The body of Pope John Paul II, who was beatified yesterday before 1.5 million faithful in St. Peter's Square in Rome, has been transferred to a new permanent resting place this evening after a rumored burial transfer.
Indeed, exhumation of two papal caskets took place ahead of the fastest beatification on record, coming just six years and one month after John Paul II's death on April 2, 2005.
The transfer of the casket containing the remains of the former pontiff, from the Vatican grotto to the foot of the high altar in St. Peter's Basilica, was necessary for the lavish beatification ceremony to bring John Paul II (1920 –2005) one step closer to sainthood.
However, the exhumation on April 7 of a casket belonging to the beatified Pope Innocent XI (1611-1689), from the prominent chapel of Saint Sebastian to an ordinary spot farther into the basilica, is unprecedented.
Essentially done to make room for John Paul II, the move has raised rumors of a plot within the Vatican to downgrade the somewhat thorny figure of a 17th-century pope in favor of the more popular figure of John Paul II.
The beloved pontiff now rests next to one of St. Peter's most admired attractions, Michelangelo's statue of the Pieta. His tomb is indicated by an inscribed stone that reads "Beatus Joannes Paulus II."
"It has never happened before that the body of a pope has been removed to make way for another pope, especially when both have been beatified," Francesco Sorti, co-author of the historical thriller "Imprimatur," told the Times of London.
The book is based on secret documents that Sorti and co-author Rita Monaldi discovered in both the Vatican Secret Archives and the Italian State Archives.
The documents reveal that the Odescalchis, a rich banking family that Pope Innocent XI belonged to (he was born Benedetto Odescalchi), loaned a huge sum to the Protestant king William of Orange in the 1660s.
William needed the money for his 1688 campaign to overthrow James II, England's last Catholic monarch.
According to the authors, when Odescalchi became pope, he supported the Protestant king in the hope that he would get his money back. In doing so, Innocent XI basically supported the Protestant invasion of England.
Although the Vatican has ignored the claim, Sorti believes that Innocent XI, who was beatified a mere 267 years after his death, fell completely out of favor after the publication of the book in 2002.
This year also marks the 400th birthday of Innocent XI. "He was supposed to be celebrated, not removed," Sorti said.
Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican's spokesman, denied that the Vatican was relegating Innocent XI to a less prominent burial spot.
"We thought that the Chapel of Saint Sebastian would be particularly suitable to Blessed John Paul II, as it is closer to the entrance. Many pilgrims are likely to visit his tomb," he told journalists.
"Starting from tomorrow morning at 7, the faithful will be able to venerate the Blessed John Paul II in his final resting place," Lombardi added.
Photo: Pope Innocent XI's tomb as it stood in the chapel of Saint Sebastian before it was removed to make way for Pope John Paul II. Courtesy Benutzer:Diana/Creative Commons.