National Catholic Reporter
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May 20, 2005

Letters Debating the 'Bulgarian connection'

In his article about John Paul II and the 1981 attempt on the pope’s life, Thomas P. Melady (NCR, April 29) recycles one of the great hoaxes of the Cold War, the “Bulgarian connection.” It is time to put this one to rest.

In 1981, the pope’s would-be assassin, Mehmet Agca, was Turkey’s most notorious terrorist and a member of the powerful neofascist organization called the Grey Wolves. Upon escaping from prison in 1979 with the assistance of the Grey Wolves, he publicly threatened to kill the pope, who was about to visit Turkey. Though he failed to make good on his threat in 1979, with the assistance of the Grey Wolves he made his way to Europe and to St. Peter’s Square in May 1981. Immediately upon his arrest, investigators learned that his passport, gun and other assistance had been supplied by the Grey Wolves, yet no co-conspirators for the assassination plot itself could be identified.

After Agca had been in prison for 17 months, he “remembered” that he had been hired by the Bulgarian intelligence services to kill the pope. He eventually “identified” three Bulgarians who were his alleged controllers. A lengthy investigation by the Italian judiciary found no independent evidence to support the charge of Bulgarian involvement. The case rested entirely on Agca’s testimony; in 1985, when he told the court at the outset of the Bulgarians’ trial that he was Jesus (and offered to raise the dead to prove it), the case essentially collapsed.

In our book The Rise and Fall of the Bulgarian Connection, Edward S. Herman and I review the strong evidence that Agca was coached in prison to implicate the Bulgarians as well as the overwhelming evidence that the assassination attempt was rooted in the ideology and organization of the Grey Wolves. We also address Mr. Melady’s earlier article on the subject, which we argue was written entirely within the parameters of two of the hoax’s chief propagandists, Claire Sterling and Paul Henze.

The lines quoted by Mr. Melady from the pope’s recent memoir -- to the effect that Agca did not act alone but was a hired assassin -- are perfectly correct. However, the evidence is overwhelming that the place to investigate this conspiracy is in Turkey, not Bulgaria.

Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.

Thomas P. Melady responds:

Most of the literature on the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II acknowledges the “Bulgarian connection.” This, however, was not the major point of my opinion piece.

In his final public testament on this issue, the beloved late pope said that “someone else had commissioned him [Ali Agca] to carry it [the assassination] out.” This was my main point. I repeat my conclusion that the United States should work with other governments and issue a no-holds-barred public report on the conspiracy.

Who initiated the plot to kill Pope John Paul II?

Society’s most vulnerable

Demetria Martinez’s ordeal of trying to fill her prescription at a hospital pharmacy for the uninsured while its phone lines were down was certainly difficult for all those stuck with her outside in the cold and rain (NCR, April 15).

But at least in pro-life America, there are ways for the uninsured to get their meds. Problems with computer phone lines is another matter altogether and does not make us a “so-called” pro-life nation.

Speculating that “talks of cuts in this program for the indigent” may mean “no more” meds and possible deaths is a typical liberal red herring.

Cutting a program does not mean ending the program. A broken computer does not mean the program is broken. A society that spends billions on welfare is not a society that “makes life impossible for its most vulnerable.” Those who are really the most vulnerable, the unborn, are murdered every day (4,000-plus), but standing outside in the cold is not murder in the first degree.

What happened to truth and common sense?

Pine, Ariz.

Aristide’s ‘flight’

Claire Schaeffer-Duffy (NCR, April 29) seems to have bought another Colin Powell story about President Jean-Bertrand Aristide having “fled” from Haiti last year. Mr. Aristide says he was kidnapped, and most objective observers, including Haiti’s neighbors, do not recognize the U.S.-installed interim government, qualifying the regime change as an illegitimate coup.

Ms. Schaeffer-Duffy also talks about a “month-long revolt” as the reason for Aristide’s having “fled.” In truth, serious analysts trace the coup back to a 20-year destabilization campaign by right-wing Americans such as Sen. Jesse Helms, along with the Republicans’ democracy training program and even the Democrats’ democracy training program. All this “democracy training” never was able to garner more than 12 percent of the popular vote in Haitian elections, and so in the end several hundred mercenaries (not “civilian rebels”), furnished with weapons through CIA connections, began taking over the north and central cities of Haiti. Serious observers say that this small band of thugs could never have taken the capital, which would have defended President Aristide. So the United States kidnapped the president and got its way in the form of an unconstitutional transfer of power to the Alexander/Latortue government.

