LONDON -- Pope John Paul I, who died in 1978, was poisoned in a plot by an Italian secret society that feared the pope's plans to eliminate corruption at the Vatican, a book to be published in Britain claims.
Author David Yallop, in the book 'In God's Name,' alleges John Paul I was murdered by the P2 Masonic Lodge chiefly because of his planned ouster of American Archbishop Paul Marcinkus as president of the Vatican bank over allegations of shady bank deals with the society.
Yallop said the P2's financial operations depended on the cooperation of Marcinkus' Vatican Bank, which was intertwined with a network of shell companies in Europe, the Caribbean, Central America and South America through which millions of dollars passed and disappeared.
Yallop, after three years of research in the United States and Italy, concludes the drug digitalis was probably used to poison the pope. This would account for the stricken expression on the dead pontiff's face, he says.
'I am completely convinced that Pope John Paul I, Albino Luciani, was murdered,' Yallop said, according to an account of the book published in the Observer newspaper Sunday.
A Vatican official, who asked not to be identified, said the murder theory was 'so far beyond belief it's not even worthy of comment.'
Marcinkus, contacted by telephone at his home, refused to speak to reporters.
John Paul died of an apparent heart attack 33 days after he was elected to the Pontificate at the Conclave of Cardinals on August 26, 1978. Many thought it was a surprising election, and the initial feeling at the Vatican was that John Paul would be an easily manipulated 'lightweight,' Yallop says.
But he quickly confounded Vatican watchers and showed tough-mindedness on a number of issues, including an investigation into Vatican finances.
Yallop began working on the book after he received a letter 'from a group of people inside the Vatican,' said Rome researcher Philip Willan, who also worked on the book.
Yallop says there was a long list of people who had reason to fear the pope was going to move against them and says there was a series of irregular and inexplicable events surrounding his death.
He claims one of the people on John Paul's 'list' for removal from office was Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Jean Villot, whom Yallop says hastily organized the embalming of the pope's body, making it impossible to carry out an autopsy to see whether John Paul had died of poisoning.
Yallop is skeptical about the heart attack verdict, saying the pope had no history of heart trouble and was in excellent health. Willan said the pope's doctor visited him a few days before his death and found him 'perfectly healthy.'