Vatican Denies Paul VI Intended to Sell "Pietà"

Antique Dealer´s Letter Cited as Evidence

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 1, 2002 ( The Vatican today denied a news report that Pope Paul VI had intended to sell Michelangelo´s «Pietà» and donate the proceeds to the poor.

A press statement published by Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls said, «The news was unfounded.»

«What is more, it was precisely Pope Paul VI who, following the exhibition of the Pietà in the United States, gave strict instructions that Michelangelo´s marble work should never again leave the Vatican without the specific permission of the Holy Father through the State Secretariat,» Navarro-Valls added.

The Vatican spokesman´s statement was in response to a report by the Italian weekly Diario, which stated that in July 1978, French antiques dealer Daniel Wildenstein was received by Paul VI, to study the sale of the Pietà, the depiction of the Blessed Virgin holding the dead Jesus.

The article is based on the memoirs of the antiques dealer, who died today. The memoirs first published in French with the title «Marchands d´Arts.» According to Diario, the pages on that meeting were removed in the Italian translation of the memoirs because of «Vatican pressures.»

The Vatican spokesman revealed that Bishop Pasquale Macchi, Paul VI´s personal secretary, possesses a letter that Wildenstein wrote him, after publishing his memoirs in French. In the letter, Wildenstein denies that Paul VI expressed an intention to sell the sculpture.

«The existence of the antiques dealer´s letter to Bishop Macchi, led to the decision to eliminate the pages — which Wildenstein himself had denied — from the Italian edition,» Navarro-Valls explained to reporters.

In the 1970s, Laszlo Toth, a Hungarian artist, thought to be mentally unbalanced, damaged the 15th-century masterwork with a hammer. He never gave any reasons for his action. The repaired Pietà now is exhibited behind bulletproof glass in St. Peter´s Basilica.

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