Struggles and Murder in the Vatican
the killing of the new commander of the Swiss Guard in 1998 overturns
the Vatican's official version of events and raises disturbing
questions about the roles of Opus Dei and Freemasons in the Curia
and of the KGB and Stasi intelligence networks.
Surrounding Pope John Paul II's Attempted Assassination
Monday 4 May 1998, just after 9.00 pm, 43-year-old Swiss Guard
Alois Estermann was found shot dead along with his wife, Gladys
Meza Romero, and another Swiss Guard, 23-year-old lance corporal
(or vice-corporal) Cédric Tornay. It is extremely rare
that murder occurs within the walls of the Vatican. However, what
makes these deaths rather poignant is that, just hours before
the murders, Estermann was appointed commandant of the Swiss Guard
by Pope John Paul II.
Within hours of the crimes, Tornay was identified as the man who
"in a moment of madness" had killed the commandant and
his wife before turning the gun on himself. The Vatican said that
"the recruit" appeared to have a personal grudge against
his commandant and previously had complained about a lack of recognition
within the Swiss Guard. And that, it seemed, explained it all.
Or did it?
In the immediate aftermath of the crimes, it was reported that
Estermann, almost two decades before, had shielded the pope during
the 1981 assassination attempt—an incorrect news item that
would continue to circulate for some time. But according to Ferdinando
Imposimato, the Italian prosecutor in charge of the investigation
of the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II, both he and
Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turk who failed to kill the pope on 13 May
1981, are convinced of a link between the assassination attempt
and the 1998 murder of Estermann.
Imposimato claims that, during private conversations held between
1997 and 2000, Agca confirmed that the Russian KGB and the Bulgarian
secret service had been involved in the 1981 assassination attempt
on the pope. Imposimato alleges a connection with the 1998 murder
through a link with the East German secret police, the Stasi.
Though the Vatican and many Church apologists did not want to
hear it, it is a fact that Markus Wolf, the former number two
of the Stasi, declared that in 1979 Estermann had been recruited
as a Stasi agent. Whether or not Wolf told the truth is a different
matter, of course, but Wolf's credibility has never been questioned—except
in this instance. The question therefore is: if Estermann was
still a Stasi asset by 1998, by which time communism had long
collapsed and East Germany had folded back into Germany, could
this explain the 1998 murders?
Dei vs Freemasons and Propaganda Due
was present during the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul
II (right on the photograph)
year after the murders, a group of disaffected priests inside
the Vatican claimed that Estermann had been the victim of a Vatican
power struggle. The priests suggested that evidence in the murder
investigation had been tampered with in order to fit the hypothesis
that the killing of Estermann was the result of a moment of madness
on the part of Tornay. The claims were published in 1999 in the
book Blood Lies in the Vatican, printed by a small Milanese publisher.
The Vatican still wields tremendous power in Italy…
The anonymous authors claim that Estermann was the victim of a
struggle for control of the Swiss Guard between the secretive,
traditionalist Catholic movement Opus Dei and a Masonic power
faction ensconced in the Curia. This "Masonic power"
should be read as the likes of P2—Propaganda Due—while
the plot of the book seems to have been taken out of Dan Brown's
Angels & Demons. Indeed, it seems that Estermann's murder
may have been worked into Angels & Demons.
"In the Vatican, there are those who maintain that vice-corporal
Tornay was attacked after coming off duty and dragged into a cellar,"
it is argued in Blood
Lies in the Vatican. Tornay was then "suicided"
with a silenced 7-mm pistol, and his duty revolver was used to
kill the Estermanns in their Vatican apartment. Tornay's body
was then dumped in their flat so that the triple killing would
look like murder-suicide.
As to a motive, it is alleged in the book that both Estermann
and his wife, who worked at the Venezuelan Embassy to the Holy
See, were engaged in secret international financial deals for
the benefit of Opus Dei. It is also alleged that the power vacuum
at the head of the Swiss Guard had been because of opposition
to Estermann's appointment. Is it just a coincidence that nine
hours after the announcement of the Vatican's choice, the new
commander was dead?
That the Vatican went into a protective mode immediately after
the discovery of the bodies is a fact. It is also a fact that
the "murder-suicide" scenario in "a moment of madness"
is a conclusion reached within hours of the crime—though,
it has to be said, the crime scene definitely suggested the likelihood
of this scenario. But Blood Lies in the Vatican underlines that
the official scenario was offered by the Vatican spokesman Joaquín
Navarro-Valls, MD, himself a member of Opus Dei.
