Pope John Paul I: Murder at the Vatican (2023)


On August 26th, 1978 white smoke billowed from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel in Rome — Albino Luciani had been elected the 263rd Pope.

Taking the name John Paul I, Luciano would become the shortest serving pope in recent history. Just 33 days later he was dead.

Seemingly struck down by an undiagnosed heart complaint, the pope died sometime between the the night of the 28th September and the morning of the 29th — his cold body found at 4:45am by Sister Vincenza, sat up in his bed with some sheets of paper clutched in his hands.

The Vatican’s response to the pope’s death and their odd behaviour in the next 24 hours gave rise to claims of conspiracy and murder — most notably in journalist David Yallop’s 1984 book In God’s Name.

According to Yallop, within an hour of the discovery of the pope’s body, Secretary of State Cardinal Jean Villot had begun a cover-up.

Villot ordered vows of silence amongst those present about what had happened and begun hoovering up important evidence. Luciani’s blood pressure pills, his slippers and spectacles, his will and the papers he was clutching all disappeared and were never seen again.

By late afternoon, all 19 rooms of the private papal residence were completely cleared of any presence of the late pontiff.

(Video) The Murder of John Paul I

Perhaps most suspiciously of all, within 12 hours of the death the Vatican had called in the embalmers — before anything more than a cursory diagnosis of what had killed Luciani.

Vatican doctor Renato Buzzonetti had diagnosed a myocardial infarction, but without proper reference to the pope’s medical records and with a post mortem supposedly forbidden under papal law the diagnosis simply could not be relied upon.

The hasty embalming was both unusual and illegal under Italian law — which requires at least 24 hours to elapse before an embalming takes place, and the suspicion amongst many was that this was an attempt to conceal evidence of how the pope really died.

Was Pope John Paul 1 murdered?

Evidence for

The hasty embalming

The undue haste in which Luciana was embalmed immediately aroused suspicion in the Italian press. Contrary to Italian law, Luciani was embalmed less than a day after his death, before proper medical evaluation of the cause and with no death certificate issued.

Although not strictly bound by Italian law, the Vatican had followed normal procedure and waited more than a day to embalm the previous Pope. This time it seems they acted with almost obscene haste — Yallop claims that the papal embalmers the Signoracci brothers were called in as early as 5:30AM, just 45 minutes after the discovery of the body and before Luciani has even been examined by a doctor.

Equally odd was the fact no organs or blood were removed during the embalming process, as would occur normally. A blood sample may have been able to determine the true cause of death, especially if poison was involved. But the Vatican seemed determined to prevent this possibility.

The question of whether an autopsy was conducted on Luciani is shrouded in mystery. The Vatican publicly maintained that there was no autopsy as it was against papal doctrine. But the Italian press and David Yallop found evidence that a secret autopsy had indeed been conducted.

If the pope had simply died of a heart attack why were the Vatican behaving in such a strange and furtive way?

(Video) Pope John Paul I Dies - 1978 | Today In History | 29 Sept 17

Good health

According to Dr. Buzzonati, Pope John Paul I’s cause of death was a heart attack. However, with no obvious signs of trauma only an autopsy could properly determine the cause of death.

To reinforce their account the Vatican began briefing the press that the pope had heart problems, but this was quickly rubbished by his own personal doctor Guiseppe Da Ros, as well as his family and friends.

“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.”, his niece told the press.

At the family’s insistence, Luciani’s medical report from 6 months prior to his death was printed in the Italian press. It revealed a man in excellent health, with no sign of any heart problems.

John Paul’s brother Edoardo reported another medical examination of the Pope just 3 weeks prior to his death had also revealed a clean bill of health.

In light of this, and the absence of an autopsy, the verdict that Luciani died of a heart attack was essentially worthless.

Potential reforms

After Lucian was elected pope he quickly became an irritant to the Curia — the governing body of the catholic church, with his unexpected zeal for radical reform of the Vatican, its personnel and organisation.