Ms. Schaeffer-Duffy does give us much good information to balance her article. It would have been better, though, to offer an alternative to the myth from the U.S. State Department that Haitians are simply a violent, disorganized people incapable of governing themselves. The truth is that Haitians have not been able to govern themselves since their independence in 1804 because outside forces, aided and abetted by an inside elite utilizing army power to maintain dictatorships, have crushed all attempts at self-rule -- until Mr. Aristide, whose attempt has once again been defeated by violent overthrow.

Barre, Vt.

Tom Luce is coordinator of April6Vt Citizensí Lobby, an organization of Vermonters working peacefully for justice worldwide.

Claire Schaeffer-Duffy responds:

I stand corrected. My use of the verb “fled” was a poor choice of words. It disregards Aristide’s charge that he was a victim of a political kidnapping, forced at gunpoint to board an American plane, and sent into exile.

Unfortunately, articles are confined by word count. I chose to focus on the current issue of Haiti’s upcoming elections rather than the history of U.S. involvement in Aristide’s ouster. (Two previous NCR articles mention reports of the U.S. role in training the armed rebels who overthrew Aristide.)

I thought the comments of the State Department, set in the context of the rest of the article, exposed the arrogance, racism really, behind our government’s policy toward Haiti. I did not mean to imply Haitians were incapable of governing themselves and strongly agree with Mr. Luce’s point that the country has suffered from a succession of international interventions.

Many thanks to Mr. Luce for his informative letter.

Sen. Voinovich

Yes, clearly Republican Ohio Sen. George Voinovich (NCR, April 29) is to be commended for taking another look at the John Bolton nomination to the United Nations. On balanced-budget issues and on this issue he has not hesitated to go against the party. As one of his constituents and one who has sent him NCR articles, I can only pray that the Spirit will move him on matters of war, nuclear disarmament and health care for all. If the right can nudge based on religious principles, we on the so-called left should also insist on our Gospel values.

Seven Hills, Ohio

Faithful remnant

Theologian Michael Novak compared “modernizing the church” with “being faithful to the Word at the expense of losing numbers” and praised Pope Benedict XVI for “choosing the second alternative” (NCR, April 29).

I am one of the “numbers” who no longer attends Mass in Catholic churches, not because I disagree with Catholic teachings but because I always thought the rules applied to the clergy as well as the laity. I listened to the media praise Pope John Paul II last month and wondered about the legacy of a man who inspired youth by challenging them to lead moral and ethical lives while ignoring the sexual abuse of children by his own bishops and priests.

I’ve been attending Mass at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Rockport ever since I heard the Rev. Karin Wade invite “all baptized Christians” to receive Communion at a funeral Mass last summer. A Roman Catholic since birth, I’m not looking for another religion. I merely want to receive Communion where I am treated with respect. At St. Mary’s, I often sense what Jesus’ disciples must have felt, men and women gathered together for a meal or good conversation, discussing the issues of the day and the part that God played in their daily lives.

Mr. Novak may be pleased that people like me are gone, but someday he will have to confront the abuse of power that allowed church leaders to treat the sexual abuse of children as little more than one of the “perks” of an old boys’ club.

Rockport, Mass.

Readers respond

I am compelled to reply to Michael Healy Jr.’s stunning letter in the issue of April 8, in which he argues that an author using inclusive language seems to be trying to give male readers an inferiority complex. How about an “equality complex” instead?

If Mr. Healy feels excluded by inclusive language, can he imagine how many Catholic women feel in church? Our liturgy asks us to proclaim, “For us men and for our salvation,” and to sing with the psalmist, “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,” “Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine,” “Behold, thus is the man blessed” and so on.

Maybe he was only joking.

Northampton, Mass.

* * *

Dan Bartley makes an excellent point in stressing the importance of holiness in the selection of a pope or bishop (NCR, Letters, April 22). I disagree, however, that ideology is unimportant and a hindrance to holiness, which is his argument as to why holiness ought to be the sole criterion.

Authentic holiness is grounded on a sound ideology or theology, which must involve prayerful study and daily meditation on scripture. Holiness that is not anchored in the teaching and spirit of Jesus will eventually wilt and die, a fate that explains why so many Catholics feel spiritually undernourished and are desperately seeking something to fill the emptiness deep within.

St. Teresa of Avila said that if faced with the option of having to choose for her spiritual guide between a holy person with little or no theology and a person who was a good theologian without being holy, she would choose the latter. But she was a rare one and could supply the holiness herself.

For popes, bishops or any other Christians, holiness is union with God, individualized differently and embracing the world with the rest of God’s creation. That, surely, is the greatest balancing act anyone could perform.

East Elmhurst, N.Y.

* * *

“Why we believe is more important than what we believe” was the thesis of my recent master’s degree essay for Loyola University. The premise was that it is important for us to evaluate our beliefs in order to fully understand them. To do less means we are at the mercy of others who tell us what we should accept as the tenets of our faith.

