Forty years and two days ago Pope John-Paul I died. Everyone remembers John-Paul II, the first non-Italian Pope in centuries, but few remember John-Paul I.
No one remembers him for he reigned only 33 days. Within 2 months we had three Popes.
It all began on August 6, 1978 when Pope Paul VI passed away. He was 80 years old, had been Supreme Pontiff since 1963, was in declining health and suffered a massive heart attack. It was no surprise. The surprise would come with the death of John-Paul I, a much younger man who genuinely wanted to build a “peoples church” and was considered by the conservative elements in the church as a “radical reformer.”
The Cardinal Albino Luciano, born in in 1912 in the Veneto in northern Italy, was a Pope like no other.
He was the son of a brick-layer and when he decided that he wanted to become a priest he went to his father to ask for his permission. His father agreed and said to him: “I hope that when you become a priest you will be on the side of the workers, for Christ Himself would have been on their side”.
He never forgot his father’s words. By 1971 he was a Cardinal and Patriarch of Venice.
At the Synod of Bishops held in Rome, that same year, to which he was personally invited by the Pope, Luciani suggested to the bishops assembled that dioceses in countries that were heavily industrialized should relinquish 1% of all their income to Third World nations to be given “not as alms, but something that is owed. Owed to compensate for the injustices that our consumer-oriented world is committing towards the ‘world on the way to development’ and to in some way make reparation for social sin, of which we must become aware.”
In 1976, Luciani sold a gold cross and pectoral gold chain that Pope John XXIII had given to him (which once belonged to Pope Pius XII before him) to raise money for disabled children. He also urged fellow priests in Venice to sell their valuables to contribute to this cause and as a way for them to live simply and humbly.
As Patriarch of Venice, Luciani would establish family counseling clinics to assist the poor cope with marital, financial and sexual problems. He was seen as a champion of the poor and he even once ordered the sale of gold in Venetian churches, the proceeds to benefit the poor and handicapped.
Upon the death of Paul VI he was not generally considered papabile – he was a compromise candidate between conservatives and reformers. He was elected on the 4th ballot. When notified of his election his response was “May God forgive you for what you have done.”
During the days following the conclave, the cardinals were generally elated at the reaction to Pope John Paul I, some of them happily saying that they had elected “God’s candidate”. Argentine Cardinal Eduardo Francisco Pironio stated, “We were witnesses of a moral miracle.” Mother Teresa, commenting about the new pope, “He has been the greatest gift of God, a sun beam of God’s love shining in the darkness of the world.” British primate Basil Cardinal Hume declared: “Once it had happened, it seemed totally and entirely right . We felt as if our hands were being guided as we wrote his name on the paper”
The change in the atmosphere of the church was breathtaking to behold.
Paul VI had been a Vatican diplomat and a member of the Roman Curia, but he would be the last to wear the great Papal crown at his “coronation.” John-Paul I would substitute an “inauguration” and refused to be carried in the great Papal Chair until he was pressured to do so because the people could not see him otherwise. He initiated the construction of the Pope mobile which would be used by every Pope since.
Paul VI also was the first Pope who had to deny publicly that he had a long standing homosexual affair with movie actor Pablo Carlini who had a small part in the movie “Roman Holiday.” The allegations were repeated in several books and a French gay magazine.
In 1994, Franco Bellegrandi, a former Vatican honor chamberlain and correspondent for the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, alleged that Paul VI had been blackmailed and had promoted other gay men to positions of power within the Vatican. In 2006, the newspaper L’Espresso confirmed the blackmail story based on the private papers of police commander General Giorgio Manes. It reported that Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro had been asked to help.
Paul VI publicly denied the rumors before some 20,000 in St. Peters square as “horrible and slanderous insinuations.”
John-Paul I humanized the Papacy. He is the first Pope to use the pronoun “I” instead of the royal “we.”
And he inherited many problems. There was clearly corruption in the Vatican bank and it was rumored that many of the clergy and laypersons of Opus Dei were members of the pseudo-Masonic Lodge P2, a front for a neo-fascist shadow government, prepared to mount a coup attempt in the event Italians elected a communist government.
In 1972 Michele Sindona, a banker with close ties to the Mafia and P2 and an advisor to the Vatican Bank and its head, Archbishop Marcinkus, took control of Franklin National Bank in the U.S. from Lawrence Tisch, head of Loew’s Corporation, which owned hotels In Sicily.
