Cold War and the Papacy

Frank J Coppa. New Catholic Encyclopedia Supplement 2010. Editor: Robert L Fastiggi. Volume 1, Gale, 2010.

The papacy played a key role in the opening and closing of the Cold War, as well as the collapse of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Papal opposition to communism was long-standing. During the course of the nineteenth century, a series of popes—from Gregory XVI (1831-1846) to Leo XIII (1878-1903)—denounced this ideology as contrary to Catholic beliefs and branded it a threat to the Christian community. Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922) opposed the Soviet state, which preached atheism and waged war upon organized religion in general, and the Catholic Church in particular. Catholic concerns were also revealed in 1917 in the apparitions of Fátima, Portugal, where Mary was said to have appeared and invoked prayers for the conversion of Russia. But neither prayers nor the limited intervention of the European powers, Japan, and the United States could overturn the Soviet regime, which threatened a broader revolutionary upheaval.

Eugenio Pacelli, the papal nuncio in Munich and the future Pope Pius XII (1939-1958), had to confront communist insurgents personally during the Spartacist revolt in Bavaria in 1919. Ambrogio Achille Ratti, the future Pope PIUS XI (1922-1939), who was nuncio in Warsaw, faced the prospect of a Soviet attack upon the Polish capital in 1920. When he became pope, Pius XI lamented the anticlerical measures adopted by Moscow and tried unsuccessfully to negotiate with its revolutionary regime. At the end of 1924, the frustrated pontiff renewed his protests against the Soviet attacks upon religion, stressing the grave danger presented by communism. Pius XI hoped that divine providence would intervene and provoke the collapse of what he perceived to be a pseudo-religious faith. When this did not occur, he invoked prayers of atonement for the outrages against religion perpetrated in the Soviet Union. His opposition to these abuses was cataloged in his 1937 encyclical Divini Redemptoris (On Atheistic Communism), which condemned this movement as subversive of Christian culture. Pacelli, who served as papal secretary of state from 1930 to 1939, shared the papal concern and approved this condemnation of communism.

Pius XII’s Reaction to Communism, 1939-1945

Pacelli assumed the tiara in 1939, when Europe was on the brink of another world war. Despite concordats or agreements with Mussolini’s Italy in 1929 and Hitler’s Germany in 1933, the harassment of the Church continued in these countries as well as in the Soviet Union. In October 1939, Pius XII issued his first encyclical letter Summi pontificatus (On the Unity of Human Society), which condemned the claims of absolute state authority and indirectly denounced the totalitarianism of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. While critical of both regimes, Pius apparently deemed the frontal assault by communist states upon organized religion more serious than the indirect Nazi attacks. Another important difference, from the papal perspective, was that the Nazi persecution, unlike the Bolshevik one, had not completely outlawed religion and suppressed the churches.

Pius XII, seeking to preserve a cautious neutrality, appreciated Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s appointment of Myron Taylor as his personal representative to the Vatican in December 1939. During the war, Pius was troubled by the Anglo-American alliance with Stalin to combat Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and later Imperial Japan. While the Allies applauded the Soviet incursion against Nazi-occupied Europe, and while Roosevelt urged the Vatican to moderate its anticommunist stance, the pope worried about the Soviet drive into Europe at war’s end. He questioned the American conclusions that the Soviets were on the brink of introducing religious toleration in their territories and that the Russian dictatorship was less dangerous than the Nazi one. The Vatican complained about Stalin’s continued harassment of the Catholic Church, which saw its property nationalized and its hierarchy shattered by deportations, arrests, and executions. Pius dreaded the prospect of an extension of Stalin’s system, and he hoped that a stalemate between the Nazis and the Soviets would undermine both. He perceived the “unconditional surrender” policy that Churchill and Roosevelt had sanctioned during the Casablanca Conference in January 1943 as dangerous, suspecting it would prolong the conflict and ultimately benefit the Soviet Union and its communist ideology.

