The Soviet government news agency Tass tonight distributed a sharp attack on Pope John Paul II, asserting that under his leadership the Vatican was involved in "subversive" activities in Poland as well as in "anticommunist propaganda on a broad scale."
In the first direct Soviet attack on the pope since the turmoil in Poland began more than two years ago, the Tass article charged that the "notorious" independent union Solidarity was a creation of the Roman Catholic Church.
The broadside distributed by Tass was printed in a Communist Party monthly, Politicheskoe Samoobrazovaniye (Political Self-Education). It appeared to reflect Soviet displeasure with the controversy that has erupted recently over western allegations that Bulgarian authorities were linked to the attempted assassination of the pontiff in 1981.
Describing Vatican policies as having come under the influence of "the opponents of detente" and "the aggressive designs of imperialism," the article declared:
"Unlike his predecessors, the present head of the Catholic Church John Paul II--the former archbishop of Krakow, cardinal Karol Wojtyla--has taken a much more conservative and rigid position vis-a-vis the socialist world.
"It goes without saying that the present 'vice regent of St. Peter' prefers, in his statements whose substance happens to be political, to speak the language of Christian prayers. Yet the thrust of his statements is clear.
"The antisocialist activity of the reactionary forces of the Catholic Church is attested by the developments of recent years in People's Poland.
"The notorious Solidarity, which came to symbolize the crisis provoked by the antisocialist forces on instruction from overseas, was born not in the wave of disorders that swept the country in the summer of 1980 but in the Catholic Church."
The article said that Poland "is not the only object for the Vatican's subversive activities" and that trained specialists have been sent to other East European countries to "undermine the process of easing of international tensions."
The Soviet media had thus far avoided direct criticism of the Polish-born pope and only infrequently criticized the Polish church, presumably expecting both to play a moderating role in the crisis. The sharpest attack on the Polish church, last October, charged that it was inspiring and "funding" opponents of the martial-law government.
Diplomatic observers here expressed surprise at the criticism since the pope had avoided direct criticism of the regime in his latest pronouncements.
Moreover, the Polish hierarchy led by Archbishop Jozef Glemp has been pursuing a conciliatory approach toward the Communist government in Warsaw, reportedly to avoid endangering the pope's trip to Poland next year.
There was speculation among Western observers here that the Soviets were trying to exploit divisions within the Polish church over Glemp's attitude toward the regime--what young clergy call a deal to secure the pope's visit at the expense of Solidarity.