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A Thief in the Night: Life and Death in the Vatican Paperback – May 1, 2001

4 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Just 33 days into the reign of Pope John Paul I in 1978, it was reported that he had died of a heart attack. But within the Vatican, there were conflicting answers to the most basic questions: Who found the body? What was the time of death? What was the actual state of the pope's health prior to death? A Thief in the Night is John Cornwell's investigation of the mysterious circumstances surrounding John Paul's death. It is also a profound exploration of the nature of sin and the definition of crime. Inconsistencies in the story spawned rumors of conspiracy to murder the so-called "smiling pope," whose ideological stances were sufficiently complex as to threaten both conservative and liberal interests in the Church and abroad. Fingers pointed towards the KGB, the Freemasons, and the pope's own top advisors. Then, in 1987, the Vatican invited Cornwell (whose other books include the bestselling Hitler's Pope) to conduct an independent investigation of the pope's death. His investigation reads like a detective novel: 44 short chapters record Cornwell's encounters with most of the major characters of this mystery, including the Pope's personal secretaries and the Vatican doctor who signed his death certificate. Ultimately, A Thief in the Night argues that John Paul showed clear symptoms of fatal illness in the days leading up to his death, and that these symptoms were willfully ignored by everyone around him. Thus, Cornwell argues, the sins that killed John Paul were sins of omission. The fantastic conspiracy theories, he argues, serve one purpose: "they deflect attention from the most obvious and shameful fact of all: that John Paul I died scorned and neglected by the institution that existed to sustain him." --Michael Joseph Gross

Review

"Brilliant . . . this marvelous and compelling investigation has a terrible ring of truth". -- The Times (London)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (May 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141001836
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141001838
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,174,699 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Format: Paperback
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Anyone interested in the death of the 33-day Pope should read this book as it is the Vatican's side of the story. It was commissioned by Rome in order to quell rumors of foul play in the 33-day-Pope's death raised by David Yallop's best seller `In God's Name.' In exchange for Cornwell's promise to conclude the Pope died of a 'heart attack,' the Vatican permitted him to interview some of those who had been in the papal palace the night the Pope died. The most important of these witnesses to Cornwell's conclusion the Pope died of'pulmonary embolism' was John MaGee who, by coincidence, at about the same time (1987) was made a bishop. One can only surmise this was a tit-for-tat deal. (seatch Google: Bishop John MaGee).

A more recent book has the advantage of time - things we know today that we didn't know when these things happened. Lucien Gregoire's The Vatican Murders: The Life and Death of John Paul I employs what is known by the medical community today which was not known when Cornwell wrote his book. Any member of the medical profession today will tell you it is impossible to determine the cause of an unwitnessed death unless the cause of death is obvious. The cause of such a death can only determined by autopsy - something the Vatican refused to perform.

To conclude the Pope's condition of 'low blood pressure' contributed to the Pope's `heart attack' or, for that matter, 'pulmnonary embolism' may have been a sound conclusion twenty years ago, but not today. As late as 1987, when Cornwell wrote his book, it was believed that low blood pressure could be a factor in 'heart attack' or 'pulmonary embolism.
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Format: Paperback
This, Cornwell's first book on the Vatican, has been given a comparative amount of praise compared to his other misinformed screeds, including the atrocious "Hitler's Pope." But in fact "A Thief in the Night" is just as bad as the others. Even many Catholic reviewers took it at face value, especially since the subject (what happened in the Vatican the night John Paul I died) had never been covered by someone relying on tape-recorded interviews with eyewitnesses. David Yallop's previous sensational best-seller on the subject "In God's Name,' had been almost completely undocumented. But does reliance on eyewitnesses testimony mean what Cornwell reports is genuine?

In short, no. In fact, Cornwell's record is no better in this book than it would be in "Hitler's Pope." Cornwell's lies begin with the way his book was researched and written. He says that he just happened to be visiting the Vatican researching another subject in October 1987 when Archbishop Foley practically begged him to drop what he was doing and write about the death of Pope John Paul I. Not only is this entirely contrary to the Vatican's usual methods, Archbishop Foley and the Vatican have repeatedly denied that they commissioned the book. And though he does do something to counteract the absurd conspiracy theory about John Paul I's death put forward by David Yallop, Cornwell did the Vatican and the Church no favors with his work.

Many of those interviewed for the book, including Marjorie Weeke, Sister Irma Dametto, and the Pope's niece, Lina Petri, as well as Cornwell's two main witnesses, Don Diego Lorenzi and Bishop John Magee, John Paul I's secretaries in the Vatican, have denounced Cornwell for his MANY errors and misinterpretations of fact.
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Cornwell admirably and intensely approaches the task some ten years after the event, of sorting out the rumors and innuendos surrounding the sudden death of the 33-day pope, John Paul 1.
All of his extensive look into this quagmire called the Vatican can be summarized by his words: "The whisperings, the rumors, the theories--farfetched, sensational, fantastic--all serve a purpose: they deflect attention from the most obvious and shameful fact of all; that John Paul I died scorned and neglected by the institution that existed to sustain him." (pg. 336)
This well capsulizes what his peering into the event surfaced. Amazing inner look at this huge, off-limits to most of us, major religious institution.
His analysis his thorough, he wants evidence that is credible. He sifts out things well, and strings them together to make sense, or breaks up strings which won't hold together.
The stuff with the Vatican Bank and its director is shameful, and Cornwell discloses this with dignity, yet allows real inner struggles to be seen.
Worth the read. His hypothesis of what occurred from his investigation is fascinating, and has all the signs and tastes of close to the truth.
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Format: Paperback
As I wish to leave no stone unturned, I read the book. Supposedly it was commissioned by the Vatican to "clear up" all the misinformation concerning the death of Pope John Paul I. Not only did it come ten years too late, but interviews that Mr. Cornwall conducts are all based on hearsay.

He is a good writer and novelist as he describes the characters we are introduced to: Marcinkus has warts, another priest has decaying food particles on his clothes, another yellow teeth, the Pope peers up at him through scrutinizing eyes. The chapters are, thankfully, short and his "investigation" is light reading and light lifting.

Compared with Yallop's multi-layered almost incomprehensible depth, this is a walk in the park.

While applauding his effort, I am not convinced.
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