The Curia shared his concerns. Before his death, Cardinal Luigi Maglione, the papal secretary of state, cataloged the dangers of Russian hegemony in Europe. His apprehension was shared by Monsignor Domenico Tardini, the undersecretary of state, who predicted the war would end with a predominant Russian victory in Europe and the spread of communism, which would be to the detriment of European civilization and Christian culture. Even if the Allied armies remained in Europe, Tardini foresaw the onset of the Cold War, and he predicted that the ensuing peace would only rest on mutual fear. Pius worried not only about the future of Germany and Italy, he also feared the consequences a Soviet victory would have for Poland, the Baltic states, the whole of Eastern Europe, and the entire war-torn continent.

Pius XII Foresees the Cold War

Both the pope and the Curia were convinced that the Soviets would exploit the devastation of World War II to impose their imperium and ideology on the territory they occupied. The Vatican’s anxieties were not initially shared by the Americans, however, who believed the key Soviet effort in defeating Nazi Germany justified their prominent role in the peacemaking process and the postwar reconstruction. At this juncture the United States saw communism as an essentially internal problem rather than an international one. Immediately following the death of President Roosevelt in April 1945, the new American president, Harry S. Truman, followed Roosevelt’s policy of cooperation with the Soviet Union in Europe, remaining aloof from the strident anticommunism of the Vatican. At first, therefore, Washington provided the Holy See with little moral support against communism, and the papacy was left to its own devices. This did not deter Pius from initiating a global campaign against Bolshevism and the Soviet Union, thus contributing to the opening of the Cold War.

On the other hand, Pius XII welcomed American economic aid to war-torn Western Europe, as well as their sponsorship of a new international organization to preserve the peace. Although the Vatican approved the general aims of the United Nations, as constituted at San Francisco in June 1945, the pope harbored reservations about its structure. He was especially concerned about the veto power of the Soviet Union in the Security Council. Stalin dismissed papal opposition: “The Pope! The Pope! How many divisions has he got?” the Soviet dictator repeated at the Yalta Conference of 1945, as he sought to discount the Vatican’s input (Stehle 1981, p. 225). He realized that Pius nourished serious reservations about the proposed postwar settlement, and early on exposed the pretense that the Russian occupation was benign. Pius said as much in his Christmas message of 1946, wherein he lamented the compromises made at war’s end by the Western Allies. The papal prediction that the Russians would impose communist regimes in Eastern Europe soon materialized.

Rome and Washington: Cold War Allies

The heavy-handed methods of the Soviets in Eastern Europe and their occupation zone in Germany had an impact on Washington, which belatedly accepted the papacy’s view of the Cold War. By 1947 Truman had adopted the anticommunist stance of Pius XII, Winston Churchill, and the American diplomat George Kennan, as the United States saw the need to stop Soviet subversion in Europe and abroad. Adhering to the containment course of the United States, the pope welcomed the 1947 European Recovery Program that George C. Marshall announced at Harvard University in June 1947. The Marshall Plan was designed to reconstruct the faltering European economies and provide Soviet propaganda with less fertile ground. Pius was relieved that Washington had finally recognized the communist danger. Meanwhile, the pope also approved the early steps toward European economic and political integration, which he deemed another means of blocking the unfortunate consequences of Soviet expansion. In 1949 and 1950, Pius veered even further away from neutrality by approving the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which was designed to thwart Moscow’s diplomatic coercion and military threats. Papal support enabled Alcide de Gasperi and his Christian Democrats to overcome left-wing opposition and secure Italian ratification of the NATO treaty in April 1949, and this support also helped the Christian Democrats, under Konrad ADENAUER, to secure West Germany’s adherence to NATO in 1955.

Although suspicious of partisan politics, Pius relied on the Christian Democratic parties of Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Italy to combat communism. After members of the Italian Communist Party entered the provisional government following the liberation of Rome, he became increasingly alarmed and embroiled himself in the peninsula’s affairs. He did this through Catholic Action, a consortium of organized Catholic groups under the leadership of Professor Luigi Gedda and supervised by the bishops. In March 1946 the pope alerted the Italian clergy that it was their duty to instruct the faithful to combat anti-Christian forces in politics and society, and to support the Christian Democrats in keeping the communists out of power. The Vatican policy played a major role in assuring that the Christian Democrats in Italy won 48.5 percent of the vote and over half the seats in the Chamber of Deputies.

