By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Twenty years after the sudden death of Pope John Paul I, Cobh Bishop John Magee has once again moved to debunk conspiracy theories that he was murdered — but he accepts that Vatican statements at the time fueled suspicions that he was poisoned.
Magee was secretary to the pope and in charge of his household when he was found dead in bed in 1978 after just 33 days in office.
"I am absolutely 100 percent sure that the holy father died of natural causes, of a heart arrest, which was stated, as did two other members of his family before him," Magee said last week. "I have no reason to believe — and there was no way, since I was in charge in that household — he would have been killed."
The official communiqué from the Vatican after the pope’s death said he had been found by his Newry-born secretary in a sitting position in bed.
In fact, he had been found by Sister Vincenza, a nun in the papal household, after she discovered he had not taken his usual morning cup of espresso. She had then alerted Magee, who verified the pope was dead, finding him in bed with the light on and two sheets of paper in his hand.
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The bishop said the Vatican’s secretary of state, the late Cardinal Jean Villot, had put out the official communiqué on Vatican radio.
Magee said he had explained to Villot what happened and the cardinal had told him, "Officially, you are the secretary, you walked into his room, you found him dead."
When Magee again pointed out that the pope had previously been found dead by a nun, Villot told him, "We will put out the communiqué that he was officially found dead by his secretary."
Magee said that when it later emerged that it really was a nun who had found the dead pope, "there started all kinds of speculation as to what is the truth, but the truth is she did find him dead and called me."