East German secret police spied on future pope
East Germany's former secret police, known as the Stasi, spied on the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger three decades before he became Pope Benedict XVI. The activities took place prior to the reunification of Germany, when the old GDR was under communist control.
"Long before his nomination as prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, State Security Ministry agents kept watch on him," the Bild am Sonntag weekly newspaper reports, referring to Ratzinger as the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog.
"One of them later wrote with concern that, as Congregation prefect, he would have an influence on the growth of anti-communist attitudes in the Catholic Church, especially in Latin America,' the newspaper continued.
It said the Stasi had begun regular surveillance of the future pontiff in April 1974 when he was a theology professor and visited then East Germany to lecture at a Catholic seminary in Erfurt. The secret police later said that he was seen by the Vatican as "one of the fiercest opponents of communism".
One Stasi report noted that the future pope appeared "initially shy in conversation", but also possessed "a winning charm".
The Pope had been notified by Germany's Centre for Stasi Archives of the newspaper's plans to publish the material and had given his consent in a letter to its director, Marianne Birthler, the newspaper reported.
The Stasi employed 97 000 full-time agents and used 173 000 informers from its headquarters in East Berlin and 14 regional offices, equivalent to one agent for every 63 East German citizens, or one in six when part-time informers were included. It was swept away by East Germany's peaceful revolution in 1989 which paved the way for German unification the following year.
In its article, Bild am Sonntag said East German agents had shown "particular interest" in the future pope's contacts with the then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, who became Pope John Paul II in 1978, and who was himself closely monitored by agents for Poland's communist rulers.
One Stasi report noted that the German cardinal had later "strongly supported" Wojtyla's election as pope, the newspaper reported. Stasi agents recorded how John Paul II later asked Cardinal Ratzinger to organize help for "counter-revolutionary activities in Poland" after the rise of the Solidarity movement in 1980.
[Adapted from an article by Jonathan Luxmoore, with acknowledgements to him and ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]