A story appeared on October 5th from Italian news agency ANSA — from a reputedly inside source, which reported accounts of clashes between Luciana and Cardinal Villot, as well as other members of the Curia who opposed the planned reforms. It also claimed a fierce argument amongst the group occurred on the night of the pope’s death.

The source of the story maintained that it was four sheets of paper, containing notes of the planned reforms that were found clutched in the pope’s hands when his lifeless body was discovered.

(Video) The truth about John Paul I's death

Could the pope have been murdered by members of the Vatican’s senior hierarchy because of his plans for reforms?

Vatican bank, mafia and the P2 lodge

Some investigators have suggested Luciani may have been murdered for delving too far into the dealings of the Vatican bank and its alleged ties with the mafia and the P2 masonic lodge.

‘In God’s Name’ traces the story back to 1968 when the Italian government decided to no longer exempt the Vatican from taxation. For years, they had secretly amassed a vast fortune and used it to speculate on the international markets.

Terrified at the prospect of their huge wealth been revealed to the public, and the possibility of some very substantial tax bills the Vatican set in motion plans to siphon their financial assets out of Italy and away from further scrutiny.

Paul Marcinkus, head of the Istituto per le Opere di Religione — commonly known as the Vatican bank, turned to Michele Sindona, a shadowy international financier with links to both the mafia and the illegal P2 masonic lodge.

Sindona’s plan was to discreetly transfer the Vatican banks assets out of Italy using underworld channels facilitated by the mafia and P2 — whose tentacles of corruption and bribery spread out across Europe.

The plan worked, but the liquidation of the Vatican’s assets in Italy was so substantial that it began to attract the attention of the global authorities with the CIA, Interpol, the FBI and various tax bodies all starting to scrutinize Sindona’s activities.

Whilst the Vatican bank had managed to distance itself from Sindona and lurid allegations of financial wrongdoing, Yallop argues that Luciani’s determination to root out corruption at the bank threatened to reveal these links.

Was the new pope murdered because his naive attempts to reform the Vatican bank threatened to reveal a global financial scandal that centred on Rome?

(Video) Vatican report reveals Pope John Paul II knew of sexual abuse allegations | WNT

Evidence against

Pius XII

The quick embalming of the pope’s body could have an innocent explanation — his 2 immediate predecessors had undergone rapid decay before they were buried.

In the case of Pope Pius XII, a poorly conducted embalming had even sped up the rate of purification and during his lying in state his body had turned purple and the smell became so bad it caused some of his ceremonial guard to pass out.

With high temperatures in Rome during September that year, the haste to embalm John Paul I may have been an overzealous attempt to avoid a repeat of that embarrassment.

Errors in Yallop’s book

British historian John Cornwell examined Yallop’s claims and judged them to be false. He published his findings in his book A Thief in The Night in 1987.

The Pope’s personal effects hadn’t been disappeared by Cardinal Villot as Yallop asserted but taken by the pope’s sister. The pope had bequeathed them to a convent in his will.

Vatican car pool records also showed the embalmers hadn’t been called in early as Yallop had claimed. Cornwell produces Luciani’s death certificate, which Yallop says was never issued.

Cornwell sifts through the other evidence presented in Yallop’s book and finds much of it to be based on garbled press reports that later proved to be false.

A benign conspiracy

A Thief in the Night also offers an alternative account of the pope’s death.

Cornwell argues that the pope had been suffering swollen feet, acute chest pains and coughing fits for a while — all symptoms of an imminent embolism, but that these health concerns were brushed aside.

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According to Cornwell, Luciani died of an embolism on the night of the 28th and his staff moved the body to make it look like a sudden heart attack, possibly to avoid any blame that may have been placed on them for his death.


