Soviet Union behind John Paul shooting: papal aide

ROME Mon Jan 22, 2007 8:47am EST

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ROME (Reuters) - The late Pope John Paul's closest aide is convinced the former Soviet Union was behind the assassination attempt on the pontiff in 1981 because he was a threat to its power, according to the aide's memoirs.

Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Pope's private secretary for nearly four decades, writes of his life with the former Cardinal Karol Wojtyla in a book called "A Life with Karol" to be released by Italy's Rizzoli publishers on Wednesday.

Dziwisz, now the archbishop of Krakow in the late pope's native Poland, also describes how the Pope spent nearly all of September 11, 2001 praying in his private chapel or watching live television reports of that day's attacks.

In one chapter of the book, due out in Poland next week, Dziwisz recalls May 13, 1981, the day Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca shot the Pope while his open jeep was being driven through St Peter's Square at the start of his weekly general audience.

"Agca was a perfect killer," writes Dziwisz, who was riding in the jeep with the Pope at the time. "He was sent by those who thought the pope was dangerous, inconvenient, by those who feared him ..."

Moscow has repeatedly denied any involvement in the assassination attempt.

At the time of the shooting, events in the Pope's Polish homeland were starting a domino effect which was eventually to lead to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989.

The Pope was a staunch supporter of Poland's Solidarity union and most historians agree he played a vital role in events that eventually led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

KREMLIN HATED POPE

"How could one not have thought of the communist world (being behind the plot) ... you have to take into consideration all the elements of that scenario: the election of a pope hated by the Kremlin, his first trip back to his homeland (as Pope in 1979), the explosion of the Solidarity union (in 1980)," Dziwisz writes.

"Doesn't everything lead in that direction? Don't the paths, even if they are different, lead to the KGB?"

Last year, a report by an Italian parliamentary investigative commission said the leaders of the former Soviet Union were behind the plot and that Agca, a Turk now serving life in prison in his native country, did not act alone.

Dziwisz also describes how doctors who operated on him were convinced he would die under the knife.

In the book, Dziwisz also writes about how the Pope spent a day of personal turmoil when terrorists launched their attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.

"The Holy Father was at Castelgangolfo (his suer residence). The phone rang. We heard the shocked voice of (Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo) Sodano. We turned on the TV and watched that dramatic footage, the collapse of the two towers with so many poor victims trapped inside," he wrote.

"He spent the rest of the afternoon between his chapel and the television, dragging all his suffering behind him."

Dziwisz also write about John Paul's failed attempt to stop the war in Iraq by sending envoys to President Bush and the late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

In a chapter called "The Last Hours", he recalls John Paul's final moments of life on April 2, 2005, at the end of a 10-year battle with Parkinson's Disease.

"It was 9:27 p.m. We noticed that the Holy Father stopped breathing ... some people stopped the hands of their watches at that hour."

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