A number of people have e-mailed me recently about my blog writings on John Paul I, and I am heartened to learn about the love and reverence many people have for this Pope, even though they don’t know much about him, because so little has been published in English. But there has been another, more alarming development: more and more people have been mentioning to me the books of Lucien Gregoire (he also goes by the name George Gregoire), who has written a so-called biography of John Paul I called Murder in the Vatican: the Revolutionary Life of John Paul I: the CIA, Opus Dei and the Vatican Murders of 1978 (Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse, 2008). There are also several other versions of the work on Amazon that Gregoire has published — or rather, self-published — dating back to 2003.
Gregoire says that the “real” Albino Luciani has been covered up by the Vatican. No, he certainly was not a pious bishop, faithful to Church teaching. He was a revolutionary socialist, a supporter of artificial contraception, a campaigner for the Church to accept homosexual unions and remarriage for Catholics after divorce. He favored the Church accepting the practice of artificial insemination and test-tube babies and from the age of thirteen or so was even in favor of abolishing the old Testament and the Mosaic law from the heart of Christianity, as he regarded these moral prohibitions as the source of the world’s woes. (No, I’m not making this up). Gregoire also claims that John Paul I was murdered for his leftist ideas by a plot involving the CIA. He actually claims to know these things because he knew Albino Luciani and interviewed him several times as a bishop. A great deal of the books are made up of quotes from these “interviews,” eyewitness reports from a friend Jack Champney, who coincidentally happened to be Luciani’s personal assistant, and what Gregoire claims are Luciani’s revolutionary writings.
An intelligent reader might wonder, especially given all that has been written about him, if Luciani’s ideas were so revolutionary, why none of them have ever been revealed until now. Gregoire maintains that’s because the Vatican confiscated all diocesan archives relating to him, removed local newspaper archives and even censored his talks as Pope, to cover up his real ideas.
Many people have been finding Gregoire’s self-published books on Amazon and believe them, or at least think there might be something to them. After looking at the books myself, I thought that they were so crazy and extreme that no one could ever be taken in by them. Yet some of the people who were confused about the truth because of them are actually well-educated adults. I’m afraid they’ve been taken in by a very imaginative, though not particularly talented, fiction writer.
His book has taken off and gained notice. Mention of his claims as fact has recently crept into the Wikipedia entry on the Moral Theology of John Paul I. I have put up videos about John Paul I on YouTube, and people are constantly coming there commenting with these supposed quotes from his writings, and I have to try to correct them Usually they ignore me. All this has been possible only because translations of most of John Paul I’s writings are generally not available in English, though they are in other languages.
So I’ve decided to write another series (which I hope will be short) to warn all those interested in John Paul I not to waste any time on the Gregoire book. Even the basic biographical facts about him as they appear there bear almost no relation to the truth. But it’s his distortion of the Pope’s thought and his writings that most gets to me.
And for the record, let me unequivocally state that I am sure that Gregoire never met Albino Luciani in his life, or had a friend who worked for him.
I feel almost foolish at having to refute such silly and obvious lies. It doesn’t take nearly as much effort to expose Gregoire as it does to expose Yallop and Cornwell, so let’s get started.
Gregoire claims that John Paul I is “the only Pope in history for which [sic] the Vatican has not commissioned a biography be written. Murder in the Vatican is the only existing biography of the 33-day Pope.” (1)
I know of no biography of any Pope that has been officially “commissioned” by the Vatican, apart from the very short ones in the Acta Apostolica Sedis, which are also reproduced on the Vatican’s web site. John Paul I’s bio is there with all the rest. It’s actually largely a list of dates, unlike the more complete biographies of other Popes, but this is scarcely evidence that his life has been ignored or suppressed by the Vatican. In fact, the Vatican is right now studying the case for his canonization. Catholic honors don’t get much higher than that.
