The attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II took place on Wednesday, May 13, 1981, in St. Peter’s Square at Vatican City. The Pope was shot and critically wounded by Mehmet Ali Ağca, a trained sniper from Turkey, while the Pope was entering the square. The Pope was struck 4 times, and suffered severe blood loss. Ağca was apprehended immediately, and later sentenced to life in prison by an Italian court. On the eve of the Pope’s beatification, this blog revisits that event that shocked the world. Here are 5 stories reprinted with permission from the archive of TIME, documenting the drama at the time. When the Pope had recovered, he pleaded with the faithful to “pray for my brother (Agca)…whom I have sincerely forgiven.” (T. Tan)
A Pope of peace falls victim to a vengeful gunman
An instant before it happened, one camera’s eye caught a tableau that might serve as the late 20th century’s most succinct text on the metaphysics of terrorism. There, on a mellow May afternoon at St. Peter’s Square, beneath the encircling Bernini columns, the most vigorously gregarious of Popes rides slowly through a sea of tourists and pilgrims. It is a rite of sweet human communion. The Pope reaches out for babies in the crowd. He gently blesses the faces that give back a radiant daze of whatever it is that they see in the man—celebrity, charisma, holiness or, at least, a huge friendliness.
SCHEDULE OF EVENTS AND COVERAGES
The Catholic cable network EWTN will provide extensive coverage:
Saturday, April 30, 12:30 p.m. Central: Live from the Circus Maximus, a vigil organized by the diocese of Rome
Sunday, May 1, begin coverage of mass at 1:30 a.m. Central: Beatification of Pope John Paul II
Monday, May 2, 3:30 a.m. Central: Mass of Thanksgiving in Honor of the Beatification of Pope John Paul II
Cable neworks Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC plan to start live coverage of the Sunday mass at 3 a.m. central.
But just there, floating from the left of the frame into the proceedings of history, like a shark’s fin at the edge of a crowd splashing at the beach, moves a disembodied hand and its tense instrument, a blue-black pistol. It is poised there forever. And then it explodes at the Pope’s white robe.
But the man who shot Pope John Paul II last week carried terrorism into a new territory of outrage. It seemed too much of the world that he had shattered a taboo that even assassins should observe. The terrorist assassin’s goal is always drama and publicity; his chief professional concern is (to put it grotesquely) one of casting. So there was something spectacular in Mehmet Ali Agca’s choice of victim. A strike of such reptilian malice against one of the globe’s few authentic moral and spiritual leaders was a fiercely pure example of terrorist logic: the act should produce a profound moral dislocation, shattering not only state law but also human sensibility. The terrorist seizes what people value most and crucifies it upside down; he aims to induce a paralysis of foreboding. Every terrorist dreams of squeezing just the right nerve in the neck of civilization, of getting the “sweet spot,” of hitting it big, like Gavrilo Princip, the Bosnian student who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand on the way from a ceremony in Sarajevo and brought all of Europe crashing down in 1914.
Agca hardly accomplished that. He was, on first examination, a strange specimen of indecipherable politics—radical right and radical left curving around in his brain and meeting each other going the other way. He appeared also to be what Joseph Conrad called one of those “unwholesome looking little moral agents of destruction” that now form a recognizable tribe: odd human blanks with politics one centimeter deep and no Dostoyevskian depths at all; well-dressed young men who move around the democratic world on jet planes with forged passports, flipping through small-arms catalogues. That tribe seems to be getting denser and more dangerous. Or at least that is what Agca last week wanted the world to think. — (by Lance Morrow, TIME)
Anger at a would-be assassin, prayers for a much loved Pontiff
They assemble by the thousands regularly on Wednesday afternoons in St. Peter’s Square: clergy and laity, Catholics and nonbelievers, pilgrims to Rome and ordinary tourists from every nation. Their common goal is to get a glimpse of the Pope, something that is far easier to do than it used to be. Papal general audiences were formerly held indoors, in St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Pontiff was carried into the vast church on a portable throne called the sedia gestatoria, an aloof figure out of reach of the crowds.
But John Paul II, a Pope who believes that his mission is to carry the word of God by personal contact to anyone he can touch, has changed all that. Now, whenever the weather permits, the audiences are held outdoors in the square. Tickets, given out free by the Vatican as long as the supply lasts, are still needed by those who wish to occupy the rows of chairs and benches set up in front of the central obelisk facing the basilica. Large areas of the immense 20-acre square, however, are left open for anyone who can jam in through the encircling Bernini colonnade that the architect likened to arms of the church reaching out in love to embrace the world.