Who shot Pope John Paul II and why? ›

Mehmet Ali Ağca
Criminal statusPardoned in Italy, paroled in Turkey
Conviction(s)Murder (of Abdi İpekçi) Attempted murder (of Pope John Paul II) Robbery, theft
Criminal penaltyLife imprisonment in Italy (served 19 years); death penalty and various lengths of imprisonment in Turkey (served 10 years)
5 more rows

What happened to Pope John Paul the first? ›

John Paul I died of a heart attack on 28 September 1978. His death caused much controversy - and conspiracy theories - due to two slightly differing accounts.

Why did Mehmet Ali Agca shoot the pope? ›

Agca shot the pope on May 13, 1981, wounding him in the abdomen, left hand and right arm. He has never explained his motives. He suggested that the K.G.B. and Bulgarian intelligence were involved, but later disowned those claims. He had links to a Turkish ultranationalist group, the Gray Wolves.

What did Pope John Paul II do? ›

Pope John Paul II is remembered for his successful efforts to end communism, as well as for building bridges with peoples of other faiths, and issuing the Catholic Church's first apology for its actions during World War II. He was succeeded by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI.

What were Pope John Paul II last words? ›

According to the report, which runs more than 200 pages, John Paul's final words were, "Let me go to the house of the Father," which he uttered about six hours before dying in his apartment on April 2.

Which pope was thrown out a window? ›

Pope John XII
BornOctavianus c. 930/937 Rome, Papal States
Died14 May 964 (aged c. 27 – 34) Rome, Papal States
Other popes named John
7 more rows

Has a pope ever been killed? ›

Pope John VIII

John VIII was the first pope to be assassinated during a particularly turbulent century that would see multiple claimants to the papacy and a succession of violent papal deaths.

How did the pope punish John? ›

King John made more enemies when he refused to accept the appointment of Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury, the most important position in the English Catholic Church. By so doing, John challenged the authority of Pope Innocent III in Rome, who punished John by excommunication.

Which pope was tried after his death? ›

In 897, the Vatican saw one of the most bizarre episodes in history: The corpse of a pope was put on trial by his living successor. Pope Formosus, dead for a few months, was hardly qualified to defend himself in a court of law.

Does the pope ever apologize? ›

Pope Francis

Francis is the first Latin American pope and has offered several apologies since becoming the head of the Catholic Church in 2013, most notably for sexual abuse.

Did Pope John Paul II apologize to the Orthodox Church? ›

Pope John Paul II, in a sweeping statement of regret aimed at healing Christianity's east-west divide, begged God's forgiveness Friday for sins committed by Roman Catholics “against their Orthodox brothers and sisters,” including the plunder of the Byzantine capital by 13th century Crusaders.

How many times was pope John Paul shot? ›

It was on this day in 1981 that gunmen attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II at St. Peter's Square. Though the headline says he was shot twice, the pope was actually shot four times. The attempted assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, was quickly apprehended.

Why did people love Pope John Paul II? ›

John Paul II was the first globally oriented pope, and he increased the global prestige of the papacy. His emphasis on religious and national freedom was unprecedented. He also centralized control over Catholic educational institutions and maintained traditional church positions on gender and sexual issues.

Why is Pope John Paul II a hero? ›

John Paul II is considered a hero because he possessed the qualities of being forgiving, a communicator, and loving. He was forgiving because on one of his visits he was shot in his shoulder by a man named Mehmet Ali Agca.

Why was the Pope so powerful? ›

The pope is considered one of the world's most powerful people due to the extensive diplomatic, cultural, and spiritual influence of his position on both 1.3 billion Catholics and those outside the Catholic faith, and because he heads the world's largest non-government provider of education and health care, with a vast ...

When did the pope say dogs go to heaven? ›

Pope John Paul II appeared to reverse Pius in 1990 when he proclaimed that animals do have souls and are “as near to God as men are.” But the Vatican did not widely publicize his assertion, perhaps because it so directly contradicted Pius, who was the first to declare the doctrine of papal infallibility in 1854.

