Albino Luciani was just 66 years old when he became Pope following the death of Pope Paul VI in 1978.
It is on record that he suffered from low blood pressure, and poor circulation, so it could be that he simply died from a pulmonary embolism as suggested by John Cornwell in his book A Thief in The Night , or did something more sinister happen?
To understand the forces at work in the sudden death of Pope John Paul I in 1978, we should first back up a bit in time to the 19th Century, when the Church was stripped of its sovereign power in the Papal States by the Italian national revolution. As a result, after 1870 the Pope became the pathetic “Prisoner of the Vatican.” Perhaps to compensate for the loss of his earthly kingdom, Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) convoked Vatican Council I with the purpose of promulgating the doctrine of papal infallibility.
For his role in delivering the Italian nation into the bloody hands of Mussolini, Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) received the equivalent of $80 million ($500 million in today’s dollars) and restoration of the papacy’s temporal sovereignty in Vatican City under the terms of the Lateran Treaty of 1929. Pius and his successors would exploit this treaty to create a Vatican Bank, effectively beyond the reach of any regulation by secular authorities, thus uniquely suited to the work of tax evasion and money laundering.
Under the totalitarian doctrine laid down by Vatican Council I, any deviation from the Pope’s moral teaching was by definition “error.” Sacrificing his own health in the process, John XXIII struggled to pull together the reformist Vatican Council II in the face of fierce opposition by conservatives, who feared that any relaxation of Papal absolutism would undermine the entire Vatican edifice. To some degree, the conservatives proved right, for the free thought which Vatican Council II had encouraged did not stop with the Council’s largely symbolic reforms of the Catholic liturgy, but proceeded on to challenge the worldly power and wealth which the modern Church had erected.
After the death of John XXIII in 1963, the deadlock between conservatives and reformers in the College of Cardinals resulted in the election of a vacillating Pope Paul VI, who would agonize over the question of the morality of artificial birth control. During this time, Paul would be subjected to immense pressure from the old guard in the Curia, who were already battling to turn back the liberalizing tide of Vatican Council II.
When the conclave assembled in the wake of Paul’s death, it was deeply divided between those who sought to move forward with the democratic agenda of Vatican Council II and those who yearned for a reversion to the rigid dogma before Pope John XXIII. Cardinal Albino Luciani’s simple, self-effacing demeanor, gave him appeal to the conservative Curia as a perfect compromise candidate, whom they could effectively control.
Once elected, however, the new Pope began to display the brilliant mind and charisma that had been concealed behind his former reticent reserve. Not awed in the least by his exalted station, John Paul I immediately threw himself into an all-out effort to revolutionize the Papacy, to return it to its spiritual origins. At his coronation, he refused to be carried on the papal sedan and to wear the jewel-encrusted tiara. He refused to follow the scripts prepared for him by the Curia at his audiences and press conferences. Totally exasperated by the new Pontiff’s unexpected independence, the Curia actually began to censor the Pope’s remarks from the Vatican’s daily newspaper, particularly when he began to express his positive views on contraception.
While Albino Luciani proved to be an irritant to the Curia in many ways, he made himself its absolute nemesis when he delved into the Vatican Bank’s dealings, which dated back to the reign of his predecessor. In 1968, Pope Paul VI had taken into his confidence a Sicilian financier named Michele Sindona.
Sindona’s spectacular rise from veritable rags to control of a vast international banking empire was partially due to the support of his patrons in the Mafia and in P2, a secret Masonic society controlled by Lucio Gelli. Gelli had assembled a network of right-wing military and political figures. Relying on bribery, extortion, and, when necessary, assassination and terrorism to expand his web of power, Gelli financed his empire through the systematic plunder of a growing string of banks acquired by his associate Roberto Calvi. With the help of Gelli and Calvi, Sindona gained control of a group of some of the oldest and most prestigious financial institutions in Italy and Switzerland, including several in which the Vatican held an interest.
Paul VI had turned to Sindona for financial advice in 1968 when the government abolished the Vatican’s tax exemption for income from Italian investments. Fearing embarrassment at the public disclosure of the enormity of its financial portfolio, the Vatican opted to divest most of its domestic assets. Sindona offered an attractive price; his patrons in the Gambino family would exchange the “dirty” proceeds of their heroin trade for “clean” assets. Of course, the Holy See was not expected to deal directly with the Mafia, whose blood money they would receive; instead, a shell corporation was set up for the single task of acting as the conduit for the Gambino money.