Washington increasingly appreciated the importance of collaborating with the Vatican once it acknowledged the reality of the Cold War. As early as 1946, Myron Taylor suggested to President Truman that communism could be defeated in Italy and Western Europe with papal help. He noted that the pope had openly challenged communism from the beginning, concluding that papal leadership was central to any future campaign against communism. Churchill shared Taylor’s conviction, declaring his support for the pope, who proclaimed he could not, and would not, remain silent while communist states menaced the Church and undermined the peace. The papal stance encouraged clergy around the world to second the papal condemnation. Across the Atlantic, Bishop Fulton Sheen used his television show to brand communism as the antichrist, and many American Catholics pressed Washington to join the war against communism. Their voice was heard, and an exchange of letters between the Vatican and Washington in 1947 saw the two concur in branding communism a threat to religion and Western civilization. Although Truman’s attempt to reopen full diplomatic relations with the Vatican at the end of 1951 failed, the anticommunist cooperation between the two continued.

The Soviet Reaction to Catholic Opposition

Stalin resented the “alliance” between Washington and the Vatican, and he sought to discredit Pius XII as “Hitler’s Pope” and an anti-Semite. He also encouraged his “allies” in Eastern Europe to commence a brutal repression against the Church and clergy. Following the communist putsch in Czechoslovakia in 1948, the communists introduced obligatory civil marriage and legislation against reading Episcopal and papal messages from Church pulpits. In response, Pius urged the Czech bishops to stand firm against the violations of Church rights. Attempts to negotiate a solution in 1949 failed, provoking retaliation under the auspices of the Cominform (Communist Information Bureau), which sought to create a Catholic Church free of papal control. Subsequently, under the prodding of Foreign Minister Andrei Vishinsky, the Soviet government proclaimed a “Karlsbad Protocol,” which provided for the eventual liquidation of the traditional Catholic Church in Czechoslovakia. In turn, the Vatican excommunicated the communists and their allies.

The Vatican’s relations with Tito’s Yugoslavia were not much better. During the war, Archbishop Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac of Zagreb had been arrested by communist partisans, who regarded him as a symbol of Croat oppression of the Serbs. Although he was released, Stepinac remained persona non grata to the communist regime. Tito requested his recall, but Pius proved unwilling to do so. In retaliation, the archbishop was put on trial in October 1946, and he was found guilty of unlawful collaboration with the “fascist” Ustasha regime and admitting forcibly converted Orthodox Serbs into the Catholic Church. The Vatican, in turn, excommunicated all who had participated in the trial, leading Tito’s government to encourage the formation of professional organizations of priests that would be free from Vatican control. These organizations were condemned by the Yugoslav bishops and the pope, but the papal message was accidentally leaked, leading the Tito government to complain about the Vatican’s “unwarrantable interference” in Yugoslavia’s internal affairs.

To make matters worse, Pius honored Archbishop Stepinac by naming him a cardinal, and he did so on November 29, Yugoslavia’s national holiday, prompting Tito’s government to sever diplomatic relations with the Vatican in mid-December 1952. Similar problems developed elsewhere in communist-controlled Eastern Europe, where churches and other ecclesiastical properties were nationalized, schools were taken over by the state, religion was eliminated from the curriculum, monasteries and seminaries were slammed shut, and Catholic clergy were either arrested or deported. In Hungary, the persecution led to the condemnation of its primate, Cardinal József Mindszenty, in 1949. In Bulgaria, Bishop Evgenij (Eugene) Bossilkov, who refused to join the Orthodox Church or form a national Catholic Church without ties to the Vatican, was executed by a firing squad in 1952.

The Papal Response to Communist Persecution

In response, Pius launched a counterattack on those who sought to subvert the Faith, and he minced no words in his condemnation of communism. In 1951, the year after the Cold War contributed to the conflict in Korea, Pius deplored Peking’s disruption of relations between Rome and the Chinese hierarchy, as well as its attempt to create an alternative to the traditional faith—the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. In 1952, he again rebuked the unjust Chinese attack upon the Church, and his apostolic letter of January 18, 1952, Cupimus imprimis, expressed papal support for the clergy and faithful of China, urging them to trust in Christ.