Under a spring sun that warmed the air to 66° F, a crowd of perhaps 15,000 turned out last Wednesday. It was a typical gathering: a multinational, multiracial group of waterworks officials attending a convention in Rome; Poles from St. Florian parish in Cracow, where the former Karol Cardinal Wojtyla had once been an assistant parish priest; cycling clubs from northern Italy with their bicycles; parochial school children from the U.S. shepherded by nuns; the ubiquitous Japanese tourists, cameras ever at the ready. At exactly 5 p.m., Pope John Paul II entered the square through the Arch of Bells, standing in his open-top, Jeep-like campagnola, which reporters have dubbed the Popemobile.
The Pontiff appeared relaxed and joyous. A mile and a half away, in the Piazza del Popolo, a rally organized by Italian political parties, ranging from left to center, was gathering to denounce an antiabortion proposal, strongly supported by John Paul, that was to be submitted to Italy’s voters in a few days. But in St. Peter’s Square, the throng was swept by the emotion that John Paul inspires in almost all who see him in person: simple friendliness. In every one of the 21 countries on five continents that the Pope has visited in his 2½ years in office, huge crowds have responded eagerly and spontaneously to his informality and delight in human contact.
So it was as the Popemobile circled St. Peter’s Square through a narrow lane formed by low wooden barricades. The crowd cheered and waved white-and-gold papal flags. In the speech that was to conclude the audience, the Pope intended to revert to one of his consistent themes: the duty of the rich to help the poor. John Paul was commemorating the 90th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s pioneering social encyclical Rerum Novarum; the draft of the speech, which as usual John Paul had written himself, asserted that the encyclical “was not only a vigorous condemnation of the undeserved misery of working conditions of that time, in the early years of the Industrial Revolution, but above all, laid the foundation for a just solution to the problems of human coexistence, which go under the name of ‘social problems.’ ” John Paul’s conclusion: the Roman Catholic Church insisted that “great profits had to be placed at the service of the common good.”
In the moments leading up to the speech, the Pope was reaching out to the crowd. He swept babies into his brawny grasp and kissed them, touched outstretched hands, extended his arms in blessing. At 5:19, the Popemobile had nearly completed its second and final circuit of the square. John Paul had picked up and held high a little girl, her blond hair tousled as he hugged her. After he put her down, recalls Pietro Volpicelli, an onlooker who was standing only 10 ft. away, the Pope was leaning out of his car and “giving his hand to a girl dressed in white.”
The shots rang out.
Three, perhaps four or more; no one could be positive. But the crowd knew instantly what had happened. Witness after witness was to liken the noise to the “popping of a string of firecrackers,” —a description made so familiar by assassinations and attempted assassinations that it is now repeated instinctively. A woman who had been standing near the Pope told a reporter confidently: “It was a Browning 9.” She had heard the sound of shots many times in her native Northern Ireland, to whose warring factions the Pope in September 1979 had made an impassioned but vain plea, “on my knees,” for an end to violence.*
The Pope stood immobile for an instant. Then he collapsed backward into the arms of his personal secretary, Monsignor Stanislaw Dziwisz. The Pope looked at his hands, one of which was bloodied. Bright red blood began to spurt from his abdomen onto his gleaming white cassock. Francesco Passanisi, inspector general of the Vatican police, who had been following close behind the campagnola, leaped aboard and ordered the driver to “move back and forth,” presenting a blurred target for any further shots. Recalled Passanisi later: “As I was supporting the Pope, he was saying ‘Thank you, thank you.’ And he repeated that I should not worry.”
After a few seconds of evasive action, when it became clear there would be no more shots, the Popemobile moved off as rapidly as its small engine could drive it through the Arch of Bells to an ambulance that is always parked near papal appearances. Attendants followed standing emergency orders: to take the Pope not to Holy Spirit Hospital, one of the largest in Rome, which is just around the corner from the Vatican, but to the Gemelli hospital, on the outskirts of the city, a little more than two miles away. Reason: Gemelli, a Catholic hospital supervised by a board of bishops, is reputed to be Rome’s best medical facility, with the most modern equipment and highly skilled doctors.
On the 20-min. drive to Gemelli, John Paul, bleeding profusely, softly murmured “Madonna, Madonna” in Polish. As the ambulance pulled up to the emergency entrance, an attendant jumped out and shouted to stunned doctors and nurses: “It’s the Pope! It’s the Pope!” John Paul was wheeled swiftly to the intensive care unit, given a blood transfusion and taken to the ninth-floor surgical clinic. As he was being moved into surgery, the Pope, fully conscious, posed to a male nurse the question that recurs with such dreadful frequency amid the mindless violence that grips the world: “Perchè l’hanno fatto [Why did they do it]?” John Paul was not hinting that he had seen more than one would-be assassin but simply wondering at the madness of them all.
