along with other influential Polish Catholic laymen) but shows the perfect relationship between the hierarchy and the laity for the salvation of the world.

The climax of the book so far are the events of 1981. The situation in Poland was unfolding in a way that was highly dangerous for everyone–not least the Soviet rulers. Then in April Reagan narrowly survived an assassination attempt, and just a few weeks later John Paul 2 suffered the same fate. Both men put their survival down to a miracle, and the co-incidence of the attempts, the already close relationship between Reagan and JP2, and the events in Eastern Europe make one ask not only whether the attempt on JP2 had communist origins through Bulgaria (Bernstein’s book draws together enough circumstantial evidence to make it practically certain) but one should also ask more questions about Reagan’s assassin. Where did he really fit in, and aren’t the links between Hinckley and the Bush family a little bit too close for comfort? Did the Bush’s family’s international connections want to sabotage Reagan’s seemingly wild-eyed, idealistic and alternative approach to foreign policy? Are stories about Tri Lateral Commissions and international cabals that benefited from he conventional Capitalist-Communist stand off true? If so, wouldn’t their interests be better served by insider HW Bush in the Oval Office instead of outsider Reagon who was determined to bring down ‘the Evil Empire’?

I highly recommend this powerful and exciting book. It will remind you again, if you ever needed convincing, that prayer changes the world, sanctity changes the world, and the Catholic faith can turn human history upside down. Whatever your place, whatever your battle, don’t give up! The Church is alive. The Church is young!

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  • Father, Bernstein and Politi’s book was also a great find for me when I I first read it as a secondary school student years ago. It had all the ingredients of a thriller, an international plot involving world leaders, nuclear holocaust and hidden conspiracies galore. Wow! I couldn’t put it down. The final chapters about the Lion in Winter were a little patronizing though.But when I read Jonathan Kwitny’s book entitled “Man of the Century”, I realized I had been taken for a ride.Here’s a review of Kwitny’s book, which I highly recommend.Also, Kwitny deserves a tip of the hat for quite convincingly demolishing the claims of a holy alliance between President Reagan and Pope John Paul advanced by Carl Bernstein in Time magazine and then in a 1996 book he wrote with Marco Politi, ”Pope John Paul II and the Hidden History of Our Time.” Though those claims and that book had already been widely scorned, Kwitny made use of interviews with key people in the Roman Catholic Church, C.I.A. figures and international labor leaders to quash the story of the Pope and the President plotting to support Poland’s Solidarity movement in a coordinated thrust against Communism as ”a work of fiction from beginning to end.”You can read the first chapter online here.Cheers.

  • Fascinating! I’m open to other readings, but Bernstein’s research seemed impressive to me.