With his bright intelligence and naive fearlessness, John Paul I penetrated to the heart of this maze of corruption within weeks of his coronation. On the evening of September 28, 1978, he called Cardinal Villot, the leader of the powerful Curia, to his private study to discuss certain changes that the Pope proposed to make public the next day. [It has been reported that John Paul was also considering the release of the famous “Third Secret of Fatima,” which was supposed to have been given to the public in 1960.] Among those whose “resignations” would be accepted by the Pontiff the following day were the head of the Vatican Bank, and several members of the Curia who were implicated in the activities of Sindona and P2, and Villot himself. Moreover, Villot was told that John Paul I would also announce plans for a meeting on October 24 with an American delegation to discuss a reconsideration of the Church’s position on birth control.
When Pope John Paul I retired to his bedroom on the evening of September 28, clutching the paperwork that would expose the Vatican’s financial dealings with the Mafia and purge the Curia of those responsible, a number of very ruthless individuals had a great interest in seeing to it that he would never awaken to issue these directives.
When the Pope’s housekeeper knocked at his door at 4:30 a.m., she heard no response. Leaving a cup of coffee, she returned fifteen minutes later to find the Pope still not stirring. She entered the bed chamber and gasped when she saw the Pope propped up in bed, still holding papers from the night before, his face contorted in a grimace. On the night table beside him lay an opened bottle of Effortil, a medication for his low blood pressure. The housekeeper immediately notified Cardinal Villot, whose first response to the news was to summon the papal morticians even before verifying the death himself or calling the Vatican physician to examine the body. Villot arrived in the Pope’s room at 5:00 a.m. and gathered the crucial papers, the Effortil bottle, and several personal items which were soiled with vomit. None of these articles were ever seen again.
Although the Vatican claimed that its house physician had determined myocardial infarction as the cause of death, to this day no death certificate for Pope John Paul I has been made public. Although Italian law requires a waiting period of at least 24 hours before a body may be embalmed, Cardinal Villot had the body of Albino Luciani prepared for within 12 hours of his death. Although the Vatican refused to allow an autopsy on the basis of an alleged prohibition against it in canon law, the Italian press verified that an autopsy had in fact been performed on one of the Pope’s predecessors, Pius VIII. Although the conventional procedure for embalming a body requires that the blood first be drained and certain internal organs removed, neither blood nor tissue was removed from the corpse; hence, none was available to assay for the presence of poison.
After almost three years of research, David Yallop wrote, in his book In God’s Name (1984), that the precise circumstances attending the discovery of the body of John Paul I “eloquently demonstrate that the Vatican practiced a disinformation campaign.” The Vatican told one lie after another: “Lies about little things, lies about big things. All these lies had but one purpose: to disguise the fact that Albino Luciani, Pope John Paul I, had been assassinated.” Pope Luciani “received the palm of martyrdom because of his convictions.”
Sister Vicenza found the Holy Father dead at approximately 4:45 a.m. on September 29, 1978 and was forced to keep silent by the Secretariat of State, Cardinal Villot, who imposed a vow of silence upon her to cover-up the whole affair. The secretaries were likewise forbidden to advise anyone of the events without Cardinal Villot’s authorization. A trustworthy person conveyed to Fr. Saez personally that Sister Vicenza had said, “But the world must know the truth.”
Sister Vicenza gave two conflicting reports concerning the state that she first found Pope John Paul I. According to her breathless words to a group of French priests that same morning, it was “in his bathroom” that she had “found him dead.” Yet another report (no doubt arranged by Cardinal Villot), says that Sister Vicenza entered the room and found the Pope sitting up in bed, “with an expression of agony” before he died. This discrepancy is very important: if it was determined that Sister Vicenza found the Holy Father dead in the bathroom, still in his papal robes, this would indicate that Pope John Paul I died shortly after his “toast” with Cardinal Villot the night of September 28, 1978.
Cardinal Villot in the hours following
Pope John Paul I’s murder
David Yallop reconstructs the actions of Cardinal Villot and paints a very suspicious portrait. It is reported that at 5:00 a.m. Cardinal Villot confirmed the Holy Father’s death. The Pope’s glasses, slippers, and will disappeared, “none of these items has ever been seen again.” Speculation is that there may have been vomit on the slippers, which if examined would identify poison as the cause of death.
