Fr. Charles Murr claims meeting between John Paul I and Cardinal Baggio was reported "in Time Magazine"
In my recent post detailing my investigation into the reliability of Fr. Charles Murr as a witness of important Vatican events in the 1970s, I found that he makes two uncorroborated claims about the final evening of the life of Pope John Paul I. The first is his assertion in his book Murder in the 33rd Degree that Cardinal Sebastiano Baggio was the last person to see Pope John Paul I alive. I wrote (emphasis added):
A unique detail in Fr. Murr’s book is that he places Cardinal Baggio in the papal apartments the night before John Paul’s sudden death, describing Baggio as “the last person to see him alive.” According to Fr. Murr, John Paul wanted a morning meeting with Cardinal Baggio on the day of his death.
The second dubious assertion made by Fr. Murr is his statement that Cardinal Villot “claims” to have been the last person to see John Paul I alive. The idea that Villot made that claim — a seemingly minor detail, but one that should be easy to verify — does not correlate with any account of that final evening. In his version of the story, Fr. Murr says Cardinal Baggio refused to meet with the pope in the morning, but did agree to meet the pope that evening. This is how that meeting is described in his book:
“Cardinal Villot claims he was the last person to see the Holy Father alive. The Frenchman is covering for his friend. The real ‘last person’ to see the Holy Father alive was none other than Sebastiano Baggio. Baggio, who argued with the pope so heatedly that the Swiss Guards heard his yelling in the outside corridor! Baggio, who I’ve heard told the pope to his face that he refused, flatly refused, to leave the Vatican, even after the pope offered him Venice! Wouldn’t treatment like that frighten half to death a humble, timid man with the weight of the world on his shoulders?”
I compared Fr. Murr’s version of that final night to three of the most noteworthy books to investigate the death of Pope Luciani (Yallop, Cornwell, and Falasca). Each of these books came from a different perspective, and there were significant disagreements between the three versions. They were all consistent, however, about the general comings and goings in the papal apartments that final night.
Although Fr. Murr’s account borrows much of its content from Yallop’s book, but his description of that evening’s events diverges on that final night.
This is how I summarized the other accounts:
The competing narratives disagree on many of the details, but they are all in agreement that Villot left at around 7:30 pm, after which two sisters served the pope and his two priest-secretaries dinner. The accounts also agree that he and his secretaries prayed the office in English and that he took a phone call from the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan before retiring to his room after 9 pm.
On Friday, possibly in response to my analysis, Fr. Murr made an appearance on LifeSiteNews co-founder John-Henry Westen’s podcast to reassert his claims.
A LifeSite article by Louis Knuffke summarized Fr. Murr’s new description of the events:
At 8 p.m. on September 28, Cardinal Baggio entered the Papal Apartments. No one else was to be present while two Swiss Guards waited outside the door. The time of day and the absence of others at the meeting were both unusual. The meeting lasted about an hour. The only testimony regarding that papal meeting came a few days later from one of the Swiss Guards on duty: that the angry voice of Baggio had been raised and could be heard through the door, suggesting a heated confrontation with the Pontiff.
“At 8:00 Baggio went up to the Holy Father’s residence in the Apostolic Palace,” Murr relates, “and was with him for approximately an hour. And there was shouting. Not the pope. The pope was not shouting. Baggio was shouting at the pope. How do we know that? I happen to know it. I happen to know. It was through a Swiss guard who was at the outside of the door. There were two Swiss guards. They reported this shouting. Baggio left. Furious. After an hour.”
John Paul I was found dead the next morning at 4:45 a.m. The official Vatican report as to the cause of his death changed several times. The last report was that the Pontiff suffered a heart attack during the night around 11 p.m. No autopsy or blood test was ever conducted.
