Novel is alleged to tell real story of pope’s death
From Philip Willan in Rome
THE sudden death of Pope John Paul I 28 years ago last Thursday quickly gave rise to suspicion and has continued to puzzle people ever since. The man known as “the smiling pope” reigned for just 33 days and died unexpectedly during the night, apparently of a heart attack. Last week, a young Portuguese novelist marked the anniversary by presenting a new book that claims to describe the circumstances of the pope’s murder in the words of his true assassin. With its far-fetched plot involving murder, torture, the CIA and secret codes, Luis Miguel Rocha’s The Death Of The Pope would be unlikely to stand out among the shelf-loads of books written by wannabe Dan Browns. What sets it apart from the crowd is the author’s astonishing claim to have based factual parts of the story on confidences received from the pope’s actual killer. Rocha claims John Paul I was killed because he was planning to dismiss top Vatican officials suspected of corruption, the victim of a conspiracy involving senior clerics and members of the secret right-wing masonic lodge known as Propaganda Two (P2). The plot in many ways resembles that delineated by British author David Yallop in his 1984 bestseller “In God’s Name”. Yallop’s thesis was strengthened by inconsistencies in the Vatican’s account of the circumstances of John Paul’s death and its hasty conclusion that the pope had died of a heart attack, without the benefit of an autopsy. The killer, Rocha claims, was a professional hitman employed by P2 and identified in the book only by the initials JC. While Yallop suggests the pope was poisoned, Rocha claims he was smothered with a pillow: “He put a pillow on Albino Luciani’s face and started to press down. Those were the longest seconds of his life.” Rocha said he had known the alleged assassin for more than 10 years and that the man had been driven to tell his story by remorse, providing him with some of the pope’s documents to back up his account. Among them, he says, were the pope’s personal diaries from 1976 to the time of his death. An entry in July 1977 describes a meeting between the then cardinal of Venice, Albino Luciani, and the Portuguese mystic Sister Lucy of Fatima. “And for you Mgr Patriarch, the crown of Christ and the days of Christ,” the nun allegedly told Luciani, in an apparent prediction of his brief papacy. An entry for September 20, 1978 allegedly made clear the pope’s own interpretation of the message: “The years of Christ will be my days. Today is the 25th day of my pontificate, the years of Christ were 33.” John Paul was found dead in bed by a nun on the morning of September 29. Members of the pope’s family have confirmed that Luciani was deeply perturbed by his meeting with Sister Lucy but said he declined to confide in them exactly what she had told him. Father Diego Lorenzi, who was Luciani’s secretary in Venice and accompanied him when he became pope, dismissed the latest conspiracy theory as “nonsense”. He said he recalled the visit to Sister Lucy’s convent at Coimbra but did not remember the patriarch of Venice being particularly upset by her words. “I was not present at the meeting,” he said. “Only popes and cardinals were allowed into the enclosed part of the convent, on pain of excommunication.” Lorenzi confirmed that the pope had kept a diary, but said it was mainly notes that he used to prepare for his sermons. He had personally packed them in boxes after the pope’s death and they had been sent back to Venice. He had no idea what had become of them since, he said. “The credibility of my book depends on the credibility of this source,” Rocha acknowledged last week. “The papers could be forgeries, but we have other items that are unmistakable.” The Portuguese writer said he would make his evidence available for study by a select group of journalists. “It’s important for me to share the information with other people. It takes the burden away. There’s a lot of explosive information and you start asking yourself ‘where do we live and who rules us?’” At this point, whoever is able to produce the originals of Pope Luciani’s diary will be well placed to win the argument.