A Pope’s Legacy
How John Paul II kindled the fire of evangelism.


George Weigel

LOPEZ: A good portion of the book comes from new information you had access to from the Polish secret police, the German Stasi, and the KGB, and other previously classified Communist-era documents. What was most revealing there?

WEIGEL: The sheer magnitude of the Communist effort to suborn, blackmail, and ultimately destroy the Catholic Church in central and eastern Europe, and to penetrate the Vatican, was very striking. Millions of man-hours and billions of dollars were spent on this effort to impede the work and foul the reputation of what the Soviets and their satellites clearly perceived as the main ideological enemy. I thought it also striking that the Vatican had virtually no counterintelligence capability, that John Paul II was evidently aware of this, and that he changed the papal routine so that his work on Poland and related issues was on close-hold in the papal apartment.

LOPEZ: Did it come as a surprise to you that you would come to write so much about those years?

WEIGEL: When Polish colleagues shared with me the documents they had mined from the secret-police and foreign-ministry files of the Polish and East German Communist regimes, and when I began to look closely at KGB materials that only became available after I had published Witness to Hope, it became obvious that there was a great story to be told here, and that the second volume of what I had always intended to be a multi-volume biography of John Paul II was the place to tell it.

LOPEZ: You spent time with John Paul II and have written comprehensively about him — was there anything during the course of writing The End and the Beginning that surprised you to learn about John Paul II’s papacy?

WEIGEL: I certainly didn’t know that the SB, the Polish secret police, had tried to blackmail the pope prior to his second visit to Poland in 1983 (which took place under martial law) by means of a bizarre strategem I describe in The End and the Beginning. And, in retrospect, I began to see that the last half of 2003 was a kind of “dark night” for John Paul II, who had of course been formed in the spirituality of St. John of the Cross, author of The Dark Night of the Soul.

LOPEZ: If your publisher’s desires and other practical considerations were not concerns, would there be another book on John Paul II from you? What would it be on? Is there some tangent you’d love to go on with him? Any specialization or devotion or habit you’d like to explore?

WEIGEL: As far as biography strictly speaking is concerned, I have now finished what I set out to do in 1995, and what I promised the pope I would finish when we had our last meal together just before Christmas 2004. As for future books, I may write a personal memoir of our encounters some day. But that would be a different, more informal kind of book.