The Pope had apparently been hit by two bullets, fired from only a few yards away. One shattered the two joints of the ring finger of his left hand, ricocheted and grazed his right arm. The other blasted into his abdomen, passing completely through his body and ripping up the Pope’s intestines but narrowly missing his pancreas, abdominal aorta and spine. For 5 hr. 25 min., as rumors flew around the world and hospital patients in bathrobes mingled with Italian dignitaries and journalists to exchange shocked speculation, surgeons labored to take out several pieces of the Pope’s intestine and perform a colostomy, which would remove wastes outside his body (see box). Giancarlo Castiglioni, chief of surgery at the hospital, flew back from Milan to join the surgical team halfway through the operation. At length Castiglioni emerged to brief reporters. He was still wearing his green gown; his eyes were red-rimmed with exhaustion. In a barely audible voice, he announced: “The prognosis is reserved [because of the danger of infection], but there is hope that the Pope will recover and stay with us.” He turned aside detailed questions on the ground that they delved into “delicate matters.”
Back in St. Peter’s Square, pandemonium reigned. As the Pope collapsed, two women who had been standing near his car also fell, hit by bullets intended for John Paul. They were rushed to Holy Spirit Hospital. Both were Americans. Rose Hall, 21, originally from Shirley, Mass., and now married to a Protestant missionary posted in Würzburg, West Germany, had her left arm broken by a slug. Ann Odre, 58, a widow from Buffalo and a devout Catholic who had just realized her longtime dream of seeing the Pope, was hit by a bullet that lodged in her abdomen. At week’s end she was in serious condition after a long operation to remove her spleen.
Some people in the crowd had noticed a slender, swarthy young man arguing with a group of pilgrims lining the low wooden barricades along the Popemobile’s lane; he seemed to be telling them that they were blocking him from getting close to the Pontiff. As the Pope’s vehicle drew near the spot, the man suddenly burst through the crowd. A photographer caught the picture that froze the following moment of horror (see opening pages): a gun poking out of the forest of outstretched hands waving at John Paul.
Immediately after the shots, witnesses who were only a few feet away told TIME, the young man edged out of the crowd; his face was tense, and his extended arm still held the gun. He almost backed into a first-aid trailer parked near the scene, then turned around and ran toward the columns and the streets of Rome. But he was spotted almost immediately and chased by Vatican plainclothes security guards and numerous members of the crowd.
The gunman darted behind an ambulance (not the one to be used by John Paul) parked near the columns. When he reappeared he was held in a tight headlock by a tall, blond plainclothesman and surrounded by five or six others who hustled him through the throng. Had he not been seized by the plainclothesmen, he would surely have been trapped and held by the shocked and outraged crowd. Said one bystander who gave chase: “We would not have left even the buttons on his coat.”
The captured man was taken first to the Commissariato Borgo, the Vatican police headquarters. But the Vatican has only religious courts; under the terms of the 1929 agreement with Italy that recognized Vatican City as an independent state, crimes committed on its 109-acre territory are prosecuted by the Italian government. The gunman was quickly bundled into an armored car and driven to central police headquarters in downtown Rome.
During twelve hours of almost uninterrupted interrogation conducted at a small table in a bare-walled chamber, the gunman’s identity emerged. He was Mehmet Ali Agca, a 23-year-old Turk, a convicted murderer and a jailbreaker. In the words of Alfredo Lazzarini, head of the Rome police antiterrorist squad, Agca was also “a terrorist with a capital T.” He was considered so dangerous that Turkish police had been given orders to shoot him on sight.
Agca had shot and killed the editor of a liberal newspaper in early 1979 in Istanbul. Sentenced to death, he escaped from a maximum-security prison, leaving behind a note threatening to kill John Paul II (“the masked leader of the Crusades”*), who was about to visit Turkey. Lazzarini described him as “cold, lucid” under interrogation, but his motives were a muddle: he called himself a “pro-Palestinian Communist comrade,” but he had belonged to a neofascist organization in Turkey nicknamed the “Gray Wolves.” Police found a note in Turkish in his pocket saying: “I am killing the Pope as a protest against the imperialism of the Soviet Union and the United States and against the genocide that is being carried out in El Salvador and Afghanistan.” The only thing that seemed completely clear about his mind was the intensity of the hate it harbored.
None of that was known to the stunned crowd in St. Peter’s Square. Those near the scene of the shooting traded horrified speculation: the gunman was an Arab, a South American, an agent of the Soviet KGB. Some people on the far side of the square did not even realize what had happened. But then, as the Pope’s ambulance was speeding away, loudspeakers that were to have amplified his talk announced over and over, in Italian, French, English and a variety of other languages (including Chinese): “The Holy Father has been wounded. We will now offer prayers for him, for his speedy recovery.” People dropped to their knees, many weeping. A group of 450 Poles, some wearing the buttons of Solidarity, the independent labor union, sang hymns in their—and John Paul’s—native language.
An hour after the shooting, Monsignor Justin Rigali, who translates John Paul’s words into English at papal audiences, stepped to the microphone to announce: “We have just heard some good news on the radio. The Pope was not wounded in any vital organs, so the gravity seems to have waned.” Only then did the crowd begin to disperse. By nightfall the lone remaining signs of its presence were gifts left by sorrowing pilgrims on the empty gilt chair from which John Paul would have addressed his flock: flowers, embroidery, a portrait of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa placed there by the Poles.
