Pope John Paul I / Albino Luciani

Pope John Paul I / Albino Luciani
Pope John Paul I / Albino Luciani. Wikimedia_Commons

John Paul I, the first Pope to bear two names, died 34 days after his election making his the shortest pontificate since Leo XI's in the April of 1605. John Paul was different to his immediate predecessors, having never held a major position in the Vatican's internal government or diplomatic core and, despite being prominent within Italy, having been largely anonymous in the wider world. However, the electoral conclave was looking for a different - perhaps fresher - individual, and Luciani was chosen after three rounds of voting, a very positive endorsement.

Born: 17th October 1912 in Forno di Canale (now Canale d'Agordo), Italy
Died: 28th September 1978, Rome
Pope: 26th August - 28th September 1978

Early Career

Albino Luciani came from a poor family and, having first completed his military service, he was ordained on July 7th, 1935. He studied at Rome's Gregorian University before a brief period as curate in his childhood parish, after which he was appointed to a deputy position at Belluno seminary in 1937. Years of teaching followed, during which time Luciani became vicar-general to the Bishop at Belluno; he also worked at a doctrinal conference.

Towards the end of 1958 Pope John XXIII appointed Luciani as bishop of Vittorio Veneto, and after a slow start at the Vatican Council of 1962 - 65 he soon became an active voice in doctrinal matters. The largely pastoral and personal nature of Luciani's office led to local demands for his promotion, and the future Pope became archbishop of Venice in 1969, and a cardinal in 1973; his presence on a range of councils and commissions followed.

At some stage during his life Luciani experienced a shift in political thought, having initially held his parent's socialist beliefs - or, at least, a sympathy for them - but later criticising what was, by then, communism. Even so, Luciani rejected many of Catholicism's more opulent aspects and encouraged richer churches to give to poorer ones.


After Luciani's election, the mood appears to have been one of widespread optimism and John Paul established himself by taking the names of his two predecessors - John XXIII and Paul VI - to represent a combination of their qualities: one progressive, the other traditional. He was also paying thanks to them for making him a bishop and a cardinal; he was the first pope to use ‘I’ after his name. Eschewing the normally lavish coronation he preferred an event grounded in humility. John Paul quickly captured the media's support with an unplanned press conference, and his warm smile and demeanour fired up the enthusiasm of much of the Catholic world; he became known as the Smiling Pope who wanted to humanise an often distant papacy and who spoke far more informally than his predecessors. However, this hopeful mood ended with his sudden death, of a heart attack, thirty three days later; there had been no time to implement any policies. He was succeeded by John Paul II. The Pope had been found sitting up in bed, some church papers still in his hands.

His views on subjects like abortion and homosexuality were not very different to previous Popes, but his position on birth control and other statements have caused commentators difficulties when deciding if he was a (relatively) liberal pope, a centrist or even still a conservative.

What he wasn’t was the weak character often ascribed to him, because once he had made a decision he was firm, and was not worried about the scale of the task facing him; indeed, he seemed to react well to it.

Posthumous Controversy: The ‘Murder’ of Pope John Paul?

John Paul had intended to reform his church, to make changes that would upset high ranking people (including continuing a history of exposing corruption), and this has coupled with his sudden death and the actions of those nearby in the hours after (which broke protocol for no obvious reason) to trigger a conspiracy theory that he was murdered, to save jobs, individuals, and frauds which escalate in the retelling. There is no legitimate evidence for a murder, but enough oddities to provide plenty of fuel.

Followed by Pope John Paul II / List of Popes / Vatican Official Website