In God’s Name: An Investigation Into the Murder of Pope John Paul I

Only thirty-three days after his election, Pope John Paul I, Albino Luciani, died in strange circumstances. (Credit: Sentinelle del mattino International / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Excerpt from In God’s Name: An Investigation Into the Murder of Pope John Paul I, by David Yallop (Constable & Robinson, 2007). Reprinted with permission from the author.

From Chapter 7: By Benefit of Murder – Business as Usual

When voting in the Conclave to select a successor to Albino Luciani began on Sunday, October 15th, 1978, the Holy Ghost was noticeably absent. A long, bitter struggle, principally between the supporters of Siri and Benelli, was the predominant theme of the first day’s voting. Whoever had been responsible for the murder of Luciani very nearly found themselves faced with the task of ensuring that a second Pope should suddenly die. During the course of eight ballots over two days, Cardinal Giovanni Benelli came within a handful of votes of winning. If Benelli had been elected there is no doubt whatsoever that many of the courses of action Luciani had determined upon would have been carried out. Cody would have been removed. Willot would have been replaced. Marcinkus, de Strobel and Mennini would have been thrown out of the Vatican Bank.

But Benelli fell nine votes short and the eventual winner, a compromise candidate, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, bears little resemblance to Albino Luciani. Wojtyla has given countless demonstrations that all he has in common with his predecessor is the Papal name John Paul.

Despite the efforts of Benelli, Felici and others, the Papacy of John Paul II has been a case of business as usual. The business has benefited immeasurably not only from the murder of Albino Luciani, but also from the murders that have followed that strange, lonely death in the Vatican in September 1978.

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Upon his election the current Pope learned of the changes that Luciani had proposed making. He was advised of the various consultations that his predecessor had had on a variety of problems. The fiscal information collected by Benelli, Felici, members of APSA and others on behalf of Luciani was made available to Wojtyla. He was shown the evidence that had led Luciani to conclude that Cardinal Cody of Chicago should be replaced. He was shown the evidence that indicated that Freemasonry had infiltrated the Vatican. He was advised of Luciani’s dialogue with the US State Department and the planned meeting with the Congressional Committee on Population and Birth Control. Villot also made the new Pope fully conversant with Albino Luciani’s attitude on birth control. In short Pope John Paul II was in the unique position to bring all Luciani’s plans to fruition. Not one of Luciani’s proposed changes became a reality. Whoever had murdered the Pope had not murdered in vain.

Villot was again appointed Secretary of State. Cody remained in control of Chicago. Marcinkus, aided by Mennini, de Strobel and Monsignor de Bonis continued to control the Vatican Bank and continued to ensure that the criminal activities with Banco Ambrosiano flourished. Calvi and his P2 masters Gelli and Ortolani were free to continue their massive thefts and frauds under the protection of the Vatican Bank. Sindona was able, at least in the short term, to maintain his freedom in New York. Baggio did not go to Venice. The corrupt Poletti remained Cardinal Vicar of Rome.

Many millions of words have been written since the election of Karol Wojtyla in attempts to analyze and understand what manner of man he is. He is the kind of man who could allow men like Villot, Cody, Marcinkus, Mennini, de Strobel, de Bonis and Poletti to remain in office. There can be no defence on the grounds of ignorance. Marcinkus is directly answerable to the Pope and for the Pope to be unaware of the degree of guilt that clings to Marcinkus defies belief. With regard to Cody, His Holiness was made aware of the full facts in October 1978 by Cardinals Benelli and Baggio. Wojtyla did nothing. We have a Pope who publicly berates Nicaraguan priests for their involvement in politics and simultaneously gives his blessing for large quantities of dollars to be made available, secretly and illegally, to Solidarity in Poland. It is the Papacy of double standards: one set for the Pope and another for the rest of mankind. The Papacy of John Paul II has been a triumph for the wheeler dealers, for the corrupt, for the international thieves like Calvi, Gelli and Sindona, while His Holiness has maintained a very highly-publicized image not unlike some perpetual rock and roll tour. The men behind the tarmac-kissing star are ensuring that it is business as usual and takings at the box office over the past five years have boomed. It is to be regretted that the severely moralizing speeches of His Holiness cannot presumably be heard backstage.

As I have recorded earlier, after the election of Luciani Bishop Paul Marcinkus cautioned his colleagues in the Vatican Bank and Roberto Calvi in Buenos Aires: ‘Remember that this Pope has different ideas from the previous one and that many things will be changing here.’