By then the news had long since burst on the world, which discovered that it is not so inured to such terrorism and violence as it may have thought. True enough, attempted assassinations of public figures have become so commonplace that many draw little attention. Threats and even close calls are routine. In February a grenade exploded in a stadium in Karachi, Pakistan, 20 min. before John Paul entered; the headlines were modest.
But that the Pope should actually be hit and wounded—that still had a unique capacity to stun. The outpouring of anger, outrage and sympathy for the fallen Pontiff was all but universal—far more extensive than it had been for Ronald Reagan six weeks before. Explained Amos Barak, a young Jewish businessman in Jerusalem: “Shooting presidents, that’s politics, that I can understand. But shooting the Pope—it’s like shooting God!”
The reaction of world leaders went far beyond the official statements of condolences that their aides have become so unhappily adept at phrasing. Said Reagan: “I’ll pray for him.” Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev cabled the Pope: “I am profoundly indignant at the criminal attempt on your life.” Dismayed West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt exclaimed: “I feel I’ve been hit in the abdomen myself!”
Outgoing French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who escaped a terrorist bomb in Corsica last month, sent a wire to the Vatican expressing “profound emotion,” and he obviously did not exaggerate his feelings. An associate who was conferring with Giscard when the news came reported that the French President, who is noted for his icy reserve,’ experienced “an enormous shock.” Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi told reporters: “I am too shocked for words. What more can I say?”
Throughout the world, Catholics flocked to churches to pray at special services for the Pope. At one such ceremony, in London’s Westminster Cathedral, Basil Cardinal Hume delivered what may have been the most telling tribute to the Pontiff. Said Hume: “He is now at one with the countless victims of violence of our day. He, like them, has now followed in the footsteps of a Master who was himself so cruelly and callously tortured and killed. He, like his Master, refuses to condemn, is ready to forgive.”
The grief was perhaps greatest in Poland. John Paul has been an inspirational force to his overwhelmingly Catholic fellow countrymen, who are struggling to liberalize their nation’s Communist system without plunging it into anarchy. Acutely aware of the Pope’s influence, Party Boss Stanislaw Kania, President Henryk Jablonski and Premier Wojciech Jaruzelski joined in a telegram wishing him a speedy recovery “so indispensable to fulfilling your mission in the service of the humanistic ideals of peace and the welfare of mankind.”
Ordinary Poles poured out their feelings: postal authorities reported that half of all the telegrams dispatched in Poland Wednesday night were get-well messages to the Pope. Those who crowded into St. John’s Cathedral in Warsaw for special services were startled to hear a tape-recorded message from their country’s primate, Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, 79, who is said to be dying of cancer. In a strained voice he declared: “I am afflicted by various ailments, but they are nothing compared with the sufferings inflicted on the head of the church.”
John Paul’s travels have made him a familiar personality in every corner of the world, a beloved figure to many humble people who have seen no other celebrated name in the flesh. In Mexico, which the Pope visited in early 1979 on the first foreign tour of his pontificate, Ingracia Lopez, 78, who had sat in the front row at one of the Pontiffs Masses, mourned: “He has such a great affinity for all Mexicans, such charisma, such heart. This shooting is an act of insolence.” Brazilians, whom the Pope visited for twelve days last summer, referred to him in prayers as “John of God.” In one dreary shanty town, where John Paul left his gold Cardinal’s ring as a donation to the local church, a parishioner called him simply “the best man on earth.”
By week’s end the pall of shock and fear had begun to lift slightly. The Pope improved enough the day after the shooting to take Communion at a Mass said in his room by Monsignor Dziwisz, receive brief visits from some Vatican prelates and speak to his doctors. Carlo Cardinal Confalonieri, the Dean of the College of Cardinals and one of John Paul’s visitors, reported that the Pope has “no resentment in him, but complete forgiveness toward” his would-be killer. Francesco Crucitti, a surgeon at the Gemelli hospital, said he had asked the Pontiff whether his pain had diminished. John Paul had replied: “I am hoping.”
Other doctors described the Pope as “a little depressed” and running a slight fever. On Friday he began moving his arms and legs in physical therapy exercises and felt more cheerful. But because of the danger of infection following any such grave abdominal wound, the next few days will be critical. The most John Paul’s doctors would permit themselves to say was that “nothing has gone wrong so far.”
Meanwhile, police were trying to determine whether Agca had any accomplices, despite his insistence that he had acted alone. The gunman was formally charged with attempted murder of the Pope and of the two women who were wounded in the attack. If convicted, Agca could be sentenced to life imprisonment. He apparently will not be extradited to Turkey: an international treaty that has been signed by both countries exempts criminals from extradition to a country where they would face a more severe penalty (in this case, the penalty would be death) than in the nation where they are captured.
