This year is an unusual and disturbing year in Italian history. Two things stand out in particular; the tragic case of Aldo Moro and the investiture of two popes.
At this time the United States and the church continued to have significant political influence. Both were concerned about the potential of communists entering government. Aldo Moro as president of the DC (Democrazia Cristiana) party proposed a cabinet supported by the Italian Communist Party.
On 16th March, the new government of Giulio Andreotti was about due to announce the legislation for the next parliament. Aldo Moro, president of the DC (Democrazia Cristiana) party, expected in cabinet that morning, was collected from his home a little before 9.00 in the morning by his police escort. As usual, Moro sat in the back of one car. A second car followed carrying armed officers. As the cars entered Via Fani, they pass a parked car with two men sat inside. They suspected nothing. Then, at the junction with Via Stresa, a white car with a diplomatic number plate suddenly reversed and hit the car behind which was carrying Moro. Other cars blocked any escape for the politician and four armed terrorists appeared from the side of the street. Many shots were fired, carefully avoiding the rear window next to Moro. All the armed guards were killed. Moro was forced into waiting car and kidnapped.
Just after 10.00 the kidnappers sent a message to Rome, Genova, Milano and Torino “We are the Red Brigades. This morning we kidnapped the president of the DC party, Aldo Moro, and assassinated his escort and special branch officers. A public announcement will follow”
The first communication from the kidnappers with a photo of Aldo Moro, looking dishevelled but otherwise unharmed. Ten days passed and the investigation didn’t seem to be making much progress, when on 25th March a communication was received simultaneously in four cities that Moro would be killed. The Red Brigades had initiated a secret trial where Moro was found guilty and sentenced to death.
Photo taken on Aldo Moro in captivity
It wasn’t until the third communication was received five days later that the kidnappers demands were revealed. They wanted a prisoner exchange. The communication also included three letters written by Moro; the first to his family, the second to his secretary and the third to Francesco Cossiga, the Interior Minister. This letter was published in the newspapers.
From hereon in, every few days there was a communication from the kidnappers, accompanied by letters that Moro had written. These letters included desperate and increasingly bitter appeals to his fellow party members to meet the kidnappers demands.
The government immediately took a hard line position: the “State must not bend” to “terrorist demands”.
In all, Moro wrote 88 letters. Some of those letters were very critical of Andreotti, the prime minister, and the pope. Many were kept secret for more than a decade. In his letters, Moro said that the state’s primary objective should be saving lives, and that the government should comply with his kidnappers’ demands.
From Moro’s last letter to his wife:
“Everything is useless, when they don’t want to open the door.
The pope has done very little, perhaps he doesn’t have any scruples….”
Moro’s body was left in the trunk of a red Renault 4 on Via Michelangelo Caetani after 55 days in captivity. Cardinal Siri, one of the most powerful figures in the Vatican, when he heard of the Aldo Moro’s fate, responded: “He got what he deserved”.
Letter from Aldo Moro whilst he was in captivity
On 6th August, Pope Paul VI died after 15 years as the pontif. On 26th August, Albino Luciani was elected pope. He chose the name John Paul I, becoming the first pope to have a double name.
Albino Luciani was born in Canale d’Agordo in the Veneto region. Many of my relatives talk about him as being “nostro papa” (our pope). He is the last pope of Italian nationality. He was known as a warm, gentle and kind man and this image was immediately formed when he was presented to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square following his election. In Italy he was known as the “Papa del Sorriso” (smiling pope).
However, Pope John Paul I has one of the shortest papacies in the history of the Catholic Church, only 33 days. In fact, Time magazine labelled him “The September Pope”.
The “Smiling Pope”, Pope John Paul I
It was said that around 10:00 on the night of his death, the pope learned that several neo-Fascists had fired upon a group of young people, outside one of the Communist party’s offices in Rome. One young man was killed and another seriously wounded. Shortly before he retired for the night, he lamented that “Even the young are killing each other.” Pope John Paul I died of a heart attack between 11:00 pm 28th September and 5:00 am the next morning in his private apartment.
A few months later various alternative theories started circulating about his death. Discrepancies in the Vatican’s account of the events surrounding John Paul I’s death – its inaccurate statements about who found the body and when, where, and whether an autopsy could be carried out. The most sensational account was a theory by the David Yallop in his best seller “In God’s name”. He speculated that John Paul I had been in potential danger because of the programme of reforms he wished to make to the Vatican Bank and that he had been murdered. The corruption was real and is known to have involved the bank’s head Bishop Paul Marcinkus and Roberto Calvi of the Banco Ambrosiano. Calvi had ties with the mafia and an illegal masonic lodge, P2.
Calvi was found dead in London in 1982 after disappearing just before the corruption became public. His death was initially ruled suicide and a second inquest – ordered by his family – then returned an open verdict. The Vatican Bank lost about a quarter of a billion dollars. The theory has been debunked by various authors. On 16th October, Karol Wojtyle was elected pope. He took the name John Paul II.
 The Moro Case – Rai podcast (in Italian)
 The Moro Case on wikipedia
 My Dear Noretta – Aldo Moro Letter (in Italian)
 Roberto Calvi – The Guardian (in English)
 Debunking four myths about John Paul I (in English)