Cardinal Villot (or an aide) telephoned the embalmers and a Vatican car was sent to fetch them. Incredibly, the car was at their door at 5:00 a.m.! What ensued in the following hour is still a mystery.
It was not until 6:00 a.m. that Dr. Buzzonati (not Professor Fontana, the head of the Vatican medical service), arrived and confirmed the death, without drawing up a death certificate. Dr. Buzzonati attributed the death to acute myocardial infarction (heart attack).
At about 6:30 a.m. Villot began to inform the cardinals, an hour and a half after the embalmers had arrived! Yallop notes that, for Cardinal Villot, the embalmers took precedence over the cardinals and the head of the Vatican medical service.
By 6 p.m. that evening, the Papal Apartments had been entirely polished and washed. Yallop writes that the secretaries packed up and carried away the Pope’s clothes, “including his letters, notes, books and a small handful of personal mementos…. By 6:00 p.m., the entire 19 rooms of the Papal Apartments were totally bereft of anything remotely associated with the Papacy of Luciani.”
Villot arranged for the embalming to be performed that evening, a procedure as unusual as it was illegal. Why the rush? It is also reported that during the embalming it was insisted that no blood was to be drained from the body, and neither were any of the organs to be removed. Yallop notes that “a small quantity of blood would of course have been more than sufficient for a forensic scientist to establish the presence of any poisonous substances.”
An alibi for Cardinal Villot:
As the book In God’s Name (more than 5 million copies sold) attracted worldwide attention, a disinformation campaign arose in 1984 to discredit David Yallop’s conclusions. In a news article quoting Fr. Giovanni Gennari (attempting to defend the Curia against the accusations of investigative journalist David Yallop), Fr. Gennari stated: “John Paul II’s predecessor mistakenly took an overdose of tranquillisers… After his conversation with Cardinal Villot, the Pope [John Paul I] mistook the dose he should have taken.” (Ouest-France, undated press clipping, July 1984) The same article repeats a statement made by Cardinal Villot in 1978, his alibi
Villot: “What occurred was a tragic accident. The Pope had unwittingly taken an overdose of his medicine. If an autopsy was performed it would obviously show this fatal overdose. No one would believe that His Holiness had taken it accidentally. Some would allege suicide, others murder. It was agreed that there would be no autopsy.”
So Cardinal Villot’s alibi was that Pope John Paul I overdosed on his own medication for low blood pressure (Effortil). This alibi intentionally left room for speculation of suicide, to deflect attention away from the real cause of John Paul I’s death: poisoning by Cardinal Villot himself.
Pope John Paul I was in good health
According to Dr. Buzzonati, Pope John Paul I’s cause of death was a heart attack. Regarding this alleged “heart attack,” John Paul I’s niece affirmed:
“In my family almost no one believes it was a heart attack that killed my uncle. He never had heart trouble or any illness of that kind.” (San Juan Star, October 3, 1978) http://www.thesanjuanstar.com/
And Pope John Paul I’s brother:
“John Paul’s brother Edoardo, in Australia on a trade mission, reported that the Pope had been given a clean bill of health after a medical examination three weeks ago. He was frail in health as an infant and as a young priest, but there were no reports of heart trouble.” (San Juan Star, October 9, 1978)
From Time magazine (October 9, 1978):
In an earlier age so untimely a death might have stirred deep suspicions: “If this were the time of the Borgias,” said a young teacher in Rome, “there’d be talk that John Paul was poisoned.”
But the Vatican replied that such allegations were “irresponsible.” (San Juan Star, October 18, 1978)
Enough evidence for any law-respecting state
Fr. Saez notes in his book that the amount of evidence is such that “no judge on earth could disregard it.” He also notes that
“the data and the evidence that we already possess would justify a serious judicial enquiry in any law-respecting state. Now, not only does the Vatican refuse to conduct such an enquiry, but it does exactly the opposite: it thwarts and suppresses any research that tries to get to the bottom of this enigma surrounding John Paul I’s death. This state of affairs is manifest in the Vatican’s refusal to carry out an autopsy (if in fact one was not carried out) or in the clandestine nature of this operation (if it did actually take place). It also reveals itself in the obscurity surrounding the embalming, in the way that information regarding the circumstances of the death and the discovery of the body was manipulated, in the silence imposed on Sister Vicenza, in the pressure brought to bear on individuals and institutions, and in the widespread fear of speaking about this whole affair. This fear, whether conscious or not, runs particularly deep in ecclesiastical circles.”