The world was left searching for new ways to express shock, grief, horror, apprehension. By now the words have all been said—again, and again, and again. But they acquired new poignancy last week. Of the millions of expressions of sorrow, none exceeded in directness and simplicity the cry of a sobbing woman in Madrid: “The world has gone mad!” (By George J. Church. Reported by Roland Flamini and Barry Kalb/Rome TIME)
A Gift for Wordy Drama and Symbol
John Paul has placed his firm mark on the papacy
“I appeal to you, in language of passionate pleading. On my knees I beg you to turn away from the paths of violence and to return to the ways of peace. You may claim to seek justice. I too believe in justice and seek justice. But violence only delays the day of justice. Violence destroys the work of justice.”
He spoke on a blustery October day to an Irish throng within earshot of the border of Northern Ireland, where Roman Catholics and Protestants are engaged in tribal bloodshed. Now John Paul II, apostle of peace and justice, is himself a victim of terrorism. The killing continues in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. But if his words often go unheeded, the explosion of grief and affection as the Pope lay in a Rome hospital showed the extraordinary impact he has made, not just upon 700 million Catholics but on the world.
No prior Pope, not even John XXIII, has touched so many people of all creeds. Indeed, during an era that knows great political leaders only in memory —Churchill, Gandhi, Mao, Roosevelt —he is the premier personality on the international stage. Like those more conventional statesmen, he has a gift for word, drama and symbol, and an indefinable charisma. Unlike them, he has been a traveling celebrity seen in person by millions, his impact multiplied many times over, like loaves and fishes, through television and the press.
Though he is only 31 months into his reign, John Paul is clearly on the way to making his mark in history. In an age of doubt and relativism he has compellingly set forth a philosophy of individual man as a sacred, significant and hopeful creation of God, and advocated human rights and economic justice for the poor. As a priestly catalyst he has changed the internal politics of his homeland, Communist Poland. Within the Roman Catholic Church he has striven dramatically to end the era of flux, confusion and experimentation that followed the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65. He is also ebulliently engaged in transforming the image, and even the function, of the venerable office that he holds. At 61 this week, he is still young for a reigning Pope. He has the physique of a former quarryman, chemical factory hand and outdoorsman. If his strength carries him through this crisis, he is likely to use that vigor once again as a traveling evangelist on behalf of the joy of the Christian life.
Says Boston College President J. Donald Monan: “He has come to personify the most appealing values of Christianity. Its compassion, its understanding, its courage.” In Rio, which the Pope visited in 1980, a resident spoke last week with corrupted theology but purity of spirit: “Everything improved here after his visit. He was a father to the people, a real god.” But to liberated priests and nuns, to lay Catholics vexed over divorce and birth control, to political autocrats and to affluent, secularized Westerners, he has also been a bearer of razor-edged messages.
From the tropical jungles of Zaire to the snowscapes of Anchorage, the Pope has shown an ability to make people applaud, laugh, cry and sing. Shedding the reserve of his predecessors, he has hummed along on the folk tunes, or joshed the crowds who would not let him go. In Cracow, Poland, as former parishioners serenaded him over and over by singing the traditional Sto Lot (100 Years) late into the night, a grinning John Paul said, “Do you really want your Pope to live 100 years? Then let me get some sleep!”
Typically the Pope journeyed to places where his people face special danger or opportunities. In Latin America, it was the temptations of Marxism and revolution. The “guerrilla Jesus” is an illusion, he declared. In the United States, it was democracy, but with a materialistic culture and a church that strays from papal teachings. In Africa, the danger lay in the mixture of ancient tribal ways with Christianity, the hope in the fastest growing church anywhere. In Poland, Communist control. Some destinations symbolized the horrors that mankind visits upon itself: Hiroshima and Auschwitz.
From his first encyclical through his 1979 United Nations speech and dozens of other utterances, John Paul has laid out a consistent social philosophy. Though it has often been called “contradictory,” its fundamental concept is the intrinsic and unique value of individual human life that derives its status from creation by God and redemption offered through Jesus Christ. “Man is not simply an instrument of production,” he declared. “Man has social and familial obligations and he has a destiny beyond the grave.”
At home in the Vatican, as the Roman Catholic Church’s chief executive, John Paul has practiced what one prelate calls “vertical collegiality.” To curb the church in The Netherlands for having followed practices forbidden in Rome, he summoned the Dutch bishops to the Vatican for an extraordinary synod and reproved them. Paul VI feared having the regular synod of bishops discuss the church’s unpopular policy on birth control. Last fall John Paul brought the issue before the bishops and came away with an uncompromising doctrine strengthened by international endorsement.