Earlier, in mid-July 1949, the Holy See had published a decree issued by the Congregation of the Holy Office (initially formed as the Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition, and today known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). It asked the following questions:

  1. Was it legitimate to become a member of the Communist Party or support it?
  2. Was it permissible for Catholics to publish, disseminate, or read periodicals or other literature that upheld Communist doctrine?
  3. Could the faithful who professed the anti-Christian doctrine of Communism, and especially those who engaged in the activities listed above, be admitted to the Sacraments?
  4. Did those faithful who professed the anti-Christian doctrine of Communism automatically fall under excommunication?

The Holy Office responded “no” to the first query, reporting it was not permissible for the faithful to join or support the Communist Party. Secondly, Catholics could not publish, disseminate, or even read books, periodicals, or other literature that upheld such a doctrine. In addition, those who violated these first two prohibitions should not be admitted to the Sacraments. Finally, the decree proclaimed that those who affirmed such doctrines and practices automatically fell under excommunication as apostates of the faith. On July 1, 1949, the decree Responsa ad dubia de communismo was promulgated in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, providing for the excommunication of those who supported communism.

Pius XII: From Confrontation to Conciliation

In combating communism, Pius increasingly looked to the states of the West, and particularly to the United States, which he eventually found to be a willing collaborator. On January 7, 1953, in his State of the Union message, President Truman reported that the United States had developed a hydrogen bomb, which proved to be a double-edged sword for the Vatican. On the one hand, this might restrain the Russians; on the other hand, the potential for global destruction and human annihilation was exponentially increased. Pius XII, who was in the forefront of preaching against the development and use of weapons of mass destruction, worried about the devastating consequences of a third world war, and like his predecessors he preferred negotiation to confrontation. While the pope preached against the march of communism, in his Christmas message of December 24, 1954, he was not an unrepentant “cold warrior.” Instead, he recognized the danger of the “coexistence of fear” that prevailed at the time. He was not only in the forefront of focusing upon the communist threat, he was also among the first to warn of the dangers posed by the prospect of nuclear war. Internationally, Pius foresaw there would be no victory from a future world conflict, but only the inconsolable weeping of the humanity that survived.

Indeed, the pope who had foreseen the opening of the Cold War also looked forward to its conclusion following the death of Stalin. To be sure, the dictator’s death, in March 1953, did not immediately end the East-West tension, but it did initiate the movement from the Cold War to a “cold peace.” Pius, for his part, contributed to this development by offering hints that an accord with the Soviet Union might be possible. In his Christmas message of December 1954, he called for a “coexistence in truth’” to replace the current climate of fear. In 1955, the year that Konrad Adenauer visited Moscow, Pius became more distressed by the proliferation of the nuclear arsenal in a bipolar world, and he further elaborated his call for coexistence between East and West.

At the end of 1955, the pope warned the West of the inherent danger of an indiscriminate opposition to any sort of coexistence and the prospect of nuclear holocaust. Pius thus offered the communist regimes of Eastern Europe a cease-fire in the Cold War. The signals from the Vatican were received by Moscow, which recognized that despite ideological differences there might be “useful” and perhaps even “official” relations between the Soviet Communist Party and the papacy. In December 1956, in his Christmas message, Pius revealed that though he abhorred communism, he refused to launch a Christian crusade against the Soviet regime. He also invoked European union and an acceptance of the authority of the United Nations as means of preserving the peace. At the same time, a new understanding was elaborated between the communist regime in Poland and the Catholic Church. The following year, Auxiliary Bishop Josip Lach of Zagreb was allowed to venture to Rome, and he facilitated an agreement between the Vatican and Yugoslavia that allowed their bishops to travel to Rome for the obligatory ad limina visits to the Holy See every five years. At the beginning of 1958, the Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko, acknowledging the deep ideological divide between Moscow and Rome, stated that agreement was possible with the Vatican on “various questions of peace.”

