April 23

Thursday, April 23rd 

St. Mary’s College, South Bend, IN                

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, IT

Good morning.  Good Morning. 

 The letter today is dedicated to Lexi Trombly.  She, a student of St. Mary College, South Bend, currently studying abroad in Rome.  She offered an interesting letter that comes at a very interesting time when I was considering this letter.  The person of interest is Pope John Paul I.  The topic of interest deals with his life and death.

From Lexi: I hope you are doing well and staying safe! My name is Lexi Trombly and you spoke with me in January before I left for my study abroad in Rome. I am in a course called the Popes of Rome and I have a research project on Pope John Paul I. After doing research, I found he was only pope for 33 days because he died unexpectedly. For my presentation, I need to discuss three issues, controversies, and/or contributions he made. I’m having a hard time finding information about him and I was wondering if you knew anything or if you had a source that I could use to find this information about him. I look forward to hearing from you!

The death of a Pontiff, Pope John Paul I, Albino Luciani,  who has only been in office for thirty three days offers all sorts of possibilities and stories of intrigue.  Especially, when he was only sixty-six years of age when he assumed room temperature.  And that, even before you get to the conspiracy theories.  Uhhmm.  Of course, let us remember, and never forget, the anchor for all conspiracy theories must be, “Motive.”   The “M” word helps to keep us from falling down a very deep and very long emotional drain.  That said, let’s be careful out there.

First, let’s give the good man a pass for having bad health.   As mentioned above, he was sixty-six years old and a rather robust man with some possible health issues from the past.  There is no report of a smoking habit.   At dinner, the evening before he died, he complained of chest pains to his assistant, Msgr. John Magee.  (Nb.  Msgr.  Magee, now Bishop Magee, is the uncle to our parishioner, Muriel Forrest) 

 Pope John Paul I and Msgr. John Magee

 The pope had his own physician.  And the good doctor was always readily available but the Pope did not want to bother him the evening before he died.   The final assessment from a pious non-medical nun who found him dead in bed was that his fingernails were dark.  This final feature may have indicated a circulatory problem or possibly a melanoma depending on whether sister described a darkness over each of the finger nails or simply a black line on one or more nails. 

In any event it is commonly assumed an autopsy was performed.  It is reported that his body left the Vatican after the 5:30 AM discovery but did not get to the morgue until 7:00 PM that night.  That makes for a long joy ride with nothing to do.  Before Pope John Paul II was elected Pope several formal questions were submitted to the pathologists by the College of Cardinals. There are no public records on the exact questions from the cardinals and there was no release of a report from an autopsy.  May his holiness rest in peace.  

Funeral of Pope John Paul I

 All the niceties aside.  How tough was Pope John Paul I.  And why (“M” word again) would anyone want to kill him?   He was the smiling Pope and quite an effective communicator.  He was devout as well as doctrinaire.  He came from a working class family in edge of the Alps in Northern Italy.  He knew rejection early on:  There was his failed attempt to join the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.  He had been turned down several times for bishop.  And yet the disappointments never affected his happy disposition.  But there were times when he rose above the quiet solitude to stir up the Church.

The first shot across the bow, of a temperament issue, was found in his doctoral dissertation where he challenged the great Italian reformer, Fr. Antonio Rosmini.  Rosmini is the founder of Italian liberalism in the Church, incorporating a priority on social justice.  

The second shot involved an entire parish whose pastor of forty years died and they wanted to pick their next pastor.  Luciani said “No.”  That was the prerogative of the bishop.  After two hostile attempts to reject the bishop’s designate the entire church decided to become leave the Catholic Church and become Orthodox.  Bishop Luciani, with police escort, was taken to the church and removed the Blessed Sacrament.  He shook the dust from his feet and went on. The community of Orthodox believers exists to this day. 

And the third shot across the bow involved his priests who wanted to liberalize the Church’s divorce laws, much like the Italian government had recently done.  Again, Archbishop Luciani held the hard line on doctrinal orthodoxy.  The piece de resistance took place when he sold his gold pectoral cross and chain and gave the money to the children with physical defects.  He asked his rebellious clergy to part with some of their gold and offer it for the kids in need.  Their response is unknown.  He took some of the gold from the churches and sold it for the children with defects.  That final demonstration was the lock for his Papal election.

In the divided Post Vatican II Church those who supported a curial candidate for Pope liked Luciani’s  multiple doctorates in Canon Law and Moral Theology as well as experience as chancellor and vicar general before becoming bishop.  Those who wanted a pastoral leader in the Vatican liked his warm smile and attention to the children with special needs.  He was the seam need for the divided College of Cardinals.  And, ironically, the one who sat directly across from him at the table in the consistory… would be his replacement…Wojtila.

And now the dirt.  Who would want to kill the smiling Pope and for what reason.  Does anyone remember the “M” word from above?  I leave that read to you in the two websites below.  Were there issues of money and bank scandals, or was there a subculture supporting sexual improprieties?  The tough Italian, Albino Luciani, had the character strength… to shoot the gun in those controversial arenas.  Unless… someone took him out first. If there was malice to be found among those who would be perpetrators, it may never be known to us… but always remembered by the Lord for their judgment.  May we rest in peace.

Concise Overview of Pope John Paul I.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_John_Paul_I

A Quiet Death in Rome, Was Pope John Paul I Murdered?  https://www.crisismagazine.com/2009/a-quiet-death-in-rome-was-pope-john-paul-i-murdered

Obituary report for Pope Innocent XII.

Now.  What say you about the autopsy?  There is no “public” record of an autopsy which does not mean, this is no record.  And there are testimonies of earlier autopsies performed on deceased Popes.  Which means, there is precedence for an autopsy.  The Crisis Magazine article claims the first autopsy was performed on Pope Pius VII in 1830.  And yet, below is the autopsy report on Pope Innocent XII, sometime after 1691.    The later seems a better fit for this letter. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2816%2931210-7/fulltext

The autopsy on Pope Innocent XII is the one that is important for us in the closing of this letter.  The pope selected the Italian physician, “Dr. Marcello Malpighi” (1628–94) to be his personal physician long before Ben Franklin was wearing glasses.  Dr. Malpighi was using a microscope as a tool in autopsies.  He is the grandfather of modern day autopsies.  Pope Innocent wanted Malpighi to introduce his studies to the medical school in Rome.  And when he died Pope Innocent brought in Dr. Luca Tozzi (1638-1717) to be papal physician and teacher in the Roman medical school.  Tozzi would actually use the microscope on the cadavers.  In 1700 the cadaver of choice was non other that Pope Innocent XII.   With microscope in hand Tozzi confirmed the issue of colon cancer as a culprit that helped bring about the physiological demise of the Pope.  As the method of study was still novel to the art of medicine the extensive reporting on autopsies would blossom after a lengthy time of technological developments.  The Holy Father gave the medical world a good start.  May he rest in peace.


Please note.  Some of the young mothers have asked for an early Confession Schedule because their kids have to be in bed at 7:00 PM each night.  That said we will continue our Friday morning confessions at 10:30 AM, in the academic center. 

In addition.  As we continue our schedules for Baptisms, Weddings, and Funerals we will move forward and initiate some Masses for the folks from the RCIA program and limit the attendance to ten people.   In the coming week we will work on the timing of such Masses.  Please stay tuned.

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 On the Lighter Side…. One of my favorite Papal Movies.  

Saving Grace:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G00cREDTqOA

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