he month of September 28 years ago was taken up with the shortest pontificate of modern times. The whole world instantly fell in love with the new Pope, Albino Luciani, who took the name of John Paul I. He had been the first and only cardinal to speak out openly in favour of the principle of procreation by test tube. He said at the time of the birth of Louise Brown in Oldham in August 197g: "I extend warmest wishes to the English girl whose creation was produced artificially. As for the parents, I have no right to condemn them. They could even gain great merit before God."
The Pope's remarks on the test tube case were in direct contradiction to the vehemence, one might almost say violence, of the condemnation made by other high Church officials as to the alleged "immorality" of this practice. Pope Luciani's premature death enabled his views on this subject to be conveniently forgotten.
Not so quick to go away were the speculations on how and why he died when he did. I made several visits to Rome following the death of Pope John Paul 1 and was able, by a series of deductions, to put together a picture of what were almost certainly the true facts behind his short papacy and tragic death.
The initial impact on the world of "the smiling Pope" was nothing less than sensational. People of every kind from every country took him to their hearts.
He possessed indefinable star quality. He was wholly spontaneous and natural in a way that won all hearts. But from the point of view of bureaucrats at the Vatican he quickly became unacceptable.
The previous pope, but one, John XXIII, had famously proclaimed: "Let us open the windows!" This Pope went further. He (quite literally) opened doors.
He would wander by himself all over the Vatican and look into different offices without warning in a manner that quite quickly filled the officials of the Curia with fear and annoyance.
An unspoken conspiracy uncoiled its way round the Vatican like a stealthy serpent. The Pope was plied (quite unnecessarily) with mountains of paperwork and began to become weighed down with anxiety and depression.
cut a long story short, he was being slowly destroyed. On the day before he died he had two heart attacks but instructed his secretaries not to call a doctor. (They should, of course, have done so anyway.) He went to bed at about 10 pm on the evening of September 27.
At about Ilpm that same evening, or soon afterwards, he died. One of his secretaries passed his door, left slightly ajar (as was customary) on his way to bed just before midnight. Just inside the Pope's bedroom door Was a heavy curtain.
It is inconceivable that the secretary in question, mindful of the Pope's two attacks during the day, should not have looked in to his room on his own way to bed. A hypothesis of what then happened, with the help of the searching investigations of John Cornwell (author of A Thief in the Night) thus became possible.
On looking into the Pope's bedroom the secretary, Fr John Magee found the Pope on the floor, already dead. He had collapsed while undressing for bed. Fr Magee rushed to inform his fellow secretary Fr Diego Lorenzi.
After agonised deliberation, they dressed the Pope in his night attire and propped him up in bed. The alarm about his death was spread the following morning at about 6.30 am.
Fr John Magee, now Bishop of Cloynes in Ireland, is too compassionate a man to have passed the Pope's door, knowing of his condition, on the night in question. He is also too loyal a churchman to contradict the official account of what happened and, quite rightly, is unwilling to be interviewed on the subject. The other secretary is dead.
The official story of the circumstances of the Pope's death bristled with so many inconsistencies and contradictions that suspicions naturally began to circulate. These increased when an autopsy was refused. Was the Pope poisoned?
Certain sensitive areas were thought to be at risk if the Pope lived too long. The poison theory thus gained momentum. It was, in fact, completely unfounded.
The unfortunate Pope was destroyed by other more subtle means. This may have been tantamount to murder, but it was never actually or implicitly revealed as such. An internally unwanted pope was removed by other more hidden but no less successful methods.
The Catholic Herald, naturally, reported the official version. No other was then suspected. John Paul I was, for the time being, unceremoniously forgotten. Now, however, reports have begun to appear about his possible canonisation. Let us hope this will proceed rapidly.