Francis beatifies John Paul I, the Pope of the 33 days who could change the course of the Church

Francis beatifies John Paul I, the Pope of the 33 days who could change the course of the Church

He was the last Italian Pope, and the shortest in recent centuries (he is only surpassed by ten popes out of the 266 that have existed in history). Albino Luciani, who for just 33 days – between August 26 and September 28, 1978, the year of the three popes – kept the name of John Paul I, will be beatified this Sunday by Pope Francis, thus becoming the fifth pontiff of the 20th century to go up to the altars. His mandate will go down in history due to the strange circumstances of his death (he was found dead in his bed, with no signs of violence, and no apparent previous illnesses), which led many to think that the Vatican Curia had –and still has today– many resources to prevent you from changing what you don't want to change.

Because in Luciani's death characters like God's banker, Paul Marcinkus (considered by some to be the intellectual author of his possible murder) enter; the director of Banco Ambrosiano, Roberto Calvi (who later appeared hanging on London Bridge, in an image that Francis Ford Coppola included in The Godfather) or the then Secretary of State Jean Villot. "Everyone continued in their posts after Luciani's death," says the priest Jesús López Sáez, who has spent half his life investigating what happened the night John Paul I died.

Although the official thesis was that Luciani was the victim of a heart attack, the reality is that no autopsy was ever carried out on the body of the Pontiff. Rome was offering different information, some of it contradictory, such as who found the body. First it was said that he was a butler, then that he was one of the nuns who took care of him. The theory that Luciani was ill and incapable of assuming the weight of a pontificate burdened by post-Vatican II tensions and financial scandals does not hold up for Sáez. In his opinion, the death of the smiling Pope was an assassination orchestrated by some members of the Curia, the mafia and Freemasonry.

Throughout his years of investigation, the priest maintains that many unsolved mysteries persist around this case, such as the so-called butler's pill, a pill – it is speculated with cyanide or a strong dose of tranquilizers – that the assistant himself Juan Pablo, Angelo Gugel, has said that he administered Pope Luciani the night before his death. The successive contradictions in the Vatican story have only fueled doubts, which also hover around his beatification. López Saéz maintains that, in fact, Luciani's ascension to the altars is a way of demolishing any attempt to find out the truth of what happened.

“The promoters of the beatification overlook and cover up facts as serious as the denial of the autopsy on the pope's corpse, requested by the doctor who had to diagnose the cause of death; the testimony about the pope's good health, given by his personal doctor; or the important and risky decisions that Luciani had made”, highlights the expert in a interview in Digital Religion.

Beyond conspiracy theories, Luciani was called to lead the changes in the Catholic Church after the death of the two popes who lived through the Council: John XXIII and Paul VI. In fact, he took the name of both for himself, and was the first Pope to place the 'I' after 'John Paul'.

Luciani was the first in many things: he banished the majestic plural and began to speak in the first person of the singular instead of the traditional 'us'; he stopped using the gestatoria chair and refused the papal coronation and tiara at his enthronement ceremony. His papal motto, Humilitas (Humility), was not chosen at random.

Aware that he was sailing in the middle of a Curia deeply divided between reformers and ultra-conservatives, Luciani had time, in just one month, to announce an encyclical that was going to consolidate the reforms of the Second Vatican Council but that never saw the light of day; to mandate that dioceses around the world give 1% of their income to Third World churches; and to raise something that he already did as a cardinal: changes in the controversial Humanae Vitae, Paul VI's encyclical that consecrated the Church's "no" to contraceptive methods and that caused a disbandment of Catholics throughout the world. But, fundamentally, what John Paul I sought was to put order in the middle of the economic and financial scandals, a subject forbidden within the curial walls and that, even today, is the issue that – along with sexual abuse – gives the current Pontiff the most headaches.

After the death of John Paul I, the cardinals named Karol Wojtyla pope, the first non-Italian president in nearly five centuries. A pontiff, John Paul II, who marked the involution of the postulates approved in the Council and who marked a strong moral, sexual and political doctrine during 27 years of mandate, raising to power ultra-orthodox groups such as Opus Dei, the Kikos, Communion and Liberation or the Legionaries of Christ. Interestingly, from one of the shortest papacies in history, it became the third longest in twenty centuries. A model, that of restoration, which continued during the eight years of Benedict XVI and which, after his resignation, seemed to change with the arrival of Pope Francis. The same one who, in the image of John Paul I, also wants to make changes in the organization of the Curia, economic scandals and sexual morality. And who will be in charge of beatifying him.

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