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Book Review: In God's Name by David Yallop

While readers might be aware of the Brit comedy film The Pope Must Die, it’s probably true that most if not all of that film’s fans have never read David Yallop’s actual story of a papal murder, In God’s Name. What? Did they really murder a Pope? You bet they did. Yallop’s meticulously researched book which topped the New York Times best-seller list upon its release in 1984 makes a rock-solid case that Pope John Paul I was indeed murdered after just 33 days in office.

Albino Luciani, the man who would become Pope John I, is portrayed throughout the book as a true man of God. Humble, modest yet seemingly intent on radical reform of the papacy nay the entire Catholic church, Luciani was the type of man whose sincerity made him some very unsavoury enemies. In Yallop’s estimation his papacy, had it lasted more than 33 days, would have been the biggest shake-up seen in Catholicism for centuries.

It is true that while the author regards Luciana very highly, his disdain for other leading Vatican figures is equally pronounced, notably Chicago’s John Cody and Paul Marcinkus, head of the Vatican bank. Yallop’s disdain flows from his assiduous almost obsessive research into Vatican finances. It’s a journey that takes the reader into the murky world of crime; according to Yallop the Vatican effectively acted (and still does) as a shield behind which mafia and various other criminal cartels operate.

Luciani – then Patriach of Venice – had not even been mentioned in terms of Papal succession. The ultimate dark horse, with strong support from the south American cardinals Luciani suddenly emerged as a front runner albeit an apparently reluctant one following the reigning pontiff’s death in summer 1978. According to Yallop it was an honour thrust upon this ascetic man he neither sought nor even wanted. Nonetheless his humility had struck a chord with his fellow cardinals. Luciani, the 100-1 outsider, romped home and was elected Pope on 26th August.

A large portion of the book exposes the dealings of a Masonic-lodge called P2 which numbered amongst its brethren industrialists, cabinet ministers and even cardinals; it should be noted that at the time excommunication awaited any catholic associated with freemasonry. Nonetheless, it appears Vatican hierarchy was deeply involved in a number of secret organisations which were in turn linked with a criminal mastermind called Michele Sindona.

Linked to the biggest mafiosi families in Italy and the US Sindona bought international banks the way most people buy socks. Fronts for massive money laundering and fraud, his banking interests stretched all over the world – most notably to south America. Together with fated banker Roberto Calvi, Sindona and his associates became fabulously wealthy enjoying as they did virtual diplomatic immunity as a result of their Vatican contacts.

By 1978 Vatican Incorporated with Sindona as its de facto investment adviser, sat on an estimated fortune of several billion pounds. To read of its involvement with drug cartels via a web of holding and shell companies managed by Sindona and Calvi is quite a revelation. Discovering that while the debate about contraception raged, the Vatican had a substantial holding in the manufacturers of an oral contraceptive pill may come as no surprise the further one goes into this book. Certainly, its links with organised crime may hardly raise an eyebrow.

Yallop, a practising Catholic himself, leaves no stone unturned in his forensic analysis of Vatican money. It’s a trail that leads right to the very heart of the Catholic church. At times, the author can barely conceal his anger. Some passages reel with indignation and heavy doses of sarcasm, understandably so.

And so, out of the blue, one day arrived the pious Albino Luciani. Shocked by the information he ascertained regarding Vatican financial wheeling and dealing, the quiet 65-year-old from the Dolomite mountains resolved to return the church to the poor – to eschew the materialism which had pervaded the institution. Luciani also had fairly liberal views regarding celibacy and contraception – more than enough then to make him a natural enemy to many within the Vatican establishment.

Charting the cover-up which followed, once Yallop has divulged the complex financial web weaved around the Vatican, its full speed ahead. Although the investigation into crooks and thieves can get rather confusing its worth sticking with this book all the way. The author pulls no punches; he names those he believes orchestrated the Pope’s death. The only problem here is that there are at least half a dozen candidates who stood to benefit from Luciani’s premature death, such was his promise of reform.

Consult that impeccably trustworthy and completely impartial source called ‘Wikipedia’ and you’ll be told that Pope John Paul I died of a heart attack. According to this version, the new pontiff had been having ‘chest pains’ for some time. According to David Yallop, who interviewed Luciani’s closest associates including his personal physician, he was in perfect health and had never suffered any heart problems whatsoever.

After Luciani’s death, the tarmac-kissing, trendy John Paul II of Poland was elected Pope and out of the window went every single one of his predecessor’s proposed reforms. The status quo remained in situ . . .

Natural or unnatural causes? Who to believe? A partisan 'Wikipedia' contributor or the man who actually spoke to many of the main actors involved in this incredible episode of church history? I know who I believe.