This time, Fr. Murr says the story of the meeting (and Baggio’s Freemasonry) has been “kept hidden by the Vatican,” but Time magazine did report it:
The last meeting of John Paul I with Cardinal Baggio and the latter’s membership in Freemasonry have been kept hidden by the Vatican for decades. A Time Magazine article telling the story is the only evidence from the time that Fr. Charles Murr was able to recover as outside evidence. “The only place,” Murr says, “that I saw a report of the meeting between the Holy Father, John Paul I and Cardinal Baggio, Sebastian Baggio, was in Time Magazine. I have a copy of it. It cost me dearly to find.”
Fortunately, in my case, finding the article he’s referring to in the Monday, October 9, 1978, edition of Time did not cost me dearly to find. The hardest part was figuring out the date of the magazine, because he didn’t provide it. The issue’s cover story, The September Pope, is available on the Time website. For those who might be worried that the website article’s text might have been altered by Vatican and/or Masonic operatives, scans of the the printed magazine are also available on the Time website’s “vault” section, and on the Internet Archive.
For those among my readers who might suspect coordinated digital tomfoolery, at the time of this writing there are perhaps a dozen copies of the original magazine available for purchase on ebay. (I’m not going to pay for a copy, however. I’m drawing a line.)
So what does it say?
After a spare lunch and afternoon siesta, John Paul returned to his desk. Milan's Giovanni Cardinal Colombo, who talked to him by phone, recalled that he sounded "full of serenity and hope." He summoned Sebastiano Cardinal Baggio, head of the Congregation for Bishops and a papabile (papal possibility) going into the last conclave, to discuss pressing business. At 7:30 he had his usual daily meeting with Vatican Secretary of State Jean Villot, 72, who within hours was to become once more the interim administrator, or Camerlengo, of the Holy See. Villot said that the Pope showed no signs of fatigue as he bade him good night. The day ended where it began, in the chapel with evening prayer. As the staff members retired, they told John Paul of the fatal ambush of a Communist youth by right-wing extremists in Rome. "They kill each other —even the young people," he lamented. They were the last words anyone would hear him utter.
Now, not all of the details of this early account perfectly correspond to those resulting from later investigations, and it gets a few things out of order. It does align with the most important details, however: John Paul had a phone call with Cardinal Colombo, he met in the evening with Cardinal Villot, he said evening prayer and bid goodnight to the staff before retiring to his room.
Like David Yallop’s account, this article does mention a meeting with Cardinal Baggio, but — similar to Yallop’s account — the meeting takes place earlier in the day and is in addition to, not as a replacement for, the evening meeting with Cardinal Villot. In other words, the claim that Baggio arrived late at night and found the pope alone in his apartments — which would lend credence to Fr. Murr’s account — is nowhere to be found.
Finally, because I can’t help myself, I decided to do a little bit more research and see what other early accounts of the death of Pope John Paul I. I’ll share three of them.
Fr. Andrew Greeley
Fr Andrew Greely’s 1979 book seems to draw heavily from the Time account, providing a similar sequence of events but adding more detail to the meeting with Cardinal Baggio:
The pope had a hard day. He spoke about justice and liberation to a group of Filipino bishops in the morning and talked with Milan's Cardinal Colombo in the afternoon. Apparently he tried to persuade someone to accept the diocese of Venice as his replacement and was rudely rejected. The Curia was still freezing him out. He huddled with Cardinal Baggio about some critical appointments and replacements in the world hierarchy. (In the interview with Cardinal Baggio John Paul had given orders for the replacement of Cardinal Cody. The papers of the Cody case were in his hands when he died.) He saw Cardinal Villot, the secretary of state, and may have received reports from him about troubles in a certain Catholic country. After night prayer in the chapel, the staff told him about the ambush of a Communist by right-wing extremists: "They kill each other—even the young people." He shook his head and with a sheet of paper in his hands, some German notes and some appointment material left by Baggio, went into his bedroom. Later, in the early morning, taxis could see that the lights were still on in the papal apartment.
