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A Thief in the Night: Life and Death in the Vatican Paperback – May 1, 2001
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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
"Brilliant . . . this marvelous and compelling investigation has a terrible ring of truth". -- The Times (London)
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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.' But, today, we not only know that low blood pressure is not a factor in 'heart attack' or 'pulmonary embolism.' Conversely, it materially reduces the risk of heart attack or pulmonary embolism. (Search Google: heart attack low blood pressure). John Paul's physical exam taken three months before his death showed a blood pressure reading of 102/61 - outstanding today for a man of sixty-five, but at the time considered low as `normal' blood pressure in 1987 for a man of 65 was 100 plus one's age - known to be dangerously high today."
Yet, Cornwell's book is a fundamental part of any investigation of this man's mysterious death as he interviews the most important witnesses to the events of the time except, of course, Yallop's star witness Sr. Vincenza - who by divine coincidence had died in the meantime.
All witnesses agree on one point, "he was sitting up in his bed wearing his glasses reading papers held upright in his hands." That he did not pull the bell cord that hung a whisker to his right which or press a service button an arm's length to his left which would have brought the Papal Apartment guard and did not drop his papers points to murder.
Nevertheless, `A Thief in the Night' is a well written book - a good read - a good example of how the Vatican works. I believe Cornwell to be a man of impeccable integrity when he wrote it twenty years ago. Yet, at the time the medical community did not know what it knows today. I think if he were to rewrite it today - if he does I will be first in line - he will come up wih a different conclusion.
Strongly recommend is the most comprehensive book I have yet come across on the assassination of John Paul I:
The Vatican Murders: The Life and Death of John Paul I
John Cornwell, who also wrote Hitler's Pope, investigates these allegations as an independent journalist, ten years after the fact. He interviews all the major Vatican players, gains access to the current Pope, and learns very little new information. Except that there is all sorts of confusion about aspects of that night which seems to be inherent to the way the Vatican is run, not specifically to why this pope died. Cornwell ultimately comes up with his own theory of what happened that night.
Each chapter is pretty much a transcript of one of Cornwell's interviews. It goes something like this: I arrived here, had to get through red tape, finally got permission to talk to so and so, and this is what they said to me: transcript. I found it pretty uninspiring.
If there is any interest to be found here at all, it's the glimpse you get into the Vatican. One of the advantages of having so much of the book be in other people's words, is the immediate access the reader has into the personalities that make up the Vatican. There is so much gossip going on it and so much back-stabbing, at times it feels like a soap opera. As far as Cornwell's investigation goes, it's pretty wimpy. Yeah, he talks to a bunch of people, and he does find out some interesting tidbits that clear up a few minor points up, but all in all, there was very little here to warrant a book. He should have written a magazine article and been done with it.
interviewed is John MaGee - at the time of the Pope's death he was John Paul's secretary.
That John MaGee was elevated to the rank of bishop a month after he gave his interview with John Corwell is telling evidence that a payoff or at the very least a conflict of interest was invloved in his testimony. The author concludes everything that the Vatican wants him to conclude concerning the death of John Paul, including the absolute conviction that the Pope died of a heart attack. Since no autopsy was performed it is impossible to conclude what he died of as his death was unwitnessed - only one of two Popes in the two thousand years of Popes whose death was unwitnessed.
If you want a more riveting tale of the times "In God's Name' is a much better choice. If you want all of the facts and circumstances surounding the mysterious death of this Pope then "Murder in the Vatican" by Lucien Gregoire is the only choice - the latter is also the only existing complete biography of this good man written by a man who knew this Pope.