Gregoire’s further claim that his is the only existing biography of John Paul I is beyond ludicrous. Innumerable biographies of him have been written in Italian from the time of his death until now, as well as many in other languages. All you have to do to ascertain this is to go to the New York Public Library’s web site (catnyp.nypl.org) and do a subject search for “John Paul I.” A complete bibliography of published biographies and other works on this Pope would run to twenty pages or more.
Gregoire, of course, never cites any of these. Where then does get his information? He says that when he went to Vittorio Veneto in 1978, right after Luciani’s death and the election of John Paul II to get the records of his tenure there, hoping to put them into writing, he learned from the then bishop Antonio Cunial that “a group from the Vatican Foreign Minister’s Office had shown up the week before and had taken everything with them. . . The bishop told me something else. There had been a break-in at the local newspaper and some of the archives had been stolen. This did not mean much to me as when [Luciani] was Bishop of Vittorio Veneto most of the more important things he said and did reached notoriety and were recorded in many newspapers. This is also why what I have to say about is time as a bishop and as a cardinal is so well documented in this book – direct references from scores of newspapers and other public records that survived the Vatican’s attempt to annihilate the controversial life of Albino Luciani.” (2)
For his time in Belluno, “those twenty years he spoke out against the Vatican on humane issues,” Gregoire claims, Luciani’s career would have been covered by Belluno’s Corriere delle Alpi. But wouldn’t you know it, those archives were also stolen! And bishop Maffeo Ducoli had also surrendered Luciani’s records to the Vatican. “It was as if this part of his life never existed.” For this period of his life, Gregoire notes, outside of a few newspaper reports for the more “outlandish” of his attacks on the Vatican, he relied on his personal encounters with Luciani, who told him of his life as a child and young priest. (3).
Gregoire may have fooled some gullible people with this preposterous story, but he can’t fool me. I began working on my own biography of John Paul I by traveling to Italy in 1985, and did my research in the various places where Luciani lived and worked, and spoke with his family and colleagues.
I also had no trouble in putting together a quite complete collection of his writings from the diocesan publications and archives, the files of which were all complete, in Belluno, Vittorio Veneto and in Venice.
Regardless of whether the archives of the local secular independent newspaper of Belluno Il Corriere delle Alpi, were stolen (and I’m sure they were not), the files of the diocesan newspaper, L’Amico del Popolo, for which Luciani wrote some of his earliest articles from 1943 on, are intact, and I did a great deal of research in them. He also founded a small newspaper for the seminary, L’Amico del Seminario Gregoriano, much of which he also wrote himself. I have a number of photocopies of these original articles. Gregoire never mentions either of these periodicals. In fact, he basically doesn’t seem to understand the concept of a diocesan paper at all, or its importance to writing the life of a local bishop.
The diocesan archives in Belluno also contain a large amount of material on Luciani’s life during his time there, which has been used not just by me, but by a number of of his other biographers, especially Regina Kummer, who wrote Albino Luciani: Giovanni Paolo I: una vita per la Chiesa (Padua: Edizioni Messaggero, 1988), and Patrizia Luciani (no relation), Un prete di montagna: gli anni bellunesi di Albino Luciani, 1912-1958 (Padua: Edizioni Messagero, 2003). That group from the Vatican that supposedly confiscated all this information was obviously not very thorough!
As for Vittorio Veneto, it’s noteworthy that Gregoire never gives the name of the newspaper whose archives were stolen. It certainly wasn’t the diocesan newspaper L’Azione, or the diocesan monthly containing Luciani’s writings and sermons from 1959-1970, Il Bollettino Ecclesiastico della diocesi di Vittorio Veneto. The files of both of these were intact, and I obtained a number of photocopies and even originals with his writings from them. And isn’t it odd that the Vatican left all the “many newspapers” from which Gregoire supposedly got his information unconfiscated?
The files of the analogous publications in Venice, the monthly La Rivista Diocesana del patriarcato di Venezia, and Gente Veneta the weekly diocesan magazine of Venice, are also all intact, and I have many photocopies and originals from them. I also have copies of Il Messaggero di San Antonio, a Franciscan magazine published in Padua, in which many of the Illustrissimi letters first appeared.