John Paul is fully committed to the popularizing reforms of Vatican II, including Masses said in vernacular languages and the need for ecumenical advance. But he is disinclined to move one inch beyond them. He even wants nuns in distinctive garb and priests in collars again. This puts him in direct conflict with large numbers of priests and nuns, mostly in Western Europe and the U.S., who want the church to accept women priests, object to celibacy of the clergy, and demand the broadest possible freedom of opinion among theologians. Millions of everyday Catholics are anguished over the very hard line he has taken on birth control and divorce.
With John Paul lying in pain last week, criticism was muted. But before, it has often been forceful. There was talk of the return to an “imperial papacy,” of “reaction” and references to “heresy hunts.” But liberals within the church are divided, because they both need and very much admire John Paul as a strong advocate for the poor and oppressed.
In a celebrated 1979 broadside, the Pope’s most celebrated critic, Theologian Hans Kung, questioned whether John Paul’s human rights preachments could be “honest” as long as the Pope refused liberalization within the church. Two months later, the Vatican and Germany’s bishops declared Kung no longer fit to teach theology on a Catholic faculty. That was only the harshest of several actions John Paul’s Vatican has taken to rein in dissident theologians. Chicago Psychologist (and former priest) Eugene Kennedy sums up the strategy: “He is clearly positioning the church for the next century, where its source of strength will be in Africa. He may have sacrificed the Western intellectuals in the church, but in the long run they may turn out to be unimportant.”
What will John Paul’s lasting influence be? He hopes to create a strong, unified, revitalized, conservative church, and that would be a remarkable achievement. But it is by no means clear that even a personality as powerful as John Paul’s can work such a miracle. Last year he joined in launching formal merger talks with the Eastern Orthodox Church—for the first time since 1054. Consultations continue with Anglicans and Protestants. But the Pope’s own emphasis on papal power may prove the ultimate stumbling block. Harvard Theologian George H. Williams, a Protestant expert on the Pope’s thinking, believes that John Paul is trying to prevent reforms that he endorses “from destroying the organizational and spiritual and moral unity of the Catholic Church. Ecumenism will emerge later, after he has consolidated the church.”
If the Pope’s wounds should force him to cut back on future travel, a good deal of his effectiveness may be lost. He is maneuvering for some kind of accommodation with Peking and with China’s independent Catholics. There is talk of a papal intervention in the Palestinian problem. John Paul has a deep sense of the shifting currents and challenges of history. He speaks and thinks often of carrying the church to the year 2000.
There will doubtless be dramatic acts and gestures ahead, but the grand lines of his reign have been set. That is a pleasing prospect to a conservative like Lay Historian James Hitchcock of St. Louis University. “We may be emerging from the spiritual and intellectual crisis that has afflicted the Western world,” he believes. “There is a yearning for spirituality, and the Pope with his strong personality will have a great impact. I expect him to be a great Pope. And I expect him to be Pope for a long time.” — (By Richard N. OsHing. Reported by Wilton Wynn/Rome TIME)
A Violent Pilgrim’s Progress
Did he act alone, or as the agent of unknown others?
“I have killed the Pope.” So proclaimed a triumphant message that Rome police found in a cheap hotel room rented by Mehmet Ali Agca. The statement was overconfident, but little else could be said with such certainty about the shadowy figure charged with shooting John Paul II. Despite intense interrogation, Italian police at week’s end were a long way from answers to the key questions about the accused gunman. Was Agca a solitary fanatic or did he have organizational assistance? The police announced that Agca had insisted that he acted “alone, all alone,” but the indictment against him spoke darkly of “complicity with unknown individuals.”
Agca first told one story, then another. After his arrest, he said that he had been trained by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (P.F.L.P.), the hard-line Marxist faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization led by George Habash. In Lebanon, a spokesman for Habash told TIME: “We know nothing about this man. We have never heard of him before. He has no connection with us.” Indeed, at week’s end Agca was saying that he trained in 1980 in Syria.
A Marxist connection would be a strange one for Agca, who won a place on Interpol’s wanted list as a right-wing terrorist convicted of a political murder in his own country. Agca’s rage seems to have been fired by poverty. Born in the township of Malatya Hekinhan, 300 miles east of Ankara, he lost his father, a miner, when he was barely eight. “From then on,” recalled his grieving mother last week, “I could not control him.” When young Agca became ill, the family could not afford a doctor. The unidentified disease, his mother believes, made him nervous and aggressive.
Later he left home, to study first literature at the University of Ankara, then economics at Istanbul University. There he became a devotee of terrorist politics. On June 25, 1979, when police swept into an Istanbul café notorious as a hangout for right-wing extremists, Agca was among those rounded up. He admitted to a crime that had gone unsolved for months: the assassination the previous February of Abdi Ipekci, editor of Istanbul’s respected left-of-center daily Milliyet. He had done it, Agca said, in league with Turkey’s now outlawed neofascist National Action Party. But Agca later insisted that he had acted on his own.