With the election of Wojtyla it was straight back to the values of Paul VI, with interest. With regard to the infiltration of the Vatican by Freemasons, for example, the Vatican, though not the current Pope, has not only taken on board a variety of Masons from a variety of Lodges but it has also acquired its own in-house version. Its name is Opus Dei – God’s Work.

On July 25th, Albino Luciani had written on Opus Dei in Il Gazzettino, the Venetian newspaper. His remarks were confined to a short history of the movement and some of the organization’s aspirations towards lay spirituality. With regard to the more controversial aspects of Opus Dei either Luciani was ignorant of them, which is unlikely, or was yet again displaying his own quiet discretion.

With the election of Karol Wojtyla quiet discretion has become a rare commodity. His espousal of Opus Dei is well documented. In view of the fact that this Catholic sect shares many views and values with the corrupt P2 and that Opus Dei is now a force to be reckoned with inside Vatican City, a few basic details should be recorded.

Opus Dei is a Roman Catholic organization of international dimensions. Though its annual membership is relatively small (estimates vary between 60,000 and 80,000), its influence is vast. It is a secret society, something which is strictly forbidden by the Church. Opus Dei denies that it is a secret organization but refuses to make its membership list available. It was founded by a Spanish priest, Monsignor Josemaria Escriva, in 1928. It is to the extreme right wing of the Catholic Church, a political fact that has ensured that the organization has attracted enemies as well as members. Its members are composed of a small percentage of priests, about 5 per cent, and lay persons of either sex. Though people from many walks of life can be found among its members, it seeks to attract those from the upper reaches of the professional classes, including students and graduates who are aspiring to executive status. Dr John Roche, an Oxford University lecturer and former member of Opus Dei, describes it as ‘sinister, secretive and Orwellian’. It may be that its members’ preoccupation with self-mortification is the cause for much of the news media hostility that has been directed towards the sect. Certainly the idea of flogging yourself on your bare back and wearing strips of metal with inward-pointing prongs around the thigh for the greater glory of God might prove difficult for the majority of people in the latter part of the twentieth century to accept. Not one, however, should doubt the total sincerity of the Opus Dei membership. They are equally devoted to a task of wider significance: the takeover of the Roman Catholic Church. That should be a cause of the greatest concern not only to Roman Catholics but to everybody. Undoubtedly there are aspects to admire within this secret society. Albino Luciani eloquently praised some of the basic spiritual concepts. He was discreetly silent on the issues of self-mortification and the far more potent Fascist political philosophy. Under Pope John Paul II Opus Dei has flourished. If the present Pope is not a member of Opus Dei, he is to its adherents everything they could wish a Pope to be. One of his first acts after his election was to go to the tomb of the founder of Opus Dei and pray. Subsequently he has granted the sect the status of a personal prelature, a significant step on the journey to Cardinal Cody land, where one becomes answerable only to Rome and God.

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This organization has, according to its own claims, members working in over 600 newspapers, reviews and scientific publications, scattered around the world. It has members in over fifty radio and television stations. In the 1960s three of its members were in the Spanish dictator Franco’s Cabinet, creating Spain’s ‘economic miracle’. The head of the huge Rumasa conglomerate in Spain, José Mateos, is a member of Opus Dei; he is also currently on the run after building a network of corruption similar to that of the Calvi empire, as recently revealed.* Opus Dei is massively wealthy. Until recently, when it changed hands, anyone walking into an Augustus Barnett wine store in England was putting money into Opus Dei.

José Mateos, known as Spain’s richest man, funnelled millions into Opus Dei. A considerable amount of this money came from illegal deals with Calvi, perpetrated in both Spain and Argentina. P2 paymaster and Opus Dei paymaster: could this be what the Church means when it talks of God moving in mysterious ways?

Since the death of Albino Luciani and his succession by Karol Wojtyla, the Italian Solution that was applied to the problem of an honest Pope has been frequently applied to the problems that have confronted Marcinkus, Sindona, Calvi and Gelli. The litany of murder and mayhem perpetrated to mask plundering on an unimaginable scale makes grim reading. It also serves as powerful evidence after the deed to confirm that Albino Luciani was murdered.

Roberto Calvi, Licio Gelli and Umberto Ortolani did not return to Italy while Luciani reigned as Pope. Calvi eventually returned in late October after the election of Karol Wojtyla. Gelli and Ortolani continued to monitor events from Uruguay. Was the fact that the three men stayed in a variety of South American cities just mere coincidence? Did their business discussions really need to continue from August to October? Was it really necessary for either Gelli or Ortolani to insist on staying close to Calvi throughout September 1978? Did it really take all that time to meet important officials to discuss opening new branches of Banco Ambrosiano?

