Peter's Tomb found on the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem.
Catholicism holds that the Pope is the sole successor to the 'supremacy' of
Peter By Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Religious Affairs Correspondent12:01AM GMT 23 Mar
2008106 Comments St Peter's journey to Rome led to the spread of Christianity in
the West and the foundation of Roman Catholicism, so the Church has always
Have your say: Is St Peter part of a conspiracy?
But a new documentary will challenge the link as nothing more than a "conspiracy
of faith". In it, prominent academics accuse the Vatican of misleading the world
over the fate of the man regarded as Jesus Christ's closest disciple. In
allegations likely to spark controversy, they accuse the Church of fabricating a
connection with the apostle to validate giving ultimate power to the papacy.
Catholicism has taught for centuries that Peter was martyred and buried in Rome
and that all popes succeed him, but the documentary will challenge this by
asserting that he never reached the Italian city. Instead, it will accuse the
Church of ignoring the discovery of a tomb in Jerusalem that archaeologists
believe contains the bones of Peter.
Leading theologians said that these views were an "attempt to smear Catholicism"
and criticised Channel 4 for allowing such "outlandish" claims to be broadcast.
They expressed concern that they would appeal to people who are easily persuaded
by conspiracy theories, such as the idea that Jesus had a child with Mary
Magdalene, as proposed in Dan Brown's best-seller The Da Vinci Code.
Dr Robert Beckford, a theology lecturer at Oxford Brookes University, who
presents the documentary, denied that this was an attempt to attack the Catholic
Church. "This is about looking at what the pillars of power are founded on and
examining the scholarship that most Catholics take for granted," he said.
"We found that there is no scientific evidence to support the idea that Peter
was buried in Rome, but yet the rival theory has not got out because it
challenges the Church.
Da Vinci poll shocks Church 17 May 2006
"If you undermine its basis for power you undermine the Church. It's tragic that
the faith gets reduced to manipulating the facts and to one Church trying to
make itself superior to others."
As Christianity spread following the crucifixion of Jesus, it became important
for the new churches to claim a link with the disciples and led the Catholic
Church to establish a connection with St Peter.
Catholics believe the proof that Christ constituted St Peter head of His Church
is found in the two Petrine texts, Matthew 16:17-19, and John 21:15-17. In
Matthew, the office is solemnly promised to the apostle as Jesus addresses him:
"Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it
to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter;
and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not
prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven."
Roman Catholicism holds that the Pope, also known as the Bishop of Rome, is the
sole successor to the "supremacy" or primacy of Peter and is thus the "Vicar of
Christ" for the world.
It is traditionally believed that he was crucified in Rome and buried where the
Basilica of St Peter was later built, beneath the high altar.
In 1939, the Vatican announced that the bones of Peter had been found in Rome
during an archaeological dig. But the documentary casts doubt on this,
questioning why the dig was carried out "in total secrecy", and led by a
"personal friend" of the Pope.
"The Pope's authority over the world's one billion Roman Catholics derives from
the belief that Peter died and was buried here almost 2,000 years ago," said Dr
The documentary, The Secrets of the Twelve Disciples *(Channel 4 today at
5.45pm), suggests it that is much more likely that St Peter was buried in an
ossuary found in Jerusalem with the inscription Shimon Bar Jonah - Simon son of
Jonah - the Hebrew name for Peter.