COVER STORY : The man who says Pope John Paul II was a fraud - and why he tried to thump me
David Yallop's new book, on Pope John Paul II, is likely to provoke a heated response. But, as one journalist recalls, the controversial writer doesn't take too well to criticism
More than 20 years ago I publicly voiced my scepticism about David Yallop's claim that Pope John Paul I, the Italian Albino Luciani, loved as 'the 33-day smiling Pope', was murdered by a cabal of conspirators consisting of disturbed Vatican prelates, shady Mafia gangsters, sinister Freemasons and ruthless bankers.
It was a formula that made Yallop, a lapsed Catholic whose mother was Irish, world famous and wealthy. His blockbuster, In the Name of God, first published in 1984, sold six million copies. It won awards. It was a gripping 'whodunnit' that mixed fact with fiction.
Unfortunately, Yallop's yarn was believed by many of his readers, including Catholics. His reading public was too ready to be deceived by his unverified conspiracy theorising, on account of the unwarranted secrecy that enshrouds the inner workings of the Vatican.
To this day, I have remained puzzled as to why full and satisfactory reasons, that had led the Vatican initially to issue false statements about the circumstances of the discovery of the dead Pope on the early morning of September 29, 1978, have still not been given by senior officials.
All these years, too, I have had reason never to forget Yallop. I was dubious about him then. Today, I am even more contemptuous of his latest vulgar attempt to assassinate posthumously the character of Pope John Paul II, who is generally revered in Ireland, as elsewhere in the world, as John Paul the Great.
For I have never forgotten those rancorous moments during an RTE radio programme, hosted by the congenial Mike Murphy, when the impetuous, tall and burly-shouldered Yallop threw a punch at me, because I challenged the veracity of his papal murder thesis.
The occasion of my contretemps with the pugnacious writer came about when I was invited by an RTE producer to debate with Yallop on live radio. Yallop had come to Dublin in early 1985 to promote his wares.
However, when I arrived at the appointed time at the studio, I was asked, nay told, by an embarrassed producer to sit in the waiting-room, while the Great Man was being given a feted solo run for the opening segment of the show.
Naturally, in my enforced idleness, I elicited from a high level RTE source the information that Yallop had read a review which I had written which was highly critical of him. So unimpressed by my critique was Yallop that he had thrown a wobbly and had threatened to call off the interview if I were to be allowed onto the programme.
In its customary attachment to balance and fairness, the national broadcaster had brokered a placatory deal with the demented David. The compromise, I was solemnly assured by my intrepid mole, was that RTE, without fear or favour, had granted Yallop a free-gallop for the early part of the programme, but I would be allowed to engage with him in the later section.
As this act of appeasing Yallop was a fait accompli, I had no choice but to listen in the waiting room to his meanderings, though, admittedly, my thoughts turned more on how I would upstage his grubby attempt to evade our inevitable showdown. So when I was finally ushered into the studio sanctuary, not even Mike Murphy could lower the icy temperature as Yallop and I glared at each other.
While Yallop had previously seized strategic supremacy, I calculated that the tactical advantage was now with me, and I proceeded to implement my carefully planned counter- attack.
Straightaway, I told Murphy that I wanted to give him the scoop about my new book on the former Archbishop of Dublin, Dermot Ryan, who had been promoted to the Vatican as the Pro-Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, but had died suddenly after six months in his demanding job as the Holy See's third ranking prelate.
Tongue-in-cheek, but parodying Yallop's sensationalist style, I revealed to the bemused Mike that the title of my new investigative book was to be called In Dermot's Name. Contrary to the duplicitous news bulletin issued by the Vatican press office, I had assembled indisputable evidence that Archbishop Ryan, known as 'the Black Pope', had not died suddenly in February 1985 of a heart attack brought on by pressure of work.
My sources had disclosed to me that while on a visit to an African country, the Archbishop had unearthed a huge scandal whose money trail was traced from Rome, via Vatican bankers, the Mafiosi, Freemasons and corrupt Cardinals, to a venal African Archbishop.
On his return to Rome, I further revealed, Archbishop Ryan had been finalising a report on this scandal which he intended to present next day to Pope John Paul II, one which would rock the foundations of the Vatican, but next morning he was found dead, He had been murdered.
"Ha, ha, very funny," interrupted Yallop, in his sneering Cockney accent, as he insisted that his facts were correct, and that I was a jealous idiot.
So I rounded on him by asking him to explain to the Irish audience just exactly who among his cast of villains had killed the Pope: Cardinal John Villot, Papa Giovanni's prime minister, Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, the President of the Vatican Bank, the Sicilian banker, Michele Sidona, his buddy Roberto Calvi, Licio Gelli, the puppet master of the Masonic lodge P2, and the womanising and financially corrupt Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago, John Cody.
As Yallop spun his conspiracy theories, I kept insisting that he explain the exact circumstance of who had poisoned John Paul I, and to explain exactly how it was done. He became increasingly agitated. I became increasingly interrogative. Poor Mike Murphy was doing his best to calm us down.
Then, suddenly, Yallop, from the other side of the table, stood up and tried to wallop me. Fortunately, I ducked and he missed.
As Mike Murphy raced breathlessly to shut down the confrontation, listeners to the national airwaves could hear a Scottish voice telling the Englishman to "F*** off!"
Four years later, in 1989, John Cornwell characterised Yallop's book as more fiction than fact in his own acclaimed book, A Thief in the Night - The Death of John Paul, in which he disproved the murder theory. His conclusion was that John Paul I knew he was out of his depth as Pope and wanted to die.
"He died alone at the very heart of the largest Christian community," Cornwell concluded. "He died of neglect and lack of love."
Throughout the long reign