Pope john paul i

The Catholic church is moving forward on the sainthood of Pope John Paul I, who died after just 33 days as pope. Requirements of sainthood include a miracle, which is said to be that the late pope healed an 11-year-old girl.

But as the Washington Post explained, John Paul I is more known for his death than for anything else.

The reports first said that he was discovered by a priest who also served as his personal secretary. He had died of a heart attack. After the fact, however, the Vatican disclosed that the person who found him wasn't his personal assistant but someone else.

"Over the years, a small number of people have plunged into the case, each taking drastically different approaches — and only some hewing to the facts," the report explained. "John Paul I’s legacy has come to be defined not only by mystery and conspiracy, but by competing attempts to set the record straight."

He was described as a simple man, who wanted nothing more than to just be a country priest. He made it clear that he never imagined or even wanted to be the pope.

Then British crime writer David Yallop published a book exploring the case, diving into some of the questions from the public like why there had been no autopsy and why the Vatican was confused about who found him. The book concluded that "Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, a burly American who headed the Vatican Bank," had been seen inside the Vatican at an early hour. It was a time when the church was dealing with a financial scandal involving a masonic lodge and an Italian banker.

“Marcinkus had the motive and the opportunity,” Yallop wrote.

Three years later, Archbishop John Foley, spoke with British reporter and author John Cornwell. The misreporting from the Vatican about who found him was, in part, due to their own embarrassment. It turns out a nun, a woman, found the new pope.

Cornwell had his own conspiracy theory.

"According to the narrative Cornwell developed, John Paul I’s brief pontificate had been careening toward disaster — and many in the Vatican could see it," described the Post. "The Curia mocked the new pope as unsophisticated, childish, with a 'Reader’s Digest-mentality.' And he was breaking under the pressure of his role. Leaning heavily on interviews with John Paul I’s priest-secretaries, Cornwell described the pope as asking daily, 'Why did they choose me?' John Paul I believed his selection had been a grave mistake."

One of John Paul I secretaries, John Magee, told Cornwell about a day the pope let a clutch of documents slip while walking on a roof-deck garden. They flew all over the rooftops below. Magee said that it was taken care of, but that John Paul I was "curled up in a fetal position on his bed" during the page collection.

But whatever conspiracy theories spread, the pope had serious health issues and was even complaining of chest pain the night before the heart attack. He "waved off his staff from calling a doctor." Cornwell saw this as a death wish, instead of someone assuming they just had indigestion.

Stefania Falasca has been researching the story with access to "a trove of never-before-seen documents," the Post reported. She snubbed the previous tales as "noir literature" or, as the Post characterized, tabloid trash.

“This is the longest-running fake news of the 20th century,” said Falasca.

Years later, most of those who worked with John Paul I are gone. Those who knew him in his hometown believed that his talk of death was just about his fears of mortality, where the average age of death in the town was 60. At the same time, so much of the Christian narrative is dependent on what happens after death, the death of Christ, and the deaths of the Apostles.

But that doesn't make the story a salacious one, as Cornwell so aptly put it.

“Let’s face it,” he said. “It’s a much better story to say that he was murdered.”

Read the full story from the Washington Post.