As a result of his acquisition of a controlling stake in Franklin, Sindona finally had a money laundering operation to aid his ties to Vatican Bank and the Sicilian drug cartel. Sindona used the bank’s ability to transfer funds, produce letters of credit, and trade in foreign currencies to begin building a banking empire in the U.S. Allegedly Sindona used his influence in the Republican Party and the Nixon administration to ensure that his background did not inhibit his ability to become Vice Chairman and largest stockholder in the bank.
Unfortunately for Franklin, the Vatican Bank, Marcinkus and Sidona, Franklin was dragged in bankruptcy. Sindona was arrested and jailed for life in Italy. The Vatican bank lost $30 million; and the Mafia lost money too.
Sindona was murdered in prison in 1986 as he drank his morning espresso laced with cyanide.
Archbishop Marcinkus needed a new advisor. Enter Roberto Calvi, head of Banco Ambrosiano in Milan and also a member of P2. The Vatican bank was the largest shareholder in Ambrosiano.
You can read all about him in the previous post:
Calvi would be found hanging from the Blackfriar’s Bridge in London. No one was ever convicted of his murder. Claims have been made that the Vatican Bank, Banco Ambrosiano’s main shareholder; the Mafia, which may have used Banco Ambrosiano for money laundering; and the clandestine pseudo-Masonic lodge Propaganda Due, Opus Dei or the CIA were somehow involved in Calvi’s death.
When John-Paul I was elected Pope, Calvi was very much alive and advisor to Marcinkus, Sindona was in prison and P2 members, including those members of Opus Dei, were the movers and shakers of the Italian neo-fascist movement.
The CIA is said to have referred to him as the “Bolshevik Pope” and voiced concern that he would be speaking at a conference in Puebla, Mexico. “We could be looking at half a dozen mini-Cubas in our backyards.”
“The treasure of the church are the poor little ones, not to be helped by occasional alms but in a way that can be promoted” he said. He lectured the visiting Fascist General Videla of Argentina on the “disappeared ones” making the General wish he had never come to Rome.
John-Paul I had all the right enemies the day he was inaugurated.
He was going to re-organize the Vatican Bank and replace Marcinkus. He was going to find out which members of the church were also members of P2 and discipline them for membership in a Masonic lodge which was strictly forbidden to Catholics.
On September 3, just 25 days before John-Paul himself died, the Orthodox Metropolitan Nikodim, visiting on behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church feel dead at his feet after sipping a cup of coffee. Nikodim was later revealed to be a KGB agent; he was only 48. No one investigated his cause of death.
Twenty five days later John-Paul I himself was dead in his bed at 65. He had appeared to be in fine health.
No autopsy was performed; he was buried in the Vatican grotto and that, as they say, was that.
But questions were being asked as speculation mounted that the Pope had not died a natural death. Woman at his funeral were heard shouting “Who has done this to you? Who has murdered you!”
The day of his death it is reported that John-Paul had discussed a reshuffling of Vatican staff with Secretary of State Cardinal Jean Vilot, who was also going to be replaced.
But with his death no one was replaced.
The ensuing conclave elected virulent anti-communist John-Paul II of Poland as the new Pope. The existing order was preserved and Marcinkus was promoted, to become the 3rd most powerful man in the Vatican.
The CIA also found a new friend in the Vatican using Ambrosiano and the Vatican bank to fund Solidarity in Poland, the contras in Nicaragua and and the anti-communist P2. Ollie North controlled accounts at Ambrosiano.
What the Vatican didn’t know was that Calvi was looting Ambrosiano which would lead to its collapse. He warned John-Paul II a couple of weeks before the debacle in a letter that terrible things were about to happen.
The Vatican shrugged it’s shoulders at Calvi’s death but in 1984, the Vatican Bank agreed to pay US$224 million to the 120 creditors of the failed Banco Ambrosiano as a “recognition of moral involvement” in the bank’s collapse. It admitted nothing.
Marcinkus hid out in the Vatican as John-Paul II played the diplomatic immunity card frustrating Italian police in questioning him. He stayed on Vatican territory for 7 years until it all blew over and quietly retired to Sun City Arizona. He never said a word.
No one knows who killed Roberto Calvi.
And no one knows if Pope John-Paul I, the “Bolshevik Pope” was murdered.
And with the coming of John-Paul II came Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and the fall of the Soviet Union.
P.S. – I had the pleasure of meeting both Sindona (in New York) and Calvi (in Milan) during my banking life. They were looking for credit lines – Sindona for Franklin and Calvi for Ambrosiano. I never lost a dime to them