What color is the smoke when a pope dies? ›

White Smoke, Pope; Black Smoke, Nope: How Conclave Smoke Gets Its Color.

What disease did Pope John Paul II have in the last years of his life? ›

Pope John Paul II experienced tremors and stiffness for years before revealing that he had Parkinson's disease in 2005. He was treated with L-Dopa, a drug that boosts levels of dopamine in the brain.

Which pope kissed the ground? ›

John Paul II did it in Boston in 1979, on his first American visit. He kisses the ground out of respect for the country and the earth," Monsignor Maniscalco explained. "It is the terra firma we all live on." Since undergoing hip surgery in 1994, the 75-year-old Pope has modified the gesture.

Which pope forgave the man who shot him? ›

The Pope was struck twice and suffered severe blood loss. Ağca was apprehended immediately and later sentenced to life in prison by an Italian court. The Pope later forgave Ağca for the assassination attempt.
Attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II.
Pope John Paul II assassination attempt
PerpetratorMehmet Ali Ağca (Grey Wolves)
7 more rows

Which pope had the most children? ›

Alexander fathered at least seven and possibly as many as ten illegitimate children, doing much to promote his family's interests – using his offspring to build alliances with a number of important dynasties.

When a pope dies what happens to his body? ›

According to experts, the pope's body is likely to be embalmed and then exposed for the veneration of the faithful – most likely in St. Peter's Basilica. Tradition calls for nine days of mourning during which there is a papal interregnum, or interval during which the Catholic Church is without a spiritual leader.

Was there a pope Innocent? ›

Innocent VIII, original name Giovanni Battista Cibo, (born 1432, Genoa—died July 25/26, 1492, Rome), pope from 1484 to 1492. Named bishop of Savona, Italy, in 1467 by Pope Paul II, he was made cardinal in 1473 by Pope Sixtus IV, whom he succeeded.

How much is the pope worth? ›

Though he presides over coffers that conservatively are worth at least $8 billion, Francis seems uninterested in spending, a radically different approach from most of his predecessors. He isn't anti-capitalist, but he emphasizes mindfulness in spending, whether personal or corporate.

Why did John fall out with the Pope? ›

Tensions with the Church

John had a dispute with the church over the appointment of a new Archbishop of Canterbury in 1207. John's preferred appointment was ignored by the Pope, who was the head of the Catholic Church. John refused to allow the Pope's appointed archbishop, Stephen Langton, to enter England.

Who was the most evil king of England? ›

1. John I (r. 1199-1216) Nicknamed 'Bad King John', John I acquired a villainous image that has been reproduced time and again in popular culture, including film adaptations of Robin Hood and a play by Shakespeare.

Why was a pope dug up and put on trial? ›

His reign as pope was troubled, marked by interventions in power struggles over the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Kingdom of West Francia, and the Holy Roman Empire. Because he sided with Arnulf of Carinthia against Lambert of Spoleto, Formosus's remains were exhumed and put on trial in the Cadaver Synod.

Who was the youngest pope? ›

Pope Benedict IX (Latin: Benedictus IX; c. 1012 – c. 1056), born Theophylactus of Tusculum in Rome, was the bishop of Rome and ruler of the Papal States on three occasions between October 1032 and July 1048. Aged approximately 20 at his first election, he is one of the youngest popes in history.

Who was the 1st pope? ›

Peter, traditionally considered the first pope. Among these, 82 have been proclaimed saints, as have some antipopes (rival claimants to the papal throne who were appointed or elected in opposition to the legitimate pope).

Does the pope allow condoms? ›

As several experts have noted, the book cannot alter doctrine. But Lombardi's comments show that the pope approves of condom use as a lesser evil where there was a risk of HIV contagion. The Catholic ban on the use of condoms, or any other device, for contraceptive purposes remains.

Does the pope condone condoms? ›

When asked whether the Catholic Church was not opposed in principle to the use of condoms, the Pope replied: "She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a ...

