Pope John Paul I (Cardinal Albino Luciani) died on September 28, 1978 (some accounts have it that he died in the early hours of September 29, 1978). He was found dead on his bed by one of his attendants. The Pope was in office only for 33 days, the shortest papacy ever! Rumor has it that the Pope’s death was unnatural. There are various reasons to believe so. This account is a rendering of what might have transpired that fateful night at the apostolic palace in Vatican.
The Cardinal Camerlengo Jean-Marie Villot shuffled uneasily in his chair. The time was just past 11 in the night. It was already getting late and where were they, he thought. He got up from his seat and decided to find out for himself. As he descended the stairs towards the main entrance of the apostolic palace, there was a knot in his stomach which grew with every minute. Things will turn out alright, he assured himself.
When the Camerlengo reached the main entrance, he was relieved to see that all five of the guests had arrived. In order to divert attention from the few tourists who were still roaming the City, the Camerlengo directed two Swiss Guards to escort them through a secret passage to his chamber upstairs. Once upstairs, the guests were seated and exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes. Soon, the discussion turned to the serious matter at hand.
“Is the Holy Father still awake?” asked Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, President of the Vatican Bank.
“Yes, the lights in his room are still on”, Jean-Marie Villot responded.
“I think we should approach him now without wasting further time”, said Licio Gelli, an Italian financier.
“Gelli’s right, we should make a move soon”, chipped in Michele Sindona, another Italian banker.
Camerlengo Jean-Marie Villot looked at Roberto Calvi, Chairman of Banco Ambrosiano and also known as God’s Banker, who nodded his approval.
The fifth person, The Apprentice, smiled at the others. The time had finally arrived. The weeks that he spent planning and practicing will be put to the test tonight, he thought.
“Follow me”, the Camerlengo said and the five guests followed him to the papal chambers. As they approached the chambers, they could see that His Holiness had not yet retired for the night as the lights from his room percolated between the tiny sift between the door and the floor into the hall across the chambers. “He usually goes to bed at about 10 every night. I wonder what’s keeping him up tonight”, Villot commented. “Whatever it is, it is a good sign”, said Gelli.
Jean-Marie Villot found it very difficult to contain the butterflies in his stomach as he twisted the knob to the door of the papal chambers. To his surprise, he found that the door was not locked from the inside and had opened a bit. As he gazed inside, he saw the Holy Father sitting upright on his bed with a couple of documents in his hand. Without so much as looking at the visitors at the untimely hour, Pope John Paul I wished them, “Welcome, gentlemen! I was wondering how long more it would take to see you all”. The five guests and the Camerlengo were shocked and at a loss for words. The Holy Father was expecting them!
Shrugging off the shock, Roberto Calvi was the first to respond. “Holy Father, we saw that you had not retired for the night and just wanted to talk to you”.
“If you wanted to talk to me, you could have done at an earthly hour”, the Pope countered.
Once again, nobody spoke. “Now that you all are here, have a seat”, the Pope invited his visitors.
“Thank You, Holy Father, but we would like to make this quick”, responded Archbishop Marcinkus on behalf of everyone.
“As you wish”, Pope John Paul I consented.
“We have information that you had a meeting with some investigators from the United States and that they gave you information about the dealings of Banco Ambrosiano”, said Roberto Calvi.
“Yes, I did have a meeting. I have information that Banco Ambrosiano is dealing in illegal matters and that the Vatican Bank is helping it”, the Pope replied calmly.
“There is nothing wrong in making profits, Holy Father”, Archbishop Marcinkus chipped in.
“I will not allow the funds of the Holy See channeled into drug trafficking and mafia deals”, the Holy Father asserted.
“We need to only look at the profits”, Michele Sindona spoke for the first time in the presence of the Pope.
“God would not want that, Mr. Sindona”, replied the Pope. “I am now looking at a document that lists members of the Propaganda Due and I’m not surprised to see you all in the list”, he added.
“The Propaganda Due is for the benefit of the Church”, said Gelli.
“And you are the Grandmaster, isn’t it Mr. Gelli?” asked the Holy Father. Gelli was shocked that the Holy Father knew so much.
At the time the heated argument was going on, The Apprentice realized that the Holy Father wasn’t paying attention to him. Perfect, he thought. Judging by the tone of the conversation, he concluded that things would get more heated. He looked at Gelli who winked back at him. The sign, he thought. I must act now.
The argument between the visitors and the Holy Father continued. “I have signed an order that prevents the Vatican Bank from working with Banco Ambrosiano until Banco Ambrosiano excuses itself from its illegal affairs and comes out clean. I will also release the list of Propaganda Due to the public and affirm that its activities are against the Church”.
“But Holy Father, shouldn’t we wait for some more time?” asked Villot, eager to avoid an ugly confrontation.
“Camerlengo Villot, I’m aghast that you are with these sinners”, said the Pope harshly.
As the argument continued unabated, The Apprentice slowly went to the Pope’s bedside. Without the Pope noticing, he took out a vial of hemlock and poured the contents on to a glass of water which was placed on a table by the bedside. The contents dissolved instantaneously. My job is done, The Apprentice thought. Now the Pope has to drink the glass of water and the mission would be accomplished.
“Once again, Holy Father, we assure you that there is nothing illegal in the activities we do. Because of our efforts, the finances of the Holy See are in a better state than ever”, said Archbishop Marcinkus.
“I do not want to see any tainted money here in the Vatican”, the Pope categorically said. “Mend your ways”, he added.
“Holy Father, we request you to be with us in this and we can reap great rewards”, coerced Calvi.
“Are you trying to bribe the highest office in Christianity? May God forgive you for even thinking of this. This discussion is over. You all may leave now”, the Pope commanded.
Without a word, the guests prepared to leave. As they approached the door, the Pope said, “Today is the 33rd day of my papacy. I will not live to see tomorrow. I believe this person, whose name I do not know, was brought here precisely with this intention”.
The guests froze for a moment. Did he know, each of them thought simultaneously. Recovering soon, they filed out of the room and returned to the Camerlengo’s chambers. It was just approaching midnight.
“We did what we needed to do. If that order and the list come out, then we are finished”, said Gelli.
“Did you get the time to do your job?”, asked Calvi to The Apprentice. “Yes, sir”, he replied.
“Good, now we just have to wait till the morning”, responded Calvi.
“Okay, we better get out of this place before someone sees us”, added Sindona.
“Camerlengo Villot, you did a good job today. You will be rewarded”, said Gelli before leaving.
“Thank You, Mr.Gelli”, said Villot.
Villot saw the guests off through the same secret passage that they came in. Once they departed, he retired to his room and waited for dawn. He would not be able to sleep that night.
The Holy Father was tired after the heated argument and drank the glass of water on the table by his bedside. He then sat on the bed and once again looked at the documents in his hand.
The next morning, at about 5 AM, the Pope was found dead at his bedside clutching the same set of papers he had in his hand during the night.
Subsequent events that unfolded over the years saw the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano in 1982. Roberto Calvi, the bank’s Chairman was found murdered the same year, hanging from the Blackfriars Bridge in London. Archbishop Paul Marcinkus died in 2006 in Sun City, Arizona of causes that, to this day, remain undisclosed. Michele Sindona died in prison in 1986, allegedly poisoned. Licio Gelli, the Grandmaster of Propaganda Due or P2, the clandestine Masonic Lodge, is still alive. Camerlengo Jean-Marie Villot died of pneumonia in 1979, months after John Paul I’s successor, John Paul II was elevated to the papacy by the College of Cardinals.
Nobody knows who The Apprentice is. Not yet.