THE REMAINS OF the late Pope John Paul II is to be moved to a chapel at the entrance of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, ahead of his beatification on May 1 – the final step before canonisation, after which the late Pole will become a saint.
Because the Vatican is relatively short on space, another set of remains is being removed to make space – with Pope Innocent XI, who reigned from 1676 to 1689, being moved elsewhere.
But the Vatican has been dragged into a scholastic row over the transfers – after scholars hypothesised that Innocent was being moved as a posthumous punishment for ‘betraying’ the Catholic faith.
Though Innocent XI – a native Italian, born Benedetto Odescalchi in 1611 – was previously seen as a hero of the faith, having repelled the advance of the Muslim Ottoman Empire during his reign.
But in 2002, his reputation was cast in an entirely different light when a 2002 book revealed that the Odescalchi family had financed the campaigns of William of Orange – who, at the Battle of the Boyne, defeated his father-in-law James II and forever removed Catholicism from the British throne.
The Vatican denied that the move was politically motivated, however, with a spokesman telling the Times that its moves should not be interpreted as showing preference to one former pontiff over another.
“In seeking a place for the body of John Paul II we thought that the Chapel of Saint Sebastian [which lies at the entrance to St Peter's] is closer to the entrance for the many pilgrims who are likely to come,” the spokesman said.
There was no official comment from the Vatican, however, about why Innocent’s body was the one being asked to make way.
Innocent has been moved to a far less high-profile spot deep inside St Peter’s, and the Vatican says that the move is traditional and not unusual for a beatified pope.
Innocent was beatified himself in 1956 – despite longstanding complaints from France, which had opposed it because of the frosty relations Innocent had enjoyed with Louis XIV.