For some reason, Gregoire exempts the Venetian sources, including the daily newspaper of Venice Il Gazzettino, from this supposedly all-encompassing Vatican raid. He cites Il Gazzettino a number of times, while consistently misspelling the title as Il Gazzattino. At times, he does invent a quote which he attributes to this newspaper, or attributes a quote that comes from somewhere else to it. Once again, a faithful representation of these diocesan archives and Luciani’s writings from these periodicals have appeared in many Italian biographies of John Paul I, and I have many photocopies myself that I made directly from the paper’s archives. Needless to say, they give a completely different picture of Luciani’s writings.
All of Luciani’s works were collected into a nine-volume set called Albino Luciani/Giovanni Paolo I: Opera Omnia, published by the Edizioni Messaggero in Padua in 1989. I have two copies of this work. Quite a haul from archives and newspapers that were supposed to have all been confiscated by the Vatican!
From these originals, I have translated a large number of Luciani’s writings as a priest, bishop and cardinal. I’ve re-translated the whole of Illustrissimi for the English language version of Humilitas, and many, many of his other works as well for the same journal. There’s no way anyone — at least anyone writing in English — knows more about John Paul I’s writings than I do. So believe me when I say that Gregoire’s versions of Luciani’s writings are nonsense.
It is noteworthy that the only “excerpts” that Gregoire offers from the Pope’s writings that bear any resemblance at all to the originals are those that have appeared in English at one time or another. These include distorted versions of well-known quotes that appeared in English-language newspapers at the time of his election (such as the one about the first test-tube baby), and and similarly distorted ones from the English translation of Illustrissimi,. As for the rest, it’s clear they are totally made up out of the author’s own head. I suspect he doesn’t speak Italian. The few Italian words he uses are largely misspelled. I wonder how he was able to make anything out of any articles in Italian by or about Luciani.
Gregoire says that he is using the public record of newspapers from the Veneto, and indeed cites several such papers. But if his quotations are real, then why have none of Luciani’s dozens of biographers never come across this information before? Of course he has claimed to be his only biographer precisely for this reason. I think that he tries to cite Il Gazzettino as his actual source because much more of Luciani’s writing for this paper was published and sourced in English in various newspapers at the time of his election than those from his earlier life, so Gregoire could not get away as easily with inventing sources, though he still has no trouble inventing quotes.
One other major exception to the Vatican confiscation is Luciani’s book Illustrissimi. (Those Vatican raiders were certainly sloppy about their work). Obviously this book is too well known and has been published in too many languages for Gregoire to credibly claim it was confiscated. Instead, Gregoire says that Illustrissimi was later censored by the Vatican to remove all references to his “revolutionary” views. (4) How does he prove this? He doesn’t. He cites the book he is getting the “original” versions from simply as Illustrissimi, 1976 (5) without giving the publisher or or any page numbers or examples or comparing this text with the supposed “Vatican version.” He says the letters were previously published by Luciani but is apparently unable to say where – though the Italian text of the book actually gives the original publishers of these writings as the newspaper Il Gazzettino and the Franciscan magazine Il Messaggero di San Antonio. From all this, it seems reasonably clear that Gregoire never saw the book in question, much less know what he is talking about in regard to it. The texts of the original articles from the two periodicals mentioned, a number of which I have, are no different from the text of the original Italian edition of 1976, the 1978 reprint, and all its subsequent reprintings. And none of them have been altered in the English translation published in the US or in the one published in the UK.