Can the pope get fired? ›

The later development of canon law has been in favor of papal supremacy, leaving no recourse to the removal of a pope involuntarily. The most recent pope to resign was Benedict XVI, who vacated the Holy See on 28 February 2013.

Why do Orthodox Christians not believe in the pope? ›

The Eastern Orthodox Church is opposed to the Roman Catholic doctrine of papal supremacy. While not denying that primacy does exist for the Bishop of Rome, Eastern Orthodox Christians argue that the tradition of Rome's primacy in the early Church was not equivalent to the current doctrine of supremacy.

Why did Orthodox split from Catholic Church? ›

The Great Schism came about due to a complex mix of religious disagreements and political conflicts. One of the many religious disagreements between the western (Roman) and eastern (Byzantine) branches of the church had to do with whether or not it was acceptable to use unleavened bread for the sacrament of communion.

Does the Ukrainian Catholic Church recognize the Pope? ›

Yes, we are Catholics in unison with the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) whom we recognize as the visible Head of the Catholic Church. We are recognized as being “Catholic” by the local Roman Catholic Bishops and the Bishops of the United States of America and the whole world.

How many coffins is the pope buried in? ›

The three caskets

Traditional papal burials involve entombing the pope in three caskets. The innermost, a cypress coffin, holds the pope's body as well as a copy of the funeral mass eulogy. It also holds three bags of coins: one of silver coins, one of gold, and one of copper.

When was the last pope Innocent? ›

May 13, 1655 - Mar 7, 1724

Pope Innocent XIII, born as Michelangelo dei Conti, was head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 8 May 1721 to his death in 1724. He is the last pope to date to take the pontifical name of "Innocent" upon his election.

What gun was the Pope shot with? ›

He took a room in a hotel near the Vatican and on May 13 walked into St. Peter's Square and shot the pope with a 9mm Browning automatic.

What did Pope John Paul II do to end communism? ›

John Paul II has long been credited with being instrumental in bringing down communism in Catholic Eastern Europe by being the spiritual inspiration behind its downfall and a catalyst for a peaceful revolution in Poland.

What miracle did Pope John Paul perform? ›

The Vatican on Wednesday announced Pope Francis authorized a decree recognizing a miracle attributed to John Paul I, who was elected in August 1978 but died unexpectedly of a heart attack just 33 days later. The miracle occurred in the healing of an 11-year-old girl in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2011.

How many miracles did Pope John Paul II perform? ›

The Vatican announced Friday that Pope John Paul II would be declared a saint after it was proven he had performed two miracles - both of them after his death.

Is Netflix two popes a true story? ›

The film is a fictionalized encounter between German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, and Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Bergoglio was elected after Benedict's resignation in 2013, becoming the current Pope Francis.

How true is the two popes Netflix? ›

As for the literal veracity of those conversations and the situation that created them, the truth is that they're mostly imagined. Bergoglio's letters of resignation are based on fact, but his subsequent visit with the pope is fictional, as are the conversations between the two.

Is the two popes funny? ›

The Two Popes is thoroughly and purposefully fictionalized. But it's also a surprisingly sensitive and often funny take on the promise and perils of leadership, as well as the struggle to serve God when he seems to be silent.

Does the pope get a salary? ›

The pope will not be affected by the cuts, because he does not receive a salary. “As an absolute monarch, he has everything at his disposal and nothing at his disposal,” Mr.

What is higher than a pope? ›

Pope, bishop, cardinal, priest.