The statement of Sandor Hernandez (NCR, Letters, April 22) that “As Catholics, one thing we know is that in matters of faith and morality our church has the Lord’s promise of protection from error” causes me dismay. I do not care to have others tell me what I as a Catholic believe. I cannot find anywhere that the Lord promised the church is free from error. This idea in all likelihood has been created by a hierarchical desire to endorse the concept that the church is infallible.

How can the ideology that the church is infallible in matters of morality be reconciled with the sexual abuse scandals and the church’s protection of the predators in its midst? It seems painfully obvious that the practice of morality in the church is at best abysmal and at worst horrific.

I am dismayed that in matters of faith the church fails to allow open dialogue. Censorship of theologians and threats to excommunicate the faithful for posing questions lead to a community of blind obedience. The God I know is a God of light, not a God of the darkness that comes with blindness.

Jackson, Mich.

* * *

Regarding one of the letters moaning about the appointment of Pope Benedict XVI wherein the writer said he would not be coming back to the church anytime soon (NCR, April 29): I think that is about as shallow a reason as I have heard for staying away from the church. Is he going to hold his breath and turn blue before he returns? Is he going to stamp his feet and not eat his spinach? People have to stop the crybaby whining and act like adults with substantial personalities.

Waterbury, Conn.

* * *

I am responding to two letters that were published in the April 29 edition of NCR. First, to John Feehily, who believes that Cardinal Bernard Law has suffered enough shame. He mentions that he was exempted from criminal prosecution by the attorney general and that we should forgive Cardinal Law as the pope forgave Ali Agca. Cardinal Law was exempted from prosecution due to the lack of an applicable law governing accomplices after the fact, although it was clear that crimes had been committed. In other words, no one thought to make a law that would keep a bishop from protecting and transferring pedophile priests. Should we forgive him as John Paul did? Of course. That is the way we move from being victims to survivors. However, after John Paul II forgave Ali Agca, he left him in prison to suffer the appropriate consequences. John Paul did not appeal for him to be given a position of honor. Forgiveness does not mean that appropriate consequences are avoided. Some victims can’t “move on” because no one has apologized or worse because they have been re-victimized by the hierarchy or the congregation eager to protect the “beloved” priest.

To the letter from Robert Hoatson, who ministers to those victims still struggling with the shame of sexual abuse, I believe there is a special place in heaven for you. As a survivor of clergy sexual abuse, I thank God that there are people like you.

Bowie, Md.

* * *

A look at the letters in the April 29 issue of NCR about the election of Pope Benedict XVI indicates that many, if not most, of your readers are dismayed that the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is now at the head of the Catholic church.

At this point, I would like to give Benedict a chance. I have prayed for him every day since his election.

Three things have been on my mind. The first is our new pope’s choice of the name Benedict. It’s intriguing, and I agree with the thoughts expressed in the editorial of that issue, “Will he be a pope for everyone?”

The second is the debate about “truth.” So many of us long for absolute truths in what we see as a world of relativism. Yet things that people once thought were absolutely true have proven to be false. Whom can we trust? I propose that as Christians, we take a fresh look at the teachings of Jesus, at what our Lord actually said and did, according to the New Testament. There we will find the true foundation for the life and mission of the church. If Pope Benedict leads us back to scripture and to the church’s beliefs about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, he will not go wrong.

The third is Benedict’s reputation as a good listener. I hope and pray that he truly will listen to all Catholics. He will find when he does many concerns and some serious disagreements. But in listening, he will also find the Holy Spirit.

Fairport, N.Y.

The pope’s job

I will admit that two weeks ago when I heard the results of the conclave, I was not happy. I am still wary. However, I do feel that Pope Benedict has an awesome job. A job I would not want. I am therefore going to reserve my judgment and give him a chance. Like I said of John Paul, I would not want that job. One of the neat things about the love of God: It allows for change. Can we not allow that for one another?

Topeka, Kan.

Pink smoke

I am amazed and consoled by the courage of the Chicago group who sent up pink smoke signals to remind the cardinals about the exclusion of women in our church (NCR, April 29).

I pray that Pope Benedict XVI listens to the voices calling for the inclusion of women in ordained ministry. And I pray that he is able to see the pink smoke from the Vatican.

With the increasing priest shortage, ordaining women would be a prudent pastoral act for our new pope to make.

Gramercy, La.

Letters to the editor should be limited to 250 words and preferably typed. If a letter refers to a previous issue of NCR, please give us that issue’s date. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Letters, National Catholic Reporter, P.O. Box 419281, Kansas City, MO 64141. Fax: (816) 968-2280. E-mail: Please be sure to include your street address, city, state, zip and daytime telephone number.

National Catholic Reporter, May 20, 2005