Agca went on trial in October 1979. On the night of Nov. 23, while the case was still being heard, he was secretly whisked out of his cell in an Istanbul maximum-security prison by 14 sympathetic military men—all of whom still await sentencing for assisting the getaway. Three days after the escape, Milliyet received a letter from Agca demanding the cancellation of an imminent visit to Turkey by Pope John Paul II. “The Russian imperialists,” the letter reasoned weirdly, “fear that Turkey will organize a new power in the Middle East along with brotherly Islamic countries.” They were therefore sending “a spiritual leader and commander of crusades, John Paul II.” Warned Agca: “I will shoot the Pope if his untimely visit is not canceled.” Killing the Pope, the letter added, would even the score for the 1979 attack by Islamic radicals on the Grand Mosque in Mecca, which, Agca charged, was “carried out by the United States and Israel.”
The Pope, under heavy guard, visited Turkey without incident. Agca, according to Turkish security officials, soon found another target. He sought out and murdered the young man who had fingered him for the Ipekci killing. In February 1980 he fled Turkey via Iran, and apparently surfaced next in West Germany.
When Turkey claimed last week that West German authorities had failed to cooperate in pursuing Agca, Bonn at first insisted it had no proof that he had ever been in the country. But the next day, the Germans uncovered fearful evidence that Agca may have been lethally present. Agca’s picture in West German papers, police say, bore a startling resemblance to composite sketches of an unknown killer in two murders of Turks in West Germany: the stabbing death of a journalist in Reutlingen near the Black Forest and the shooting of a grocer in the Bavarian town of Kempten. A witness to that shooting said last week the murderer had asked the victim, “Do you know Agca?” and killed him before he could answer.
There are some 1.5 million Turks in West Germany, Gastarbeiter (guest workers) and their families. Their close-knit ghettos near industrial centers would have given Agca plenty of cover, as they have for other extremists in exile. A contact with the P.F.L.P. would have been possible in such a ghetto. West German authorities say that militant Turkish right-wingers there have sent followers to Lebanon for training by the P.F.L.P. Turkish officials believe that members of Agca’s own National Action Party were trained in Palestinian camps in Lebanon.
There is no solid evidence that Agca made such a journey, but he made a number of others on the way to his appointment in St. Peter’s Square last week. He traveled to Rome at least three times before his most recent arrival and on one rail trip evidently brought in the Browning 9-mm used to shoot the Pope.
In early April, Agca was reported to be near Milan’s cathedral by a woman who alerted the Turkish consulate; by the time police arrived he was gone. A few days later, he enrolled, under a false passport and the name Faruk Ozgun, at the University for Foreigners in Perugia. He attended language classes for only one day. Then, as if on a last fling, he was off on a two-week package tour to Palma de Mallorca; his tour operator remembered that he dutifully took all the sightseeing excursions.
On Sunday, May 10, Agca returned to Rome, checking in at the Pensione Isa, a colorless boardinghouse that is about a 15-min. walk from St. Peter’s Square. It was there that police searched Room 31 and found Agca’s Perugian student card, his false passport, an extra cartridge clip for the Browning and the letter in Turkish boasting of the Pope’s death. In the familiar tones of 1979, it denounced “Russian and American imperialism” and made John Paul the scapegoat for both.
Agca had substantial cash in his pockets when arrested: $380 in Italian lire and another $50 in Swiss francs, and his travels had not been cheap. Who was supporting him—or might he have supported himself, as other terrorists have, with robberies? If his assassination attempt was ideological, what had Turkey’s rightists, or for that matter Habash’s P.F.L.P., to gain from the death of a Pope?
Somewhere in the tangled skein of Mehmet Ali Agca’s life lay answers. As his story unravels in the weeks to come, the best news, after all, might be that he did indeed act alone. — (By Mayo Mohs. Reported by Roland Flamini and Wilton Wynn/Rome TIME)
Security in an Age of Fear
No sure way to protect public figures or private citizens
Despite their Renaissance garb, the Vatican’s famous Swiss Guards are not entirely decorative. They carry halberds, but submachine guns are never far away. At the bronze door of St. Peter’s they are stashed in a brass umbrella stand, unnoticed by tourists who click away at the guards’ fanciful uniforms. Vatican security is, in fact, a mixture of modern and medieval. Plainclothes Swiss Guards and men from the papal gendarmes hustle alongside the Pope’s car when he appears for audiences, just as the Secret Service does for the President of the U.S. But the agents do not turn completely away from the Pontiff to scan directly for possible assailants: Paul VI ruled that it was disrespectful for the guards to turn their backs on the Pope.
Outside the Vatican, Pope John Paul II is largely dependent on local police for his personal safety. Traveling in Italy, he rates a six-man motorcycle escort, busloads of carabinieri and plainclothes police in the crowd. In his 1979 visit to New York City, he was protected by thousands of policemen. In Japan last year police carried special steel racquets to bat away thrown objects—a quaint reminder of the success of the country’s ultrastrict gun laws.
