On May 25, 2017, The Institute of World Politics welcomed Paul G. Kengor, Ph.D., professor of political science at Grove City College and director of the Center for Vision & Values in Grove City, Pennsylvania. Dr. Kengor is a New York Times bestselling author and one of the country’s preeminent scholars on Ronald Reagan, and spoke at the Institute to discuss his book A Pope and a President, an in-depth look at the relationship between President Reagan and Pope John Paul II based on over 15 years of research.
Dr. Kengor discussed the mutually respectful relationship that emerged between the President and the Pope, and the crucial role that relationship played in bringing about the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Dr. Kengor referred back to the writings of Reagan and those close to him to demonstrate the interest Reagan developed in Pope John Paul II even before his election; he believed the first Slavic pope could help turn Poland into “the dagger to the heart of the Soviet Empire.” Beyond this initial interest, Dr. Kengor traced the budding relationship between the two anti-communists by drawing parallels between them that fostered a strong bond between them. One of the key parallels he mentioned were the attempts on both of their lives that occurred in 1981. From first-hand accounts of their meetings, he showed that both men believed their surviving assassination attempts was part of a divine plan, which they jointly concluded involved the collapse of the Soviet bloc.
In his talk, Dr. Kengor dedicated most of his time to the discussion of the assassination attempt on John Paul II. He gave detailed accounts of the debates within the CIA and White House, as well as information obtained from Soviet intelligence sources and publications, to explore the possibility that the attempt was organized by the Soviet Union. He discussed in great detail the circumstances within the Soviet bloc that could have led to such a decision. Dr. Kengor pointed to John Paul II as the answer to what Gorbachev would later call the Soviets’ “war on religion,” therefore making him a fundamental threat to Soviet power. He also referred to growing fears within the Kremlin that Reagan and John Paul II were growing closer, a process that ironically was expedited by the attempts on their lives. Dr. Kengor ended with an anecdote from President George W. Bush, who in 2004 awarded Pope John Paul II the Presidential Medal of Freedom. When John Paul II received the medal, Dr. Kengor recounted, “he thanked Bush and he thanked President Reagan” for his courage in combating communism.