Who was the most powerful pope ever? ›

Pope Innocent was one of the most powerful and influential of the medieval popes.
Pope Innocent III
BornLotario de' Conti di Segni 1160 or 1161 Gavignano, Papal States
Died16 July 1216 (aged 55–56) Perugia, Papal States
ParentsCount Trasimund of Segni and Claricia Scotti
19 more rows

Why did they shoot Pope John Paul? ›

On 13 May 1981, in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City, Pope John Paul II was shot and wounded by Mehmet Ali Ağca while he was entering the square. The Pope was struck twice and suffered severe blood loss.
Attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II.
Pope John Paul II assassination attempt
PerpetratorMehmet Ali Ağca (Grey Wolves)
7 more rows

Why did Napoleon capture the Pope? ›

French troops commanded by Napoleon Bonaparte defeated the papal army and occupied the Papal States in 1796. In 1798, upon his refusal to renounce his temporal power, Pius was taken prisoner and transported to France.

How many times did Pope John Paul II get shot? ›

It was on this day in 1981 that gunmen attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II at St. Peter's Square. Though the headline says he was shot twice, the pope was actually shot four times. The attempted assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, was quickly apprehended.

Which pope was killed by soldiers? ›

Pope Sixtus II

As the pope was sitting in his episcopal chair addressing his congregation inside a Roman cemetery on August 6, 258, imperial troops stormed the liturgical service and beheaded the pontiff along with four deacons.

Why does the Pope have a bulletproof car? ›

Everything changed in 1981 when Pope John Paul II was shot four times while leaning out of his open Fiat to greet pilgrims in St. Peter's Square. The assassination attempt led the Vatican to significantly increase security on the popemobile, surrounding the pontiff with bulletproof glass.

Is the Pope mobile bullet proof? ›

The vehicle's security features include bulletproof glass windows and roof, able to withstand explosions, and reinforced, armored side panels and undercarriage designed to resist bomb blasts. At 2011 prices, the popemobile cost approximately 345,000 GBP.

Who assassinated the Pope? ›

Peter's Square, Pope John Paul II is shot and seriously wounded while passing through the square in an open car. The assailant, 23-year-old escaped Turkish murderer Mehmet Ali Agca, fired four shots, one of which hit the pontiff in the abdomen, narrowly missing vital organs, and another that hit the pope's left hand.

What did Napoleon do to the Catholic Church? ›

Yet even as he did so, Napoleon's disdain for Rome became ever more apparent. Not only did he export revolutionary policy concerning religion by closing down monasteries and seizing Church property, but he introduced the Concordat in conquered territories, bringing the Catholic Church in other countries under his rule.

What did Napoleon say about the Catholic Church? ›

Napoleon reconciled with the Catholic Church and asked for a chaplain, saying "it would rest my soul to hear Mass". The Pope petitioned the British to allow this, and sent the Abbé Ange Vignali to Saint Helena. On 20 April 1821, Napoleon told General Montholon "I was born in the Catholic religion.

What did Napoleon think about the Catholic Church? ›

It was becoming all the more obvious that while Napoleon had the utmost respect for the Catholic Church, he had a greater mission. This mission was to use the church as a means of governing the people rather than bringing religion back to the recuperating nation that was early nineteenth century France.

How true is the film the two popes? ›

As for the literal veracity of those conversations and the situation that created them, the truth is that they're mostly imagined. Bergoglio's letters of resignation are based on fact, but his subsequent visit with the pope is fictional, as are the conversations between the two.

Which pope was the most evil? ›

Alexander is considered one of the most controversial of the Renaissance popes, partly because he acknowledged fathering several children by his mistresses.
Pope Alexander VI
Papacy began11 August 1492
Papacy ended18 August 1503
PredecessorInnocent VIII
SuccessorPius III
19 more rows

Who bombed the Vatican in 1943? ›

However, Vatican City was bombed on at least two occasions, once by the British and once by the Germans. On November 5, 1943, a single plane dropped four bombs on the Vatican, destroying a mosaic studio near the Vatican railway station and breaking the windows of the high cupola of St.

Which pope was killed by a jealous husband? ›

The circumstances have ranged from martyrdom (Pope Stephen I) to war (Lucius II), to a beating by a jealous husband (Pope John XII).


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