Traveling Pope John Paul II heard the news from Russia when he rose early for a Mass in the Hungarian countryside. Bring me all the details, he told aides. At the Mass, he looked grim and seemed preoccupied, although he did not comment during the day. Gorbachev's ouster imperils a religious renaissance in the Soviet Union and undercuts the Pope's dream of a Europe united from the Urals to the Atlantic.
In the interim, it was papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro who expressed Vatican concern. "We all hope that the process of detente and dialogue in the last several years which has led to such positive results, not only in Central and Eastern Europe but also on the international level, will be able to continue. . . ."
An immediate casualty of the putsch will be a long-bruited papal visit to the Soviet Union next year to accept an invitation extended by Gorbachev to John Paul at their historic Vatican summit in 1989.
The Pope returns today to Rome from an eight-day visit to Poland and Hungary.
Rebirth of religious freedom in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe following a collapse of communism in which a Polish Pope played at least a catalyst's role is generally reckoned the greatest achievement of John Paul's reign.