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Spies in the Vatican by David Alvarez

Spies in the Vatican by David Alvarez

Author:David Alvarez
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9780700622894
Publisher: University Press of Kansas
Published: 2016-01-27T05:00:00+00:00


5

Men in Black

The short, stocky civilian who stepped down from the overnight train from Munich blended effortlessly into the crowd moving through the Stazione Termini to the tram stops and taxi ranks on the bustling Piazza dei Cinquecento. Germany had attacked Poland several weeks earlier on 1 September 1939, and Britain and France had leaped to the Poles’ defense, thereby setting the stage for another world war before memories of the first had dimmed. In the first autumn of the war Italy was still neutral, so traveling foreigners, especially Germans, would have received only routine attention from the plainclothes security officers assigned to Rome’s central train station. Perhaps the officers would have been more attentive if one of them had overheard the nondescript visitor give an address to a taxi driver and recognized the number and street as that of the Rome offices of the Abwehr, German military intelligence.

Josef Müller was a familiar though rather mysterious figure to the officers and clerks at the Abwehr station, who knew only that their visitor was attached to their sister office in Munich and that he occasionally visited the Eternal City to question certain unnamed sources at the Vatican about political topics, particularly potential peace initiatives by the Allies. Aside from wondering, perhaps, why Berlin headquarters troubled to send an officer to work the Vatican, always a low-priority target for German military intelligence, the station staff gave him little thought. His visits were brief, often no more than overnight, and his contact with the Rome station rarely extended beyond a request to use the phone. He would call an unidentified party, say simply, “I am here,” listen for a moment, then hang up and with a friendly smile take his leave.

Anyone who had thought to follow the mysterious officer would have discovered that he spent much of his time in Rome in the company of German-speaking priests and monks. Some, such as Monsignor Ludwig Kaas, the exiled former leader of the defunct German Center Party now serving as archpriest (administrator) of St. Peter’s Basilica, and Monsignor Johannes Schönhöffer, a Bavarian priest in the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (the Vatican department for missionary affairs), had connections in the papal Curia. Others, such as Father Hurbert Noots, the abbot general of the Premonstratensian Fathers, were prominent among the religious orders. To a suspicious observer, these priests, whom Müller would meet in quiet restaurants or the Birreria Dreher, a beer garden that was a gathering place for the German community in Rome, might well have been the unnamed “Vatican sources” that allegedly were the object of Müller’s visits to Rome. The Bavarian’s occasional visits to the archaeological excavations under St. Peter’s or to some of the more obscure Roman churches could be nothing more than the innocent diversions of an officer making the most of a few free hours in the Eternal City. Of course there were those curious nocturnal visits to the Pontifical Gregorian University, a large building that loomed over the



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