With Pope John Paul II’s funeral about to begin, here’s one last — I promise — return to the subject of how his body has been handled since he died last Saturday. The Los Angeles Times on Thursday sorted through the conflicting reports about how the papal remains were prepared for viewing and came up with a pretty convincing, if not intricate or exact, account of what’s happened.
Reporter Laura King recounts how a professor of forensic medicine was assigned to handle John Paul’s body. And from the few facts and informed speculation available — the professor says he is sworn to secrecy about the details — it sounds like the pope was semi-embalmed. Further, his body has been getting nightly cosmetic touch-ups.
“During the three days that the body has been on view, St. Peter’s has closed from 2 to 5 a.m. The Vatican has said the hiatus is for maintenance inside the basilica, but a prominent specialist said it was likely that a formaldehyde solution was re-injected during that time, and cosmetics applied to conceal what by now would be apparent signs of decay.
” ‘Even with treatment, after this length of time, there would be the beginning of blackening of the skin, and “weeping” of the eyes,’ said Vincenzo Pascali, director of forensic medicine at Rome’s Catholic University.”
Also worthy of note in the Papal Embalmment Watch is Slate’s “Explainer” column, which doesn’t purport to say how the pope’s process was handled but instead focuses on how nature has its way with us after we die.