by Viviane Hewitt in Rome FOR the first time since the 1981 papal shooting, the Vatican this week officially denied a new revelation on the murder attempt, naming the mastermind behind the order to kill.
The Vatican said there was no basis in fact for new claims — following a former KGB major's assertions earlier this month that the Kremlin ordered John Paul II's assassination, (Catholic Herald March 9)—that the respected Soviet communist party ideologist, Mikhail Suslov, had devised the murder plan.
Reports circulating in Rome this week cited Suslov as the "ideator" of the May 13, 1981 shooting as John Paul greeted thousands of pilgrims in St Peter's Square.
The Vatican has never before reacted to claims of a BulgarianKGB plot to kill the Pope, held responsible in communist countries at the time of the shooting for nurturing the creation of the rebel Polish trade union, Solidarity.
Three weeks ago, a former KGB communications control major, Viktor Ivanovich Sheymov, declared in Washington that the order to kill had come directly from the Kremlin, which elected to deploy Bulgarian agents as middle-men in the plot.
Unofficially, Vatican hierarchy denounced the claims and feared Sheymov's declarations and their timing, ten years after the United States had granted him political asylum, were designed to obstruct the imminent restoration of full diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Soviet Union.
But Sheymov's claims reiterated in part those of the would-be assassin himself. Mehmet All Ages, a known Turkish right-wing terrorist then aged 26, told Italian investigators he had been commissioned for the attack by KGB agents in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital. He said three Bulgarian officials also assisted him in Rome but lengthy Italian trials could not find sufficient evidence to incriminate them and they were absolved of complicity charges.