The following is a transcribed excerpt of "FOX News Sunday," April 3, 2005.
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": Pope John Paul was not only a religious leader. He was one of the political giants of the 20th century, helping to topple the Soviet empire.
For more on that, and who may lead the Church next, let's turn to former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and current Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson.
Mr. Secretary, welcome. Thanks for joining us today.
JIM NICHOLSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE VATICAN: Nice to be here, Chris.
WALLACE: Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin famously dismissed the power of the Vatican, saying: How many divisions has the pope? But this pope had tremendous political power. How did he achieve that with no divisions, with no armies?
NICHOLSON: Well, this was one of the most holistic people of our time, I think, an epic figure. And when he went back to Poland shortly after being elected in '78, to give his support to the Solidarity movement, it just ignited and solidified a movement that was irresistible. And that really set the stage — working very closely with President Reagan, by the way — for the eventual fall of Communism.
I say "working with Reagan" because President Reagan used to send General Walters over there with live satellite photography showing how the Soviets were moving nuclear missiles further and further west, and the pope supported us in putting cruise missiles into Europe at that time, which few people know, but that was a very important part of that.
WALLACE: So they shared — the United States and the Vatican, I understand, shared intelligence, also that the Vatican had information from what they were learning inside the Church in Eastern Europe?
General Vernon Walters, who spoke Polish, used to go there regularly and lay this out and tell the pope what was going on militarily.
And that was very important at the time, because the Western European leaders at that time had gotten pretty weak-kneed about bringing these missiles that President Carter had gotten made into Europe. We didn't want to provoke the Soviets further. And the pope said to President Reagan: They're needed, you should do it.
WALLACE: And, looking back, how big a role do you think this pope played in helping to topple the Soviet empire? And specifically, everybody talks about the trip to Poland in '79, where a third of all the people in the country turned out to see him, and the Communist authorities were basically helpless. How did he do it? How did he help topple the Soviet empire?
NICHOLSON: Well, he did it with his personal charisma and his courage and his modeling and inspired the people of Poland. And,because he was from Poland, and he was developing the stature that he was, when he went back there in 1983, it also very much angered the Politburo and the people in Moscow. And they said: Why doesn't the Polish Communist Party do something about it? Well, they couldn't. By then he had so much stature, it would have been too dangerous for them to do that.
And then, you know, that led to Gorbachev. And that, you know, led in '89 to the historic fall of that movement in our time.
WALLACE: Let me ask you a question. It's never been proven, but what do you think? Do you think that the Communists had some role in the assassination attempt against him in '81?
NICHOLSON: I've looked into that, have read some things on that. And I have no reason to know that, or believe that. No.
Mr. Secretary, the White House and the Vatican did not always agree. The fact was that in 1991 the pope condemned Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, but he was not willing to support the Gulf War to force him out. And while you were at the Vatican as the ambassador in 2003, he opposed the president's decision to invade Iraq.
How forcefully would he or the Vatican make their views known?
NICHOLSON: Well, forcefully, but I think it's worth noting that my first meeting with the pope was on 9/13 of '03...
NICHOLSON: Excuse me, of '01.
WALLACE: Two days after 9/11.
NICHOLSON: 48 hours after 9/11, and in that meeting, you know, the typical John Paul II, he had thought about this. And he was at Castel Gandolfo, and he was still ambulatory. And he walked to the door to greet me.
And he said: I'm sorry, what happened, but that was an attack not just on you, the United States. And he cupped his hands and he said: That was an attack on humanity.
And then he went on to say that, you know, President Bush and the world had to do something about these people who kill in the name of God. So he was very supportive of us in our efforts against terrorism in Afghanistan.
Iraq was a different story, and he made a very forceful speech to the diplomatic corps in January of '03. He just didn't think that we should go into Iraq. It was a disagreement between two men who respected each other a great deal.
The pope really thought a lot of President Bush.
WALLACE: But how did he feel? Because he opposed the Gulf War in '91, and he opposed the Iraq war in 2003, he, better than anyone, because he'd lived through it, understood evil, understood dangers, he'd been through the Nazis, he'd been through the Communists, how did he expect the U.S. to do good if it couldn't use force?
NICHOLSON: Well, you know, he's a man of peace, first of all, and he's never going to go for the war option. He did, as you know, in the Balkans finally condone going in there, and saying the killing has to be stopped.
But, having grown up under the Nazis and then the Communists, and then finding out that the — you know, that you could bring those down peacefully, through prayer and persistence, he will always and would always want to hold out from starting, you know, that war, and said, war is not always inevitable, and it's a defeat for humanity, and we agreed with that.
WALLACE: Let's turn, if we can, briefly to the next pope. And I'd like you to look at some numbers that we have compiled. Because they're extraordinary.
Largely through the efforts of this pope, the number of Catholics has exploded in the third world: 43 percent now live in Latin America; 25 percent in Africa; 13 percent of the world's Catholics are — in Europe, rather; 13 percent in Africa, 11 percent in Asia, and only 7 percent in North America.
But when you look at the cardinals who will choose the next pope, 58, fully half, are from Europe. Question: from your years in the Vatican — and I'm sure the soundings you've made throughout the Catholic church — do you think that will be an issue at this conclave, whether to have a European pope or a third-world pope, if you will?
NICHOLSON: I think it will. I think, from whence the pope comes will be a big consideration for the conclave. Because the fastest growing areas for the church are in Africa and South America. And the question will be, you know: Should we now have a leader of the church from one of those areas?
Odds are it won't happen because of the, you know, 50-plus percent of the cardinals who do come from Europe. And in the last almost 500 years, there's only been one who didn't come from Italy.
WALLACE: What about some of the other concerns? And just provide almost a scholar's insight for us. We hear talk that if there's been a long papacy, perhaps the next one will be a short papacy. This was the first pope of the real media age. Does the next pope have to be a world traveler and a world-class communicator?
NICHOLSON: The answer is yes, I think. This pope has raised the bar tremendously. He's embraced modern technology, travel. He's been to over a 100 countries, 1000 cities. He uses the Internet — used the Internet. So he's redefined the papacy, no question. The question now is: Will they elect an older man to have sort of a brief interregnum before going to a longterm pope for the 21st century.
WALLACE: And what's your guess on that?
NICHOLSON: My guess is they will. They will elect an older cardinal this time.
WALLACE: And finally, we're asking all our guests who have had the privilege of knowing the pope to tell us something about him. Tell us something we don't know about this man.
NICHOLSON: Well, the last meeting I had with him was just a few weeks ago with my wife and I in his apartment when I was getting ready to leave Rome. And, well, he looked to a lot of people (inaudible) he wasn't lucid and cognitive. He was extremely locked in.
And the discussion he wanted to have that morning with me was about President Bush, who he admired greatly for his value system, and what we in America wanted to do now with our power and the expression and use of this power that we had. And I was able to tell him that we want to fulfill our number one goal of our foreign policy, which is to enhance human dignity worldwide, which is the same goal that he had.
WALLACE: Did he have any final words of advice for you and/or for our country?
NICHOLSON: He had some very nice personal things to say to my wife and me. But he ended that meeting as he did every meeting I had with him. The president was over there three times. The vice president and the secretary stayed. And always at the most propitious moment, it was over, he would say, "God bless America."
WALLACE: What a wonderful way to end this.
Mr. Secretary, thank you. Thank you for spending this time with us today.
NICHOLSON: Nice to be with you.