The breathing space gained for the P2 paymaster by Luciani’s death looked like being of a temporary nature after Calvi’s meeting with Bank of Italy Inspector Giulio Padalino on October 30th in Milan. Again Calvi, with his eyes focused firmly upon his shoes, declined to give straight answers to a variety of questions. On November 17th, the Bank of Italy inspection of Banco Ambrosiano was completed.

Despite the fraudulent letter from Marcinkus and his Vatican Bank colleagues concerning the ownership of Suprafin, despite the lies and evasions of Roberto Calvi, despite the help of his protector Licio Gelli, the central bank inspectors concluded in a very lengthy report that a great deal was rotten in the state of Calvi’s empire.

From South America and using his own special code name, Gelli telephoned Calvi at his private residence. For Calvi, wallowing ever deeper in a mire of Mafia/Vatican/P2 dealings, the news was bad.

Within days of Inspector Giulio Padalino handing in his report to the Head of Vigilance of the Bank of Italy, Mario Sarcinelli, a copy of the full report was in Gelli’s hands in Buenos Aires. Not from Sarcinelli or Padalino but by courtesy of the P2 network. Gelli advised Calvi that the report was about to be sent from the Bank of Italy to the Milan magistrates and specifically to the man Gelli had predicted in September, Judge Emilio Alessandrini.

Again Calvi was teetering on the edge of exposure and total ruin. Emilio Alessandrini could not be bought. Highly talented and courageous, he represented for Calvi, Marcinkus, Gelli and also Sindona a very serious threat. If he pursued this investigation with his customary vigour then Calvi was certainly finished, Marcinkus would be exposed, Gelli would have lost the crock of gold that the continuing thefts from Ambrosiano represented and Sindona would be confronted with the most powerful argument yet for his immediate extradition from the United States.

By early January 1979 the financial circles of Milan were yet again preoccupied with rumours about The Knight, Roberto Calvi. Judge Emilio Alessandrini, having carefully studied a summary of the 500-page report compiled by the Bank of Italy, ordered Lt-Colonel Cresta, the commander of the Milan tax police, to send his men into the ‘priests’ bank’. The brief was to check point by point the many criminal irregularities that were detailed in the report. No one outside official circles had access to the report, no one, that is, apart from Calvi and Gelli.

On January 21st L’Espresso commented on the rumours that were flying around the city, including the alarming news that Calvi and his entire board of directors were about to be arrested and that Calvi’s passport was about to be withdrawn. Something had to be done quickly before the general public created a run on Banco Ambrosiano.

On the morning of January 29th Alessandrini kissed his wife goodbye, then drove his young son to school. Having dropped the boy he began to drive to his office. A few seconds before 8.30 a.m. he stopped at the traffic lights on via Muratori. He was still gazing at the red light when five men approached his car and began firing bullets into his body.

Later in the day a group of left-wing terrorists called Prima Linea claimed responsibility for the murder. The group also left a leaflet about the murder in a telephone booth in Milan Central Station. Neither the phone call nor the leaflet gave any clear reason for the murder.

Why would an extreme left-wing group cold-bloodedly murder a judge who was nationally known for his investigations into right-wing terrorism? Emilio Alessandrini was one of the leading investigators into the Piazza Fontana bombing, which was acknowledged to be a right-wing atrocity. Why would Prima Linea murder a man who was clearly attempting, through legal and proper channels, what they, in theory, would most applaud – to bring right-wing criminal elements to task for their acts?

Groups such as Prima Linea and the Red Brigades do not merely kill and maim for political and ideological order. They are guns for hire. The links, for example, between the Red Brigades and the Naples Camorra (local Mafia) are well documented.

At the time of writing, five men who have already confessed to the murder of Alessandrini are standing trial. Their evidence concerning the actual murder is full of detail, but when it comes to the motive their evidence raises more questions than it answers.

Marco Donat Cattin, the second man who opened fire on the trapped, unarmed and helpless judge, observed: ‘We waited for the newspapers to come out with reports of the attack and we found in the magistrate’s obituaries the motives to justify the attack.’

