Much still remains a mystery about the assassination attempt of former Pope John Paul II in 1981, but one journalist is still searching for answers.
“Did someone from Soviet services contact you so that you would kill Pope John Paul II?” Gian Franco Svidercoschi asked Mehmet Ali Agca in a new open letter.
The letter from the 84-year-old deputy editor-in-chief of Vatican journal L’Osservatore Romano was published by the Italian religious portal Il Sismografo a few days after the 40th anniversary of the May 13, 1981, assassination attempt and on the 101st anniversary of John Paul II’s birth (May 18).
Svidercoschi’s letter starts by reminding of the words which the author heard from the pope a few months prior to his death in 2005. John Paul II had said that in his heart he still bears the burden of “not hearing a single plea for forgiveness from the assassin”.
According to the author, the pope was not necessarily struggling to understand why someone wanted to kill him, but wanted to know why the assassin was unable to or did not want to regret what he did. During the pope’s visit to Agca’s prison in Rome, the assassin had immediately asked John Paul II why he had not died from his gunshot wounds.
Svidercoschi then asks six questions to the assassin, who is currently 63 years old and lives freely after undergoing his prison sentences in Italian and Turkish prisons. The author believes that by answering these questions Agca would display the act of contrition which the Polish pope had been waiting for.
The first question was whether someone had helped Agca escape the maximum-security prison in Turkey in 1979 and whether Soviet special services were behind that escape.
The second question concerned Agca’s public declaration connected with John Paul II’s visit to Turkey in 1979 when Agca publicly threatened to kill the pope. The author asked whether it was correct to assume that the threat was meant to convince the pope to “not care for Poland and other countries subjected to the Soviet Union so openly anymore”.
Svidercoschi also referred to the so-called Bulgarian trail of the assassination which involved the possible participation of Bulgarian communist services. He asked Agca whether the assassin had previously been under the protection of those services.
The fourth question entirely concerned the situation in Poland between 1980 and 1981, the establishment of Solidarity and rising anti-Soviet moods.
“Perhaps Leonid Breznhev thought of invading Poland, but quickly realized that such an act would lead to severe negative repercussions; it would’ve been better to make it so that General Wojciech Jaruzelski would intervene using the Polish army and conduct a self-invasion,” he wrote.
“Yet, while Soviet political leaders began to work on such a solution, special services began to think that the time had come to eliminate the person who gave birth to the revolution,” Svidercoschi added.
He noted that perhaps it was not the Soviet leaders themselves but the deputies of the deputies who “went down that path until someone contacted you (Agca), so that you would kill the pope.”
The author then asked, referring to Agca’s journey to Rome, whether “this reconstruction was true? Who had contacted you? Had they paid you? Did secret services organize your journey or had you done everything yourself?”.
The Italian senior journalist also wanted to know whether Agca had gone to Saint Peter’s Square alone, whether he was convinced that he had killed the pope while he escaped the scene of the shooting, and did he feel remorse for what he had done.
Svidercoschi’s open letter was published soon after Ali Agca had told Italian press agency Ansa on the 40th anniversary of the incident, that “not everything has been explained concerning John Paul II’s assassination attempt. The Mitrokhin Commission in the Italian Parliament had uncovered some truth.”
The Mitrokhin Commission was responsible for investigating the activity of Soviet bloc services in Italy. In its end report, it had unambiguously pointed to the USSR being behind the assassination attempt on John Paul II.
Title image: Pope John Paul II talks with his would-be assassin Mehmet Ali Agca during a private meeting in Agca’s prison cell in Rome, Dec. 27, 1983, AP Images.