The Pope’s shooting brought one predictable result: security forces around the world began studying the case for lessons. “We are now analyzing the attempt on the Pope,” says Günter Ermisch, a top security expert for West Germany. After the attack on President Reagan, Canadian authorities doubled the guard around Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau; they now clear the doorways of Parliament for five minutes before he arrives or leaves. The Secret Service refuses to say what new procedures it has adopted to protect President Reagan, but security is clearly heavier than it used to be.
Last week terrorists of the Provisional wing of the Irish Republican Army set off a bomb at a British Petroleum complex while the Queen was near by, reminding Britain that both its oil terminals and its royalty are highly vulnerable. Since the shooting of the Pope, the London press has complained about poor security for the Queen. One sign of the times: both Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher appear heavier in recent photographs, and it is assumed that they sometimes wear bulletproof vests.
Fear of assassination may cut down foreign travel by politicians. Fifty African heads of state are due in Nairobi next month for a summit meeting, but according to one diplomat, “Kenya will be lucky if it gets even a third of the total.” Australia, which has already committed $14 million for massive security at October’s Commonwealth Conference in Melbourne, ordered a fresh review of plans after John Paul’s shooting.
Ottawa is borrowing soldiers, customs officials and narcotics investigators to beef up security for July’s Western economic summit. At least 2,500 security agents will be swarming around the conference, including some hiding in the brush by the river and some disguised as fishermen in canoes.
It is not only Popes, Presidents and Prime Ministers who feel threatened. Since John Lennon’s murder, entertainers have an increased sense of vulnerability. Businessmen worry about kidnapings—of their families if not themselves. The result is a boom time for firms that discreetly offer protection at a price. These security firms offer little information on who their clients are and how they protect them. Some means are obvious: guard dogs, electronic sensors and scanners, highly trained chauffeurs driving armor-plated limousines.
“We’re selling a lot more bulletproof vests than we did a year ago,” says a spokesman for CCS Communication Control, Inc. “And these are going to regular businessmen, not someone who is a bodyguard or in law enforcement.” In 1978 the company turned a new Cadillac into a James Bond car for the Shah of Iran, adding a bomb sniffer, ducts that sprayed tear gas, machine-gun mounts and enough armor plate to withstand a grenade or a land mine. After he lost the Peacock Throne, the Shah refused title to the car, forfeiting a $50,000 deposit.
Tom O’Gara, of California’s O’Gara Coach Co., is a distributor of armored cars to 18 foreign governments and has done business with the wealthy in some 35 other countries. He says that his clients today are less enamored of armor and gadgets and more aware of the need for professional security men. “Hiring trained people will make a 300% increase in security,” says O’Gara. “An armored car is a small part of the total security package.”
Munich Psychologist Georg Sieber, a well-known security consultant in Europe, is not much impressed by gadgetry or bodyguards. Among his tips for worried businessmen: “planned irregularity” should be the byword; avoid golf and activities that attract big gatherings, like horse races; carry a small transmitter for SOS messages in emergencies. In the U.S. the most basic advice that security firms give to potential targets in industry is to keep a low profile: do not talk to the press or become a public figure, get out of the phone book, no names on company parking spots and no logos on company cars and planes. Tony Purbrick, who heads Pinkerton’s executive and personnel protection program, was aghast to find that one client corporation routinely left its well-marked jet on an unguarded ramp and flight plans were widely circulated. “The first thing I had to do,” he says, “was to get people to be just a little more secretive.”
At some personal cost in convenience, private citizens can change their life-styles to acquire greater security. The problem is considerably different for public figures, except in such well-disciplined police states as China or the Soviet Union, where leaders appear in public only on state occasions. No elected President or Prime Minister could behave that aloofly and expect to win a second term. The courageous and the fatalistic among leaders will always take risks, but in certain small ways these can be minimized. New lightweight bulletproof vests should be worn. Open-car travel must stop. The public should be kept well back from entrances and exits —most recent assassination attempts have been from pointblank range. “There is no way you can provide complete protection,” says one American security expert. “But you can give a subject protection from 15 feet away. The farther away you keep an assailant, the harder it becomes for him.” — (By John Leo. Reported by Robert L. Goldstein/Los Angeles and Wanda Menke-Glückert/Bonn,with other bureaus TIME)
* The woman was right. Police recovered a Belgian-made Browning 9-mm semiautomatic pistol, similar to a 38-cal. gun, flung away by the would-be killer after the shooting. *A strange charge to hurl at the present Pope, though the historical memory of the Crusades still rankles among some Muslims. They were military expeditions from Christian Europe aimed at reconquering the Palestinian shrines of Jesus’ life from their Islamic occupiers. The First Crusade was inspired by Pope Urban II in 1095, and his successors encouraged several more. But the eighth and last Crusade ended in 1270, more than 700 years before John Paul II assumed the papacy.