The Ostpolitik failed. Get over it.

In the 1960s, Popes John XXIII and Paul VI initiated a new Vatican approach to the countries behind the iron curtain, the Ostpolitik. According to its chief architect and agent, Archbishop Agostino Casaroli, its strategic goal was to find a modus non moriendi – a “way of not dying” – for the Catholic Church in the countries of the Warsaw Pact. The tactics included a cessation of all public Vatican criticism of communist regimes, and endless negotiations with communist governments. The results were, to put it gently, minimal.

The Ostpolitik came close to destroying Catholicism in Hungary where, by the mid-1970s, the Church leadership was owned and operated by the Hungarian communist party, which also was in de facto control of the Hungarian College in Rome.

In Czechoslovakia, the Ostpolitik disempowered Catholic human rights activists, did nothing for those brave Catholic souls who resisted the regime, and empowered a gang of clerical collaborators who served as a front for the communist party and its repressions.

In East Germany, the Ostpolitik couldn’t do much damage because the damage had already been done.

In Poland, the Ostpolitik was deftly resisted by the Polish primate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, working in tandem with the man who would become Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. Yet despite the Poles’ well-founded criticisms of the Ostpolitik, Vatican diplomats continually tried to displace Wyszynski, a canny and tough-minded negotiator, as the Church’s interlocutor with the regime.

Serious damage was done in Rome, too. There, the Ostpolitik led to the serious penetration of the Vatican by communist secret intelligence agencies, including the Soviet KGB, the East German Stasi, the Czechoslovak StB, the Polish SB, and the Hungarian AVH – nasties who did not play well with other children. During Vatican II, the SB tried to undercut Cardinal Wyszynski by preparing and circulating to all the Council fathers a memorandum questioning the Polish primate’s orthodoxy. In the years after the Council, communist-bloc moles operated in Vatican offices and in the Vatican press corps, compromising the very negotiations so prized by Archbishop Casaroli and his associates.

All this is well-documented, thanks to materials now available from the archives of the state security agencies run by communist regimes. Scholarly conferences have sifted the evidence and analyzed the spooks’ methods; books have been published exploring this fascinating, if tawdry, story; the second volume of my John Paul II biography, The End and the Beginning, brought new details of the communist war against the Church during the Ostpolitik to a world audience for the first time.

Yet senior Vatican diplomats continue to insist, today, that the Ostpolitik was a success: so much so that it’s now serving as the model for 21st-century Vatican diplomacy around the world.


No serious student of these matters judges the Ostpolitik a success. Those claiming otherwise are willfully ignorant, obtuse, unwilling to learn from the past – or, perhaps, all of the above.

As for the “new Ostpolitik,” where, pray, are its successes?

In Syria, where tens of thousands more have died and a massive refugee crisis has erupted since the Holy See mounted a campaign against military intervention to deal with the murderous dictator, Bashar al-Assad? In Ukraine, where the Holy See has yet to describe a brutal, and increasingly lethal, Russian invasion of the eastern part of the country for what it is? In Cuba, where things are worse for Catholic human rights activists after the visits of Pope Benedict XVI and Francis? In the Baltics, where Russian saber-rattling, disinformation, and provocations are making Lithuanian Catholics very nervous and the Holy See has remained silent? In Venezuela, a Catholic country crumbling under the madcap regime of Nicolas Maduro, successor to the even more odious Hugo Chavez?

Pope Francis rightly wants to re-set many of the default positions in the Roman Curia. The default positions guiding Vatican diplomacy these days badly need re-setting. That re-set must begin with a frank recognition that, whatever its intentions, the Ostpolitik of John XXIII, Paul VI, and Agostini Casaroli was a failure. Why? Because it was based on a false analysis of how the Vatican should deal with dictatorial regimes and a misconception of the Church’s power in world politics today, which is moral, not political or diplomatic.

COMING UP: Private: The antidote to physician-assisted suicide: Catholic end-of-life care

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Private: The antidote to physician-assisted suicide: Catholic end-of-life care

Divine Mercy Supportive Care offers hospice, palliative service

Miranda Smith brought her mom to Divine Mercy Supportive Care for hospice care. She said “wouldn’t give up those last moments with my mom for anything in the world.” (Photo by Andrew Wright | Denver Catholic)

When California’s Brittany Maynard, 29, was grabbing headlines in 2014 for her planned physician-assisted suicide to evade the last stages of brain cancer, Colorado’s Jane Smith, 50, was in the final throes of the same cancer.

Smith, however, chose a natural death so as to live every second of life God granted her.

Rather than turning to physician-assisted suicide, Jane and her family turned to their Catholic faith and the apostolate Divine Mercy Supportive Care, to make Jane’s transition to death and new life comfortable, peaceful and beautiful.

Her family says the precious final days they had with Jane and the love and courage it took for her to give them are an incomparable gift.

“I wouldn’t give up those last moments with my mom for anything in the world,” daughter Miranda Smith, a college student, said in a video on end-of-life care ( “I can’t imagine not having that at all.”

Divine Mercy Supportive Care offers hospice (end-of-life care) and palliative (medical treatment and comfort care) service guided by the US bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERD’s). When the Smiths, parishioners at St. Thomas More in Centennial, knew Jane was near the end of her life, they researched hospices.

“We found Divine Mercy and knew right away it was exactly what we were looking for,” Miranda wrote about the organization, which serves non-Catholics as well. “[Mom] was surrounded by safety and faith and love.”

Divine Mercy was recently sanctioned by Community Health Accreditation Partner (CHAP), which affirms it meets the health care industry’s highest nationally recognized standards. It is also certified as a Medicare provider.

“When you put those together—those ERD’s along with the CHAP accreditation—you have a hospice that does things very differently,” said Kevin Lundy, Divine Mercy’s president and CEO. Offering an example he said, “Our chaplaincy program is different in that they are priests, not just because we are Catholic but because we are trying to provide the highest degree of excellence.”

That the organization is a nonprofit, he said, allows it to be “mission focused rather than profit focused.

“When you’re a nonprofit,” he added, “you have no responsibility to shareholders, but to the public to do a public good.”

That public good extends to helping to build a culture of life by educating the public on ethical end-of-life care through consultations, training and talks. Divine Mercy also helped to defeat two physician-assisted suicide bills in Colorado the past two years. But the physician-assisted suicide movement is back in the state again with ballot issues under way.

“Both sides are being compassionate in saying they don’t want people to suffer,” Lundy notes in the end-of-life care video, which was produced by the Denver Archdiocese. “As Catholics we don’t believe that hastening death is necessary to allow a person to die in peace and comfort.”

Hospice, Lundy said, is the antidote to physician-assisted suicide.

Had Jane Smith ended her life prematurely with physician-assisted suicide, he noted, she and her family would have been denied the knowledge of how profoundly beautiful the dying experience can be. Hospice, he added, is a gift of time that allows for reconciliation, for goodbyes, for treasured last experiences and for peace of mind that a loved one lived their life to its natural end.

The Smith family agrees.

“Divine Mercy was one of the greatest blessings to our family,” wrote Miranda Smith, who was so grateful for their service that she served as an intern for the organization the summer after her mother’s death.

“In that last month of her life Divine Mercy not only supported my mother but also our family,” she continued. “We all had the comfort of knowing that we were doing all that we could to make her time on earth as peaceful and joyful as possible.”


Divine Mercy Supportive Care


Address: 303 S. Broadway Blvd., Ste. 220, Denver, CO 80209

Phone: 303-357-2540