In March 1957, Pius XII commended and encouraged the American government for seeking peace, citing the need for collective agreements. That same year he condemned the destructive use of nuclear energy and continued to support the pacific efforts of the United Nations. Later, in May 1958, the ailing pontiff again emphasized the opposition of the Church to all wars, except those of a defensive nature. Towards the end of Pius XII’s pontificate, the Vatican was slowly moving to reach some accommodation with the Soviet system, and it sought to shift from a de facto alliance with the West to a policy of nonalignment. Paradoxically, the pope who had assumed a leading role in the opening of the Cold War now joined forces with those who called for its conclusion. This process would reach fruition with his successors, beginning with John XXIII’s aggiornamento, or updating of the Church, and Paul VI’s Ostpolitik (Eastern Politics). The Cold War finally ended during the pontificate of the Polish pope, John Paul II.

From Cold War to Conciliation

Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) was concerned with the needs of the persecuted Church in Eastern Europe, and he encouraged an opening to the Eastern bloc, particularly to Moscow. Adversaries had to talk to one another, he explained, initiating a policy of accommodation. In doing so, John distinguished between communism as an atheistic creed, with which the Church could not compromise, and communism as a social, political, and economic theory, which he deemed a reality that could not be ignored. Further abandoning the papacy’s earlier anticommunist course, he revealed that the Vatican sought better relations with Moscow. Early in November 1958 he invoked a just and fraternal peace among all nations, and shortly thereafter he confided to Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski and a group of Poles that he prayed for the peace and prosperity of all peoples. John sought to strengthen the local churches across Eastern Europe while avoiding philosophical debate with the communists and focusing upon pragmatic issues and specific measures, such as the appointment of bishops. He thus changed the atmosphere of Vatican-Soviet relations by moving from Pius XII’s earlier containment to his own limited engagement.

Later, Pope John utilized Monsignor Agostino Casaroli, who succeeded as secretary of state, to reach informal accords with a series of communist governments. He thus secured the liberation of incarcerated ecclesiastics in Eastern Europe and filled a number of vacant bishoprics. In 1963 he dispatched his secretary of state to Budapest and Prague to initiate conversations with their communist regimes. Cassaroli stressed the practical nature of this policy, assuring nervous conservatives that these talks did not dilute the Church’s ideological opposition to communism, while also pointing to the specific successes attained. In this atmosphere, the Yugoslav government allowed the public funeral of Cardinal Stepinac. Meanwhile, the pope seemed to support the “opening to the left” in Italy, and cooperation with communist regimes, when he wrote that one had to distinguish between error and one who falls into error. He asserted that a man who has fallen into error does not cease to be a man. Likewise, John differentiated between the mistaken Marxist philosophy of the purpose of men and the world and the political and socioeconomic changes that drew inspiration from such a philosophy.

In September 1961, the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev paid tribute to Pope John’s reasonableness, convinced that this pope was sincere and trustworthy. Relations were further improved in November 1961 following Khrushchev’s telegram congratulating John on his eightieth birthday and expressing support for his efforts to solve international problems by negotiation. The pope responded warmly, thanking the Soviet leader for his greetings and promising to pray for the people of his vast state. Dividends were soon forthcoming, as the Vatican utilized the Soviet ambassador to Turkey to facilitate the participation of the bishops from Eastern Europe to the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Assured that the council would not condemn communism, Khrushchev allowed Russian Orthodox observers to attend. Both the failure of the council to explicitly condemn communism and the participation of bishops from Eastern Europe represented crucial developments in the Church’s détente with communist states, facilitating the Vatican’s Ostpolitik.

Despite John’s efforts for reconciliation, the Cold War continued during the first years of his pontificate, as the superpowers remained locked over the issue of Berlin and confronted one another over Cuba. Nonetheless, relations between the Vatican and Moscow improved on the eve of the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, which threatened to unleash a nuclear confrontation. Urged to intervene by the Americans, the pope appealed to the superpowers to answer humanity’s cry for peace. His message was given front-page coverage in Pravda, representing the first signal that the Soviets were prepared to negotiate a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Following the resolution of the crisis, Moscow encouraged regular, if private, contacts with the Vatican, and Cardinal Josyf Slipyj, the primate of Ukranian Catholics, was released from a Soviet prison. In December 1962, John received a Christmas message from Khrushchev, thanking him for his efforts on behalf of the whole of humanity. The following year the pope received Alexis Adzhubei, the editor of Izvestia, and his wife, Rada, Khrushchev’s daughter. In March 1963, John was awarded the Balzan Prize for fostering brotherhood and peace.