Gregoire’s Luciani is Nothing Like the Real One
So much for the sources Gregoire says he used. Now for the content. Neither the thoughts or style in Gregoire’s versions bear any relationship to Luciani’s own. Gregoire simply excerpts and distorts passages to make Luciani the mouthpiece for his own pet theories, such as those in favor of homosexuality, a subject the author seems to be obsessed about. He even makes up works by Luciani that never existed such as a supposed “intermediate thesis” in theology at the Gregorian called Strategy of a Strange War, describing his observations of homosexual behavior, and declaring sexual orientation as unchangeable. Gregoire claims that this work is in the Vatican’s Apostolic Library (6) Luciani did write an exercitatio for his licentiate degree in theology (roughly equivalent to a master’s degree), before his doctoral dissertation on Rosmini, but this thesis was actually on the practice of judicial ordeals in the Middle Ages. (7)
Let’s take the issues one by one. Gregoire says that right after Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humane Vitae was issued, Luciani wrote “his famous letter demanding contraception be permitted in those cases where it was justified. In his letter, Luciani cited the massive poverty and starvation a ban on contraception would bring out in third world countries” (8). He does not, however, cite a word from the actual text, because of course, he had no English translation to distort.
Now it is true, and has been documented, that Luciani took part in the research and theological study surrounding the question of artificial contraception in the 1960′s. I have documented this extensively here.
Given the importance of this question, I will give the original of that letter to his diocese from the July 1968 issue of the monthly bulletin of the diocese, Il Bollettino Ecclesiastico della diocesi di Vittorio Veneto. The staff of the diocesan archives photocopied the original file copy for me while I watched; it is still in my possession. Here is the text:
ON READING THE ENCYCLICAL
Pastoral Letter, July 29, 1968
Dear people of the diocese:
On April 13, 1968, when writing to my priests, I touched, among other points, on the question of birth control, and I said: “Priests, when they speak and when they hear confessions, must hold to the directions given several times by the Pope, as long as he does not feel he can give a different judgment.” And I added: “Let us pray that the Lord may help the Pope resolve this question. Never, perhaps, has there been one so difficult in the Church: because of its intrinsic difficulties, its many implications for other problems, and the acuteness with which it is felt by enormous masses of people.” (9)
I must confess that I hoped in my heart, even though I didn’t let it out in writing, that the very serious difficulties could be overcome and that the reply of the Teacher, who speaks with a special charism and in the name of the Lord, might coincide with the hopes raised in so many couples, especially after the establishment of a special pontifical commission to examine the issue.
I know for certain that concern for these souls in pain and an ardent desire to bring them light and comfort were the only reasons for the considerable delay in the coming of the Pope’s answer. He has reflected at length, he has consulted countless learned and prudent representatives of the episcopate, the clergy and the laity, and he has prayed at length before putting aside his reservations. Now he gives his judgment, conscious that he is performing a duty, and with a spirit of great faith. He knows, indeed, that he is going to be the cause of bitterness in many people, he knows that a different solution would probably have brought him more human applause; but he puts his faith in God and, in order to be faithful to His word, he re proposes the traditional teaching of the Magisterium in this very delicate matter in all its purity. The recent scientific discoveries? The social evolution of our time? The increased demands of “responsible parenthood?” All of these things are to be kept in mind, but they do not postulate a new doctrine. The doctrine that has always been taught, presented in the new framework of encouraging and positive ideas on marriage and conjugal love, better guarantees the true good of man and of the family.
The thoughts of the Pope and mine go especially towards the difficulties, sometimes serious, of couples. Let them not lose heart, for heaven’s sake! Let them think that, for everyone “strait is the gate and narrow the path that leads to life” (Mt. 7:14). That the hope of the future life should illuminate the path of Christian couples. And that God does not let his help be lacking for those who pray with perseverance! Let them try to live with wisdom, justice and piety in the present time, knowing that the scene of this world is passing away (cf. 1 Cor. 7:31 and Rom. 5:5). “And if sin still has a hold on them, let them not be discouraged, but let them have recourse with humble perseverance to the mercy of God, which is lavished in the sacrament of penance.”
