Espionage at the Vatican

VATICAN CITY — Claims of eavesdropping on the Vatican are nothing new.

But it’s hard to imagine any current foreign snooping could match the spying frenzy of the Cold War when the communist “East” and democratic “West” were locked in an ideological battle.


Karol Wojtyla receiving the woolen pallium during his installation as Pope John Paul II Oct. 22, 1978. (CNS photo by Arturo Mari)

After Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was elected Pope John Paul II in 1978, the Vatican did come under increased scrutiny as it was seen to be a decisive player in the anti-communist chess game.

Apparently double agent priests infiltrated the upper echelons of the Vatican and Czechoslovakian spies reportedly bugged the private studio of then-Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Agostino Casaroli by planting a hidden microphone inside a statue of Our Lady.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was spied on for three decades before he became pope by the Stasi — East Germany’s communist secret police.


Pope John Paul II greeting Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at a Munich airport in November 1980 at the end of a papal visit to Germany. (CNS photo from KNA)

According to one agent, the cardinal prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “would have an influence on the growth of anti-communist attitudes in the Catholic Church, especially in Latin America.” Agents wrote that Pope John Paul asked Cardinal Ratzinger to organize help for “counterrevolutionary activities in Poland” after the rise of the Solidarity movement in 1980.

Details of the Stasi’s activities were published in 2005 by the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag. The Stasi archives show there was one agent in the Vatican who provided “exact details” of the 1978 conclave that elected Pope John Paul II.

The newspaper noted that the secret police had kept an extensive card file on then-Cardinal Ratzinger and had described him as “the most decided opponent of communism in the Vatican.” Spies also described him as appearing “initially shy in conversation,” but that he also possessed “a winning charm.”

Soviet-bloc governments tried to get their Eastern European theology students to spy on the Vatican when they studied in Rome.


Jesuit Father Robert Graham pictured in Rome in 1992. Father Graham, who died in 1997, was considered an authority on the role of Pope Pius XII during World War II. (CNS photo/Agostino Bono)

“The poor Soviets believed secret sources more than public information, but that was an illusion,” the late-U.S. Jesuit Father Robert Graham, a historian and longtime Vatican observer, told CNS in 1993.

“They had to employ very complicated means to get the same information that was in the newspapers,” he said in this old CNS story that ran on page 12 in the Anchor, the diocesan paper of Fall River, Mass.

One longtime Vatican reporter claimed at the time that two Hungarian agents in the 1960s went directly to him instead of to his tidied and edited news reports.

He said the outrageous stories he made up for them were exceeded only by the outrageously bad vodka they gave him each Christmas.

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8 Responses to Espionage at the Vatican

  1. press inside says:

    Reblogged this on News-Press and commented:
    Espionage at the Vatican

  2. Jim says:

    “But it’s hard to imagine any current foreign snooping could match the spying frenzy of the Cold War” Well maybe, just maybe, cold war snooping has been eclipsed. When the cell phone of the German prime minister has been tapped who can tell what has happened elsewhere and how it might be used. When pro-life organizations have been identified by our government as potential terrorist havens who knows what kind of snooping goes on? Are pro-marriage groups also considered potential enemies of the state? Just asking!

  3. SCL says:

    Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE Smartphone

  4. realeyezlife says:

    im still “oh so very PISSED” at best friends forever democrats and republicans for passing THE PATRIOT ACT…on the bright side, soon the NSA will be able to spy on cell phones while in flight, I mean, americans will be able to use their cell phones while flying..that’s good news 😉

  5. pauline o'callaghan says:

    This all bears out what is contained in a small booklet entitled, Diary of an Anti-Apostle (AA-1025), by Tan books. I believed it all, when I read it, althought it seems completely far-fetched!

  6. Frederick Bailey says:

    Just because the Russians did it does not excuse our current administration for doing the same thing. The Communists wanted to learn of the Vatican’s effort to stop communism. I guess Obama wants to keep track of the anti-abortionist activity.

  7. Jcar says:

    Hey look. If it makes them feel safe let them eavesdrop. What are they going to find? Next week’s sermon?

  8. M. Case says:

    Spying goes two ways and is nothing new. During WWII it was common for secret documents to be transported through Rome between the pages of breviaries under the noses of the axes officials.

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