Pope John’s conciliatory course was continued and extended by Pope Paul VI (1963-1978), who concluded a written agreement with communist Hungary in September 1964. In April 1966 he was visited by the Soviet foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko, and the following year he met with the president of the Soviet Union, Nikolai Podgorny. Meanwhile, in June 1966, an agreement was signed between the Vatican and Yugoslavia.

John Paul II, the Collapse of Communism, and the End of the Cold War

In October 1978, the fifty-eight-year-old Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, archbishop of Kraków, was elected as the first Polish pope. Wojtyla had shown political agility in negotiating with Poland’s communist regime. Following the announcement of his election, church bells were rung across Poland in celebration. In the Soviet Union, however, alarm bells sounded because the new pope invoked the opening of frontiers. John Paul II named Agostino Casaroli, the architect of Paul’s Ostpolitik, as secretary of state, enabling John Paul to return to his homeland in June 1979 (the first of eight trips to his native Poland). It was the first visit of a pope to Poland, the first papal trip to a communist country, and the first time a pope said Mass in a communist country. Although the visit was religious in nature, it had profound political implications, altering the mentality of fear that prevailed in Poland and much of the Soviet-controlled Eastern bloc. The pope visited Auschwitz, where his direct condemnation of Nazi abuses represented an indirect condemnation of communist crimes, thus challenging the regime on the issue of human rights.

The papal visit apparently inspired the strike in the Gdansk shipyards in August 1980, as well as the formation of the Solidarity labor organization, which was inspired by Catholic teaching. In the summer of 1980, when the pope heard that the Russians advised the Polish state to purge Solidarity or face invasion, he cautioned President Leonid Brezhnev against the projected aggression. The papal intervention apparently contributed to the compromise between Solidarity and the Polish regime, to the annoyance of the Soviets. Some observers are also convinced that it inspired the assassination attempt on his life in May 1981, which the pope survived.

In June 1982 the pope met with President Ronald Reagan, who had also survived an assassination attempt, and discussed the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. Richard Allen, Reagan’s national security advisor, claimed the two plotted to “hasten the dissolution of the communist empire.” It is now known that the CIA director, William Casey, who had been an architect of the American-Vatican cooperation on solidarity and Poland, met with various Vatican officials, including Archbishop Achille Silvestrini, the Vatican’s deputy secretary of state, and Archbishop Pio Laghi, the Vatican’s apostolic delegate in Washington, who relayed the effectiveness of their operations to the Americans. John Paul returned to Poland in June 1983, and four years later, in June 1987, he helped to bring change to Poland. This was facilitated by Mikhail Gorbachev’s election as general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1985. Gorbachev favored glasnost or “openness” and perestroika, the restructuring of Soviet society, and he supported Warsaw’s negotiations with the Catholic Church.

In the summer of 1988, Gorbachev ventured to Warsaw. He was aware that the Polish government could not rule without the cooperation of Solidarity and some level of understanding with the Catholic Church. For his part, the pope gave his approval to have Polish bishops participate in a joint committee with communist delegates to outline a new church-state relationship. In April the government promised to legalize Solidarity, called for open parliamentary elections in June 1989, and agreed to establish diplomatic relations with the Vatican. These pledges assured the victory of Solidarity in the 1989 elections, which soon led to the collapse of the communist governments in Poland, Eastern Europe, and, by 1991, in the Soviet Union. Gorbachev, the ousted Soviet leader, concluded that Pope John Paul II had played “a major political role” in crippling communism in Eastern Europe.

Clearly, Vatican support proved crucial in the early fall of 1991, when the Soviet Union recognized the independence of the Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, whose incorporation into the Soviet Union the Holy See had never recognized. Without any military divisions, John Paul II’s Vatican had emerged as an important, if not crucial, factor in the collapse of communism and the end of the Cold War. Thus, the papacy not only played an important role in the opening of the Cold War during the pontificate of Pius XII, it played an equally important role in its demise during the pontificate of John Paul II.