The Vatican’s ambassador to the UK has denied visiting the final holding place of the murdered former Italian prime minister, Aldo Moro, to hear his last confession in May 1978. Moro’s bullet-riddled body was found in the boot of a red Renault 4 in Rome’s Via Michelangelo Caetani on 9 May, 55 days after his kidnap by Red Brigades terrorists on 16 March.
The nuncio Antonio Mennini spoke on Monday before a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the Moro case, the latest in a long series. He has spoken at earlier inquiries and some of the five trials in the case. Yesterday he tried to set the record straight on the widely held belief that – when acting as a priest in Moro’s parish – he heard his last confession.
“I could not confess Moro and give him communion during the 55 days of his captivity,” Archbishop Mennini said.
Italian Cardinal Loris Capovilla, 99, several Red Brigades terrorists in prison, and Moro’s secretary all suggested that Moro was visited while he was in captivity by a priest. The Interior Minister at the time, Francesco Cossiga, claimed before his death that Mennini had reached Moro in the Red Brigades’ hideout without the Government’s knowledge.
But on Monday Archbishop Mennini dismissed these claims as “urban legend” denying that he had had ever set foot in the terrorists’ safehouse.
“If I had gone to the hideout I would have tried to do something concrete to free Moro. I would have offered to take his place or tried to reason with the terrorists. Or I would have tried to remember the journey so I could give useful information to the investigators,” Archbishop Mennini said.
The nuncio confirmed he was used twice by the Red Brigades to deliver letters to Moro’s family. And he told the commission that Pope Paul VI, a personal friend of Moro’s, had prepared a ransom to negotiate with terrorists. “I came to know two or three years later that Paul VI asked for 10bn lira (£3.7m) to be made ready because some source had said that Red Brigades might be willing to settle for a ransom,” Archbishop Mennini said on Monday.
The 1978 kidnap of Moro by left-wing terrorists the Red Brigades is one of Italy’s most enduring mysteries and has given birth to dozens of conspiracy theories. Moro had agreed to form a ground-breaking governing coalition between the Christian Democrats and the Italian Communist Party, and was kidnapped on the day the deal was to be ratified in parliament. Opposition to these arrangements was widespread, not only within the Italian political establishment, but – when Cold War rivalries were at their height – in both Washington and Moscow.
After Moro’s murder Mennini was quickly given a diplomatic position and posted abroad which allowed him to avoid questioning by the Italian Government.
As a serving ambassador to Britain, Mennini is entitled to diplomatic immunity but Pope Francis apparently gave permission for the new investigating commission to hear him.