By Hilary White

ROME, December 21, 2009 ( – The Vatican has sent the world a message of Catholicism's fundamental opposition to communism with the announcement this weekend from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Three of the greatest twentieth century opponents to the communist and socialist ideologies, Pope John Paul II, Pope Pius XII and the Polish Solidarity priest Jerzy Popieluszko, all moved a step closer to canonisation. The two popes were declared “venerable” for their heroic virtues and the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI had approved the decree of beatification for Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko, the “Solidarity chaplain” murdered by the communist secret police.

In his lengthy biography, “Witness to Hope”, American author George Weigel credits Pope John Paul with instrumental behind-the-scenes work in bringing down the communist regime in Eastern Europe. According to Weigel, John Paul, a Polish nationalist, was the third leg of an international triumvirate of world leaders – with US President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – who gave moral authority to the economic and political pressure that finally led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Following the shooting of Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Piazza in May 1981, it was widely speculated that the assassination attempt had been ordered by Moscow in retaliation for the pope's support for the Polish Solidarity movement. In March 2006 an Italian parliamentary commission concluded “beyond any reasonable doubt that the leaders of the Soviet Union took the initiative to eliminate the pope Karol Wojtyla.”

Pius XII, from the beginning of his pontificate in 1939 to his death in 1958, was implacably opposed to communism which was brutally persecuting Catholics throughout Eastern Europe. In July 1949, he formally excommunicated all members of the communist party and anyone who aided or abetted it. He forbade Catholics, on pain of excommunication, to write, publish, distribute or read books, periodicals, paper or pamphlets promoting communist doctrines. His 1951 letter to the Catholic Church of Czechoslovakia denounced the Communist regime for its vicious persecution.

In 2007, a former high-ranking officer with the KGB admitted that the smear campaign that has tarnished Pius's reputation was deliberately orchestrated from the Kremlin to counter the pope's anti-communist work. Lt. General Ion Mihai Pacepa, who defected from the former Soviet bloc, wrote in the National Review Online that in his KGB career, “I myself was caught up in a deliberate Kremlin effort to smear the Vatican, by portraying Pope Pius XII as a coldhearted Nazi sympathizer.”

“In February 1960, Nikita Khrushchev approved a super-secret plan for destroying the Vatican's moral authority in Western Europe,” wrote Pacepa. “Eugenio Pacelli, by then Pope Pius XII, was selected as the KGB's main target, its incarnation of evil, because he had departed this world in 1958. 'Dead men cannot defend themselves' was the KGB's latest slogan.”

The Vatican confirmed that Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko would be beatified as a martyr for the faith. Fr. Popieluszko was a staunch anti-communist who preached openly against the Soviet-backed Polish communist regime and encouraged Poles to resist. In October 1984 three Polish secret service officers abducted him after he celebrated his last mass in Bydgoszcz, central Poland. He was tortured to death and his body was thrown into the River Vistula, 70 miles north of Warsaw.

The Vatican dispatch said that the priest had been killed “in odio fidei,” out of “hatred of the Faith”, a condition required to confirm martyrdom. More than 250,000 people attended his funeral, including Solidarity leader and Nobel laureate Lech Wa??sa. This year he was posthumously awarded the Order of the White Eagle, Poland's highest honour awarded to both civilians and military personnel.