I would like these last words of the Pope to be stressed in a particular way by priests, to whom the Pope recommends “the patience and kindness, of which the Lord himself has given the example in dealing with men,” hoping that “couples may always find in the words and the heart of the priest an echo of the voice and love of the Redeemer.” (Humane Vitae, no. 39)
I am confident that I have everyone with me in a sincere adherence to the papal teaching, and in this assurance, I bless and greet you. (10)
As you can see, he fully supported and defended Pope Paul’s teaching. No mention of the immense poverty of the Third World justifying artificial contraception. There is no chance anyone, inside or outside the Vatican, altered this writing – unless you’re going to argue that the Vatican has the capability to change the original copies of periodicals, as the Ministry of Truth did with newspapers in Orwell’s 1984!
Another snippet, this time supposedly from Luciani’s talk to graduating seminarians in Vittorio Veneto in 1961.
We must hold sacred this of God’s creation — this perfect balance of mental energy that exists between any two people when they love — this perfect union of minds that can only be made by God. To think that love pertains only to physical parts of the body is to say that the sacrament of Matrimony should pertain equally to animals in the forest. We must hold this holy union in sacred trust before Almighty God whenever it exists between ANY of God’s children — man and woman, or black and white, Christian and Jew, virgin and divorcee, man and man, or woman and woman.” (11)
This quote bears no resemblance whatever to anything Luciani ever said. Just to be sure, I checked out the date and circumstances given for the quote – to seminarians in 1961, in the corresponding volume of his Opera Omnia. While there is a letter (not a graduation address) to seminarians from this period, it does not address the subject of sexuality at all, much less in those outrageous terms.
On the other hand, here is an authentic quote from Luciani from 1974 from an interview he gave to Il Gazzettino on sexual morality after the Italian episcopal conference had written a document on the subject. Once again, I photocopied this article, this time myself, from the original 1974 newspaper. In it, Luciani said;
A sexuality that is worthy of man must be a part of love for a person of a different sex with the added commitments of fidelity and indissolubility. (12)
Obviously the two passages could not have been written by the same person.
In regard to Luciani’s famous interview on the first test-tube baby, Gregoire gives a fairly accurate snippet from the text. Here is what the cardinal said in my translation from the Italian original:
From every side the press is sending its congratulations to the English couple and best wishes to their baby girl. In imitation of God, who desires and loves human life, I too offer my best wishes to the baby girl. As for her parents, I do not have any right to condemn them; subjectively, if they have acted with the right intention and in good faith, they may even obtain great merit before God for what they have decided on and asked the doctors to carry out. (13)
Gregoire claims that this means that Luciani supported test-tube babies and artificial insemination. He says that “the message was viewed as the most defiant rebuttal of a papal decree in the Church’s history by a cardinal.” (14)
This is nonsense. In fact, Gregoire published only a tiny snippet of the interview. The remainder makes it clear that Luciani fully supported Church doctrine on this subject:
Getting down, however, to the act in itself, and good faith aside, the moral problem which is posed is: is extrauterine fertilization in vitro or in a test tube, licit? Pius XII, in speaking of artificial fertilization in marriage, made, if I remember right, the following distinction: Does the intervention of the technician or doctor serve only to facilitate the marriage act? Or does it help to obtain the child by continuing, in some way, an already completed marriage act? No moral difficulty; the intervention can take place. Does the device, on the other hand, not help or prolong the marriage act, but actually exclude it or substitute for it? It is not licit to use the device, because God has bound the transmission of life to marital sexuality. So said Pius XII, more or less; I do not find any valid reasons to deviate from this norm, declaring licit the separation of the transmission of life from the marriage act. (15)
Gregoire gives the publication information for this interview as Il Gazzattino (sic), July 21, 1978. In fact the interview was not published in Il Gazzettino but in the August 1978 issue of a journal called Prospettive nel Mondo; the interviewer was Alberto Michelini.
The only possible conclusion is that Gregoire’s quotes are not by Luciani. No one has the right to alter another man’s thoughts and words as Gregoire does. Even if someone feels that the Mosaic law should be abolished, or that homosexual marriage or civil unions should be promoted, it is completely wrong to put words in another person’s mouth attributing these ideas to him, when all his life he thought and proclaimed the opposite.
