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About Luis Miguel Rocha
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Luis Miguel Rocha

About Luis Miguel Rocha

An Interview with Luis Miguel Rocha

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Luís Miguel Rocha was born in Oporto, Portugal and worked for many years in London as a television writer and producer. He is the author of the international bestseller, The Last Pope.

MURDER IN THE VATICAN? Questions Three Decades Later

By Luís Miguel Rocha

Thirty years ago, John Paul I, born to life as Albino Luciani, was found dead in his chambers in the Apostolic Palace. It was the end of 33 days of papacy. The Vatican will remember the official date of September 28th. But a person involved in the conspiracy whispered me that the Pope actually died at the first hour of the 29th.

Had he lived, I believe John Paul I would have radically changed the Roman Catholic Church. He had already made his intentions clear, intentions that—had he lived to carry them out--would have exploded the status quo, and led to the downfall of a great many powerful people. But instead he died, mere weeks after assuming control of one of the world’s richest and most powerful institutions.

The Vatican’s official statement about John Paul I’s death was this: the deceased was found sitting up in bed, a book of devotions in his lap, having passed away quietly from a late-night heart attack. And that might have been the end of it, if Juan Arias, a great Spanish journalist, had not been in Rome on the morning of September 29, 1978. It was Arias—the Vatican correspondent for Madrid’s flagship newpaper, El Paίs— who noticed that the official story seemed murky. Allegedly he managed to speak with Sister Vincenza, the nun who said she was the one who found John Paul I’s body. The official Vatican version, however, was that Father John Magee, the pope’s assistant, found him at 5:30 am. And that version lasted through the 1980s, when the Vatican finally admitted that it wasn’t Magee who had discovered the body, but Sister Vincenza (they story was that they swapped characters because it would sound strange to the world that a woman found Luciani’s body). But in 1978, Vatican swore everyone involved to a vow of silence, and promptly sent them all to distant parishes under the Holy See’s control. Why would they do that if there was nothing to hide?

The suddenness of the Pope’s embalming also raised suspicions. Was it done to prevent the Pope’s doctors from performing an autopsy? The Vatican insisted that a papal autopsy was prohibited under Vatican law. But there is no such law—autopsies are frowned upon, but not banned outright. And under Italian law the Vatican was required to wait 24 hours before embalming the body. According to the embalmers, however, they waited less than six hours. It’s worth noting that the embalmers were called in by Jean-Marie Villot, Vatican’s Secretary of State, at 5:30 in the morning. When this was revealed it further called into question the Vatican’s official version of events. How could John Magee found the body at 5:30 am and the embalmers be at the Vatican at that same hour? Divine premonition? And why didn’t they follow the Italian law concerning embalming? What were they hiding? Vatican officials sealed Pope Luciani’s chambers within 12 hours of his death and by 6 pm of September 29th it was as if he never lived there. Why the rush? Was there a reason for the haste?

The truth is, Pope Luciani was too honest, and too well-intentioned for the job. He used to say he wanted to be the last rich pope. He spoke openly about how he wanted to give the wealth of the Catholic Church back to the faithful, and was more interested in helping people than in maintaining the status quo. He also had started cleaning house at the Vatican. Shortly after his coronation, John Paul I announced his intention to fire the director of the Vatican Bank, American archbishop Paul Marcinkus, who—it had been discovered--was directly involved in money laundering and countless financial scandals. And he wasn’t going to do it quiety; the Pope was going to have the Italian authorities arrest and prosecute Marcinkus. John Paul I was also a threat to the powerful Vatican men who belonged to the Masonic Lodge known as Propaganda Due, or P2. Jean-Marie Villot, the Secretary of State, for example, was a member of the lodge. Belonging to the Masons is grounds for automatic excommunication, even for a prince of the Church. And Villot and Marcinkus were not the Church’s only P2 members. It was going to be a tough house to clean.

P2 still exists. It was founded in 1877 as a branch of Italy’s great Masonic Lodge, the Grande Oriente. At its peak, under grand master Licio Gelli—one of the world’s great mobsters—the organization grew to 2,400 members, including generals, politicians, judges, television executives, bankers, professors, priests, bishops, cardinals, and others of different professions and levels of power. Under Gelli P2 became even greater than the Masonic lodge from which it had sprung. And the Masonic brothers of P2 were involved in distinctly unbrotherly deeds, including influence-peddling and aiding dictators, particularly in South America. Licio Gelli himself was involved in innumerable terrorist acts and criminal scandals, including the embezzlement of $1.4 billon from the Vatican Bank. There are even unconfirmed rumours that the CIA paid to P2, between 1971 and 1981, 9 million dollars per month for their undercover services in several places of the world, but this could never be proved. In short, a nonreligious entity exerted tremendous power over the Holy See from 1971 until 1981. Today it wouldn’t be possible. However, nowadays in the Vatican there are religious organizations with more power than the P2 had in 1978; just not financial power. Different times, different leaderships.

John Paul I might very well have died peacefully of natural causes. But there’s no doubt that his sudden death benefitted a great many people, and that the facts surrounding his death invite more questions than the Vatican has been willing to answer. The inescapable truth is that John Paul I was unable to complete his vision for reforming the church. Nevertheless, he is still remembered by the faithful as Pope Luciani, the Smiling Pope, a gentle, kind and thoroughly decent man. He will never be forgotten. Requiescat in pace.

 

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Author Image: Luis Miguel Rocha - Sigrid Estrada