May 12

1982 A priest attempts to murder the pope

Pope John Paul II was the most well-travelled pope in history, visiting 129 countries, journeying over a million kilometres and speaking to crowds of millions of the faithful. Sometimes his close proximity to large crowds brought him into peril, despite the armoured pope-mobile in which he often rode. In 1981 a Turkish militant, Mehmet Ali Agca, shot the pope twice with an automatic pistol, wounding him severely. Bullets perforated John Paul’s abdomen and he lost three-quarters of his blood; drastic surgery was undertaken but the pope credited the Virgin Mary with saving his life.

A year later, John Paul was visiting one of the Virgin’s most famous shrines, at Fátima in Portugal, when he was again attacked. This time the weapon was  a bayonet and his attacker was not a fascist in the pay of the Soviet bloc, as it had been in 1981, but a Catholic priest who shouted “Down with the Pope, down with the Second Vatican Council”. Juan Maria Fernández y Krohn was a traditionalist cleric who had been ordained by renegade Cardinal Marcel Lefebvre of the ultra-conservative St Pius X Society. The wound he inflicted was not a serious one and the pope continued his visit.

Krohn believed that the pope was a Communist out to corrupt the Church. His radicalism was demonstrated by the fact that he accused his own mentor Lefebvre of being too moderate and by his actions after being expelled from the priesthood. He moved to Belgium where he became a lawyer, famous for slapping a judge in the face and spreading antisemitic propaganda. He was acquitted of an arson attack on a Basque separatist headquarters and accused Spanish King Juan Carlos of murdering his brother Alfonso.

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