For years there have been rumors that the Soviet Union was behind the shooting of John Paul II. Now an Italian panel has "closed" the case. It doesn't have any further legal implications, it simply wraps up the investigation.
Originally, Mehmet Ali Agca, the shooter, pointed the finger at the Soviet government. However, he quickly changed his story. My take: he was threatened. A photograph reveals that a Bulgarian man, who was acquited of involvment in the shooting, was present on the day of the assassination attempt. At the time he was acquited, the image in the picture was unclear, but further work on it has yielded more conclusive results. It is well known that the Soviet government was employing the Bulgarian secret service at that time. The commission concluded that the Soviet government was involved "beyond any reasonable dout." Here's the full story.
The Rest of the Story
The real story of the shooting, however, was the great forgiveness and kindness John Paul showed to his would-be killer.
It is easy to forget how serious the shooting was. I recommend the account given in George Weigel's magisterial biography, Witness to Hope (1999), pages 412-425. Here is some of what he says,
Agca's bullet had caused havoc inside the Pope's abdomen. On making his incision, Crucitti first found 'blood everywhere,' six pints of it, which were suctioned out so that the source of the hemorrhaging-the immediately life-threatening problem - could be identified. With the bleeding stanched and transfusions begun, John Paul's blood pressure and pulse rose, and the surgery could proceed, as Crucitti later put it, 'more calmly.' On exploring the Pope's abdomen, the surgeon found multiple wounds, some due to direct impact, others to the blast effect of the bullet entering the body. The colon had been perforated and there were five wounds in the small intestine. Some five hours of surgery were required to close the colon wounds, remove twenty-two inches of intestine, and perform a temporary colostomy....
John Paul would later say that 'One hand fired, and another guided the bullet.' It was a confession of miraculous intervention that the most secular soul might have been tempted to concede. Agca, a professional assassin, had fired at point blank range. Yet the bullet that struck the Pope missed the main abdominal artery by the merest fraction of an inch. Had the artery been struck, John Paul would have bled to death before being transferred from the Pope-mobile to the ambulance. Moreover, the bullet, which might have paralyzed him, missed his spinal column and every major nerve cluster in its potential path. Agca's shot had evidently deflected off the Pope's finger, which was broken. On exiting the body, the spent bullet fell to the floor of the Popemobile, from which it was eventually recovered. A second shot grazed John Paul's elbow before wounding two American pilgrims.
The Pope remined in the Gemelli's intensive care unit for another four days. He had received Holy Communion on the day after his surgery and began concelebrating Mass from his bed on May 17. On the 14th, when he was coming back into full consciousness, he asked Monsignor Dziwisz if they had said Compline, the closing prayer of the liturgical day, yet. Dziwisz gently explained that it was already the next afternoon, but from that point on, John Paul always prayed the entire Liturgy of the Hours, which was recited for him until he gathered the strength to pray it with Dziwisz or his other secretary, Father John Magee.
On May 17th, pilgrims in St. Peter's Square heard a tape-recorded message from John Paul II, determined not to miss his weekly Sunday noontime appointment....
That same day, Italy voted to expand legalized abortion, against which the Pope had campaigned vigorously....
The Pope was an active patient, determined to understand what was happening to him and to have a say in his care. He had Dr. Crucitti explain the anatomy and normal workings of the intestine and the way in which the colostomy compensated for his temporary disability. When the doctors gathered for a consultation in the meeting room of his suite, he would poke fun at them afterward: 'What did the Sanhedrin say today? What did the Sanhedrin decide on my behalf?' He was joking but the joke had an edge on it. Part of the struggle of an illness, he once told his doctors, was that a patient had to fight to become 'the 'subject of his illness' instead of simply remaining the 'object of treatment'.' The dignity of the human person was not surrendered at the hospital door (413-415).
Weigel goes on to describe how John Paul II's condition prevented him from being with his dying friend, Cardinal Wysynski of Poland. He tells of John Paul II following funeral ceremones by radio, "stopping to say his own Mass at the same time as the funeral Mass was being celebrated" (415). His death was "another sharp blow for John Paul II" (415). His health was severely deteriorating.
"While John Paul was mourning the [Polish Cardinal] and pondering the question of [his] successor, the papal doctors were becoming worried about their patient's condition. On May 27, the day before Wyszynski's death, the Pope had difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, and chest pains, in addition to the fever. The situation improved somewhat during the next few days, and the medical team agreed that John Paul could return to the Apostolic Palace on June 3 to continue his convalescence at home. The Pope, for his part, wanted to participate in the solemn commemoration of two ecumenical councils on June 6 and 7... It was too much to ask of himself. He could only manage a five minute appearance and message from the loggia of St. Peter's on June 6. A taped message was sent to the celebrations at the Basilica of St. Mary Major on June 7.
By June 10, his fever was rising close to 104 [degrees] Fahrenheit (39.5 [degrees] Celsius) and then falling. He had an infection in his right lung, but that could be treated by antibiotics and did not account for the spiking fever and his failure to regain his strength. Fear for his life once again stalked his staff and doctors. The gray-faced Pope looked terrible. His eyes, sunken in dark sockets, had lost their customary intensity and sparkle - and no one knew what the problem was... By June 20, the situation had deteriorated to the point where a return to Gemelli for more tests was imperative... John Paul's system had been invaded by a cytomegalovirus, which had been transmitted to him through a tainted blood transfusion on May 13. The 'second agony' as Gabriel Turrowski described it, was the result of his tremendous loss of blood between the shooting and the surgery. The cytomegalovirus has a twenty-four-hour cycle and there would have been no problem if the donated pint of blood had been kept for a day. The urgeny of the situation at the beginning of the surgery had required the use of freshly donated blood. Once the cause of his persistent illness was clear, John Paul characteristically wanted to know what the virus looked like. The doctors showed him the slide form which the diagnosis had been made.
By June 24, his temprature had returned to normal...
Toward the end of July, John Paul began lobbying his doctors to reverse his colostomy sooner than they had planned. The medical team had proposed waiting until cooler weather in the fall; there were also concerns about risking another tainted blood transfusion so shortly after the cytomegalovirus had been beated. John Paul insisted that he was strong enough to withstand the procedure. He told a meeting of the 'Sanhedrian' that, while they were the technical experts, he had a right to explain his problems as their patient. Among other things, he didn't want to go back to the Apostolic Palace until he was completely well and could put the entire assassination episode behind him. All his life, he said, he had defended the rights of man; 'today,' he said, 'I myself am 'man.'' Dr. Crucitti was impressed. The Pope had reminded his doctors that they were not oracles, and that an individual knew things about himself that clinicians could not measure with their instruments and tests (415-416).
Throughout the story Weigel tells of the news of the various days and goes on to describe the intense political drama that was playing out between the Soviet Union, Poland and the Vatican. The story is absolutely riveting and highly worth reading. It is amazing to read the propaganda the Russian goverment was spouting about the Pope. They were calling him "a cunning and dangerous ideological enemy," implying that he was even involved in the Nazi campaign to destroy the Polish people during World War II (423). (I laughed aloud when I read that!) He concludes by analyzing Agca's intentions and says that it is virtually certain that Russia was involved with the assassinaton attempt.