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Italian military intelligence mounted a slur campaign to block a cardinal from the Soviet Union from becoming pope in 1963, the Italian Catholic magazine 30 Giorni said Tuesday.

It said the secret agency helped to discredit Armenian Cardinal Gregorio Pietro Agagianian, regarded as a possible front-runner for the papacy, by circulating a report that his sister had ties to the KGB, the Soviet security service.

"A copy of the report circulated among the cardinals -- who were terrified of the hypothesis that . . . Stalin's heirs would violate the sacred walls of the Sistine Chapel," the article, by journalist Andrea Tornielli, said.

A conclave of cardinals met at the Vatican to elect a new pope following the death of Pope John XXIII The archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, was elected on June 21, 1963, and took the name Pope Paul VI.

The magazine said Cardinal Agagianian received a large share of votes in the 1958 conclave which elected Pope John and had been regarded as a strong rival to Cardinal Montini in 1963.

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