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Wednesday, 8 April, 1998, 04:33 GMT 05:33 UK
KGB 'considered killing the Pope'
Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II with Russian President Boris Yeltsin
The KGB considered assassinating the Pope and conducted a campaign to discredit and destabilise the Roman Catholic Church during the 1980s, according to reports of newly declassified Italian security papers.

The former Soviet secret service plan was codenamed Priest (Pop) and revealed in papers compiled by Italian intelligence, news agency reports said.

The plan aimed "by disinformation operations and provocation to discredit the Catholic Church and the Pope himself, who was to be physically eliminated if necessary," the intelligence papers are cited as showing.

According to reports, the papers also accused the KGB of spying on Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, the Vatican's head of foreign relations and the architect of its policy towards Moscow.

His Vatican apartment was allegedly bugged with hidden microphones planted by a Czech woman KGB operative married to the Cardinal's nephew.

"Profiting from these family links, she succeeded in replacing a statuette in a glass cupboard in the Cardinal's dining room by another one containing a microphone.

"This mechanism was later substituted in April 1989 by another microphone hidden in a rectangular piece of wood placed in a cupboard in the same dining room and probably still in operation at the time of writing of the report."

Theories of KGB involvement never proved

The papers were included in the report, now released, of an Italian magistrate investigating a 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in St Peter's Square.

The Pope was seriously injured by a bullet fired by an extreme right-wing Turkish terrorist, Ali Agca, who later received life imprisonment.

At the time the Italian press speculated about an international plot, and some investigators remained convinced that the assassin was not acting alone.

The theory of KGB involvement was also put forward.

According to reports, the intelligence papers were delivered to the then Italian Premier Giulio Andreotti, who later queried Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev about the role of the KGB.

The theory was never proved, and Gorbachev in 1991 said an investigation uncovered no evidence of KGB complicity.

Cardinal Casaroli retired in 1991.

See also:

16 Mar 98 | Europe
Vatican apologises over holocaust
24 Mar 98 | Africa
Pope ends Nigerian visit
13 Feb 98 | Americas
Cuba releases prisoners for Pope
21 Mar 98 | Africa
The Pope's plea for human rights
07 Apr 98 | Asia-Pacific
Pope to show sympathy for starving Koreans
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