New book offers inside glimpse of John Paul II’s life

ROME – Pope John Paul II consulted with top aides about possibly resigning in 2000 and set up a “specific procedure” for papal resignation, says a new book by the pope’s former secretary.

The pope eventually decided that it was God’s will that he stay in office, despite the illness that left him more and more debilitated, wrote Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, Poland, the late pope’s closest aide.

In the book, “A Life With Karol,” Cardinal Dziwisz offers an inside glimpse at key moments of Pope John Paul’s life in Poland and his 26-year pontificate. The book was being published in Polish and Italian in late January.

In his last will and testament, made public after his death, Pope John Paul strongly hinted that he had considered resignation as he prepared to turn 80 in the year 2000.

Cardinal Dziwisz said the pope, in fact, decided at the time to consult on the question with his closest aides, including then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

The pope concluded that he would remain in office, saying that God had called him to the papacy and that “God will call me back, in the form that he wishes,” Cardinal Dziwisz wrote.

“At the same time, John Paul II also established a specific procedure for giving his resignation, in case he would not have been able to carry out his ministry as pope to the very end,” Cardinal Dziwisz said.

“So, as one can see, he considered this possibility,” he said.
The book recounts other behind-the-scenes moments, according to excerpts provided by the Italian publisher, Rizzoli:

– On Sept. 11, 2001, shortly after two planes crashed into the twin towers in New York, the phone rang in the pope’s office in Castel Gandolfo outside Rome.

“On the other end of the line was the frightened voice of Cardinal (Angelo) Sodano, the secretary of state. We turned the television on, and the pope was able to see those dramatic images, the collapse of the towers with so many poor victims imprisoned inside.”

The pope passed the rest of the day going back and forth between the television and the chapel to pray, he said.

“He was worried, strongly worried that it wouldn’t end there, and that the attack could set off an endless spiral of violence,” Cardinal Dziwisz wrote.

– Recalling when the pope was shot in 1981, Cardinal Dziwisz said he was convinced his assailant, the Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca, was “sent by someone who thought the pope was dangerous.” He said it seemed logical to conclude, at least as a hypothesis, that the Soviet KGB was involved – an allegation made later by Agca when he described a supposed “Bulgarian connection” to the shooting.

But Cardinal Dziwisz added: “In fact, there was no belief in the ‘Bulgarian connection,’ nor in the many other reconstructions in circulation.” Likewise, he said, he gave no credence to journalistic theories that the disappearance of a Vatican City teenager, Emmanuela Orlandi, was in any way connected to the papal shooting.

– Toward the end of the book, Cardinal Dziwisz described the pope’s final moments.

“It was 9:37 p.m. We had noticed that the Holy Father had stopped breathing. But only in that precise moment did we see on the monitor that his great heart, after continuing to beat for a few moments, had stopped.”

Someone, he said, blocked the hands of the clock to mark the hour of the pope’s passing. Those around the pope’s bed began singing a “Te Deum” of thanksgiving, not a requiem.

“We were crying. How could one not cry! They were tears of both sadness and joy. It was then that all the lights in the house were turned on. … And then, I can’t remember. It was as if it had suddenly become dark. It was dark above me, and it was dark inside of me,” he said.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.