English readers have been deprived of a good complete biography of John Paul I in English; I am appalled that the gap has been filled by this.
Gregoire says in his preface that he wrote his book “in several genres” — a very odd description for a supposedly factual biography (16). That ought to give a sensible reader pause right there. On the other hand, if the genres he mentions are all fictional, then he is quite correct.
Gregoire’s work is a massive distortion of John Paul I’s legacy. If you study his actual writings, you will see that he was a progressive bishop in social matters, but he was not a Marxist. He was faithful on Church doctrine. But some people are not interested in the truth. They want a Pope made to their own specifications – they can’t accept the man who really existed.
The English translations of Luciani’s writings provided in Humilitas and in The Smiling Pope, are trustworthy. I did them myself directly from the originals. Unfortunately, the Seabecks and I published only Luciani’s more devotional writings in the first volume, because we and the publisher thought that they would be of wider interest. We had been planning to put more, including more of his writings on controversial subjects, in a second volume, but at present Our Sunday Visitor Press has given no signs of publishing it any time soon. If I thought someone like Gregoire was going to come along, I would have asked to have more of Luciani’s writings on controversial Church issues included in the first volume, so accurate texts of what he wrote on these matters would be out there. Well, there’s another book that I should publish. . .
In the next installment, I will deal with Gregoire’s distortion of John Paul I’s writings and talks as Pope, and detail how did the idea that John Paul I’s works were “censored” got started to begin with
Upate: Friday, August 21: I’m happy to say that the Wikipedia entry now carries a statement saying that some regard Lucien Gregoire’s book as “full of fabrications.” I won’t say who’s responsible – but maybe you can guess..
(1) Lucien Gregoire, Murder in the Vatican, p. iv.
(2) Gregoire, Murder in the Vatican, p. v.
(3) Gregoire, Murder in the Vatican, p. v.
(4) Gregoire, White Light, Dark Night, p. 185.
(5) Gregoire, Murder in the Vatican, p. 60.
(6) Gregoire, Murder in the Vatican, pp. 86-89.
(7) The original typescript of this thesis has not come to light. According to Luciani’s colleagues in Belluno, it was later published in a theological review, but no one seems to have recorded the review or the date (see L’Amico del Popolo, no. 49, Dec 13, 1958). However, there is no doubt about the subject matter of the thesis. Luciani himself mentioned the subject of his thesis and the research he had done for it on the anthropology of primitive peoples in a report to his diocese on his trip to Africa on October 20, 1966 Opera Omnia, 3:482-511.
(8) Gregoire, White Light, Dark Night, p. 159.
(9) In this letter, Luciani had also given two principles to help priests who were dealing with this problem in the confessional:
“1. It is easier, today, given the confusion induced by the press, to find some married women [using contraception] who are in good faith; if this happens, it may be advisable, under the usual conditions, not to upset them.
2. Towards the penitent user of contraception who proves to be both penitent and discouraged, it is proper to use encouraging kindness within the limits allowed by pastoral prudence.” (Bollettino Ecclesiastico della diocesi di Vittorio Veneto, no. 4 (April 1968), pp. 133-34; Opera 4:165).
(10) Bollettino Ecclesiastico, no. 7 (July 1968), pp. 300-301.
(11) Gregoire, White Light, Dark Night, p. 106. In addition, the wording is very different in the later version of his book and the passage is considerably expanded – which makes it clear that this is not a translation from Luciani’s work, but the author’s imagination (Murder in the Vatican, p. 88). In the earlier version there is no source citation, while in the later, he gives his source as Veneto Nostro, 28 June 1961, a publication that had nothing to do with his diocese. I suspect the citation was simply invented by Gregoire.
(12) Interview with Il Gazzettino, February 12, 1974, p. 7.
(13) Prospettive nel Mondo, August 1 1978, cf. Opera Omnia, 8:571-72.
(14) Murder in the Vatican, p. 74.
(15) Prospettive nel Mondo, August 1 1978.
(16) Gregoire, Murder in the Vatican, p. v.