At 4:30, Sister Vincenza, his housekeeper, brought the usual cup of coffee and left it on the table outside the door of his bedroom. She came back later to take away the coffee cup...1
Greeley also adds an interesting tidbit about the relationship between Cardinals Villot and Baggio. Writing in his journal in May 1978, prior to the death of Paul VI, he recounts a conversation with a Vatican employee named Pat Kelly, who talks about Cardinal Baggio’s papal aspirations. Greely goes on to say:
Kelly also confirms the hatred of Secretary of State Villot for Baggio. The people in the secretary's office are doing everything they can to blacken his name, so if there is so much being expended in Rome to destroy the cardinals who are likely candidates. ... The curialists smell a conclave and are getting ready for it by attacking their opposition. You get told over here that the Curia is factionalized, and you begin to believe it when you hear stories of the sort that I've been hearing the last couple of days about the character assassinations.
To be clear, I don’t necessarily consider Greeley’s account to be much more credible than Fr. Murr’s (although at least Greely didn’t wait over 40 years to say anything). Still, people who read Fr. Murr’s book are left with the impression that Cardinals Villot and Baggio are fellow Masons and close friends, whereas people who read Greeley’s account are led to believe they are bitter enemies. Is either of them correct? Who knows? Maybe they were long-lost cousins or visitors from outer space. It’s difficult to prove anything based only on eyewitness testimony.
National Catholic Reporter
The November 6, 1981 edition of the National Catholic Reporter published a review of a book by Francis X. Murphy, CSSR, entitled The Papacy Today: The Last 80 Years of the Catholic Church from the Perspective of the Papacy. Reviewer Arthur Jones criticizes the book for spending too much time on John Paul II’s then-new papacy, suggesting the author should have wrapped it up with the death of his predecessor:
Certainly Murphy could have stopped at John Paul I's death. And included the anecdote about Cardinal Sebastiano Baggio having a flaming row with the new pope trying to dissuade him from going to Puebla (the Latin America bishops' 1979 Mexico meeting) the morning before his death.2
Here Jones expresses regret that Murphy’s book does not include a loud argument between Cardinal Baggio and John Paul I on that last day. Unlike Yallop’s and Fr. Murr’s accounts, the argument has nothing to with Venice or Freemasonry, but is over a CELAM meeting in Mexico. (Also note that this is yet another account that says it took place early in the day.)
Catholic News Service
Finally, here’s an excerpt from Nights of Sorrow, Days of Joy. Papal Transition: Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, a book put together in 1979 by the Editors of Catholic News Service. They describe the comments of Cardinal Baggio to reporters shortly after the death of John Paul I:
Cardinal Sebastiano Baggio, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, was one of the first churchmen to view the pope's body.
"He looked peaceful, as though he were taking a nap," Cardinal Baggio commented to newsmen gathered in St. Peter's Square. The cardinal had spent 90 minutes with the pope in a private audience only a few days earlier.3
This, of course, brings us back full circle to The September Pope: The Final Days of John Paul I by Stefania Falasca, which is the most recent and authoritative account. As I mentioned in my earlier analysis, Falasca’s book says the pope’s final meeting with Cardinal Baggio took place on September 23, days before his death.
It looks like Catholic News Service may have had this one right, all along. Which is yet another reason why the USCCB’s decision to shut them down is a tragedy.
As for Fr. Murr, I wish him well, but this latest episode simply reinforces the case that he is not a credible eyewitness of the events he describes in his book, in the Mass of the Ages films, or in his interviews.
Greeley, Andrew M. The Making of the Popes 1978: The Politics of Intrigue in the Vatican. Andrews McMeel Pub, 1979. 172.
Jones, Arthur. "Vatican intrigues." National Catholic Reporter (November 6, 1981), 20.
Richard W. Daw, Jerome F. Filteau, and Robert A. Strawn, Nights of Sorrow Days of Joy: Papal Transition: Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II (NC News Service, 1979), 112.