Three days after the murder on the afternoon of February 1st, Roberto Calvi was enjoying a drink at a Milan cocktail party. The conversation inevitably turned to the recent outrage. Calvi promptly attempted to elicit sympathy, not for Signora Alessandrini and her fatherless children, but for himself: ‘It really is such a shame. Only the day before this happened Alessandrini had told me that he was taking no further action and that he was going to have the case filed.’

The murder of Luciani had given Marcinkus, Calvi, Sindona and their P2 friends a momentary breathing space. Now the murder of Emilio Alessandrini bought them further time. The investigation initiated by Judge Alessandrini continued, but at a snail’s pace.

In the Bank of Italy, Mario Sarcinelli was acutely aware of the lack of momentum. Sarcinelli and the Governor of the Bank, Paolo Baffi, were determined that the long, complex investigation which had been carried out during the previous year would not be a wasted exercise.

In February 1979 Mario Sarcinelli summoned Calvi to the Bank of Italy. Calvi was questioned closely about Suprafin, about the Ambrosiano relationship with the IOR, about the Nassau branch and about who precisely owned Banco Ambrosiano. With Alessandrini dead Calvi was a new man, or rather his old self. The eyes were again ice cold. Licio Gelli’s protection had inspired an even greater degree of arrogance than normal. He flatly refused to answer Sarcinelli’s questions, but the encounter left Calvi in no doubt that the Bank of Italy investigation had not been inhibited by the latest murder.

Again he discussed his problems with Gelli, who reassured him the matter would be dealt with. Before that problem was resolved there was, however, another matter causing the Masons of P2 considerable concern. This was the problem posed by the lawyer journalist Mino Pecorelli. Among Pecorelli’s many activities was that of editor of an unusual weekly emanating from the agency referred to earlier, OP.

OP has been variously described as ‘muck-raking’ and ‘scandalistic’. It was both. It was also accurate. Throughout the 1970s it acquired and subsequently printed an astonishing number of exposés and allegations on Italian corruption. It became required reading for anyone who was interested in knowing exactly who was robbing whom. Despite the stringent laws on libel in Italy it led a charmed life. Pecorelli clearly had access to the most highly sensitive information. Italian journalists frequently went into print with OP-inspired articles. Privately they tried to ascertain who was behind this news agency which was clearly above the law, but OP remained a mysterious organism. Pecorelli’s sister Rosita alleged during a television interview that the news agency OP was financed by Prime Minister Andreotti.

In the early 1970s the name of Michele Sindona was frequently linked with OP. Pecorelli obviously had sources working within the Italian Secret Service, but his major contacts were inside an organization more powerful and indeed more secret than such official Government agencies. Mino Pecorelli was a member of P2 and it was from this illegal Masonic Lodge that he derived much of the information that set the Italian news media buzzing. At one Lodge meeting Licio Gelli invited members to contribute documents and information which would be passed on to OP. The prime function of OP during this period was therefore to further Gelli’s ambitions and the aims of P2. In mid-1978, however, Pecorelli decided upon a little private enterprise. He obtained information about one of the biggest thefts in Italian financial history. The mastermind behind the theft was Licio Gelli. In the early 1970s the scheme was responsible for robbing Italy of 2.5 billion dollars in oil tax revenue. In Italy, the same petroleum product is used to heat property as to drive diesel trucks. The oil for heating is dyed to distinguish it from that used for vehicles and is taxed at a rate fifty times lower that the diesel fuel. It was a situation ready-made for a criminal like Gelli. Under his guidance oil magnate Bruno Musselli, a P2 member, doctored the dyes. Head of the Finance Police, General Raffaele Giudice, a P2 member, falsified the paperwork to ensure that all the fuel was taxed at the lower rate. The fuel was then sold to petrol outlets which paid the conspirators at the higher rate.

The profits were then transferred, thanks to P2 member Michele Sindona, through the Vatican Bank to a series of secret accounts at Sindona’s Swiss bank, Finabank. Licio Gelli became a familiar sight walking through the Saint Anna gate with large suitcases containing billions of stolen lire.

*In late April 1984 Mateos was arrested in West Germany. The Spanish authorities have begun extradition proceedings.

Excerpted from In God’s Name by David Yallop. Copyright © 1984, 2007 by David Yallop. All rights reserved.

David Yallop is widely considered to be the world’s leading investigative writer. In the course of his career, he has met with some of the world’s most powerful and most dangerous men, often he has uncovered truths that they had wanted to keep buried. He is the author of, amongst others, In God’s Name, The Power and the Glory, and Beyond Belief.

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