He died, one Jesuit said, 'like a flower in the field that closes at night'. Some time in the evening of 28 September 1978 Albino Luciani, Pope John Paul I, abandoned his tenure of the throne of St Peter. He had been Pope for only 33 days. The news was entirely unexpected. Unlike his predecessor, John Paul had shown no signs of ill-health during his brief reign, and very soon it began to be rumoured that he had been poisoned. Having inadvertently landed themselves with the wrong man for the job, a man who seemed to be about to sanction birth control and who had once remarked that God was more of a mother than a father, the Curia, it was said, had removed him by the traditional means - the only means open to them. Most of these rumours were not, at first at least, meant to be taken very seriously. The behaviour of the Vatican hierarchy, like that of the Government of Italy, is frequently an object of ridicule - or of shame - to most of those who are compelled to live with it. But there certainly were some peculiar circumstances surrounding John Paul's death. The cause of death was given as 'myocardial infarction' - heart failure - but this diagnosis was supported only by an external examination carried out by Renato Buzzonetti, deputy head of the Vatican health service, a man who, on his own admission, had little knowledge of the Pope's previous medical history and who seems to have refused to put his name to any death certificate.
LRB 19 July 1984 | PDF Download