Within minutes of the murder, Navarro-Valls had sealed the Estermanns's
apartment. No one—including the Italian police—was
allowed near the crime scene. Within three hours and before any
autopsies were conducted, Navarro-Valls had issued the statement
that a "fit of madness" made Tornay commit a double
murder (John Follain, City of Secrets: The Truth Behind the Murders
at the Vatican, William Morrow, 2003, pp. 14-15). Autopsies were
performed the next day by Vatican doctors, who were sworn to secrecy
and kept no written reports of their conclusions, thus largely
defeating the purpose of the autopsies.
People have queried how Navarro-Valls was able to discern so quickly
that Tornay, a man he had never met, had performed this act in
a fit of madness. The evening following the murders, Cardinal
Alfons Stickler described Tornay as "an individual suffering
from the psychological disorder of paranoia" (Follain, 2003,
p. 17)—another interesting diagnosis from someone who had
never met Tornay and was not qualified to reach such a diagnosis.
Doctored Official Report
according to the official report (Bollettino 55/99), the "fit
of madness" had physical rather than purely psychological
reasons, which means that Navarro-Valls's conclusion is wrong
as no autopsy had been performed at the time of his statement.
The report mentions traces of a cannabis metabolite present in
the urine, though interestingly not in the blood. However, the
amount itself was far too small to indicate cannabis addiction.
Furthermore, cannabis is known to calm aggressive impulses, not
provoke them. So rather than clear anything up, the report poses
The pathologists also exaggerated the significance of a benign
tumour in Tornay's brain. They had found a "benign subarachnoid
cyst", 4.0 by 2.5 centimetres, which had "depressed
and deformed the anterior part of the left frontal cerebral lobe,
partially eroding the bone". Though most experts agree that
this would have had no effect at all on Tornay's behaviour, the
pathologists argued that it "was responsible for impairment
of cognitive (thought) function…and…disinhibition
of behaviour". However, during a second autopsy that would
later be performed in Switzerland, it was shown that no such tumour
was present in Tornay's brain at all—suggesting, once again,
that the Vatican's official version of the events is seriously
flawed, if not doctored, if not a total lie.
It was left to Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano to perform
the Requiem Mass for Estermann and his wife at St Peter's Basilica.
That in itself was a rare honour for laypeople. At the same time,
on the border of Vatican City in the small Church of St Anne,
a private funeral mass was said for Cédric Tornay. Inside,
a Swiss Guard line allowed a gap for the space where Tornay usually
Second Autopsy and a Forged Suicide Letter
his death, Tornay's mother, Muguette Baudat, has frequently expressed
her dissatisfaction with the way the Vatican has handled the case.
She does not accept the official scenario. Baudat, herself a Protestant,
was told immediately after her son's death that his body was rotting,
that his head had been ripped off, and that all the hotels in
Rome were full so she should not come to Rome. She did, of course,
and when she reached Rome she discovered that none of the claims
made by the Vatican about the state of her son's body was true.
Muguette Baudat wrote twice to the pope, questioning the Vatican's
version of Tornay's death, but did not receive a reply.
When Tornay's body was flown back to Switzerland, before the funeral
Baudat literally stole the body from a Swiss morgue to have a
second autopsy performed by Dr Thomas Krompecher, professor of
forensic medicine at the University of Lausanne. Based on his
conclusions, Baudat retained the services of two high-profile
lawyers, Luc Brossollet and Jacques Vergès.
The lawyers, authors of Murdered in the Vatican (Assassinati in
Vaticano, Kaos, 2002), claim that the second autopsy contradicts
the Vatican's conclusions on several key points. Tornay's service
pistol used 9-mm bullets, but the exit wound in his skull measured
seven millimetres. Tornay apparently suffered a fracture of a
cranial bone which was not on the bullet's trajectory. His lungs
contained a large amount of blood and saliva which could not have
been caused by suicide, but could have been caused by internal
bleeding due to blows to the head before he died. The forensic
report also notes that Tornay's front teeth were broken off, as
if a gun had been forced into his mouth.
Finally, graphologists and psychologists who examined Tornay's
final letter to his mother conclude that it is a forgery—also
an allegation of Tornay's mother. Why? First, the letter is dated
"4.05.98", but Tornay always wrote the month in full
and never used a zero to delineate the first nine months of the
year. He refers to Estermann as "Lieutenant Colonel",
whereas he knew that Estermann was now a colonel. More importantly,
he called his sister "Melinda", whereas he always referred
to her as "Dada". He refers to the "Pope",
rather than his usual reference of the "Holy Father".
The suicide letter states, "Tell Melinda, Sarah and Papa
that I love you all"—but Tornay was also very fond
of his step-brothers Yvan and Joel, and all his friends and family
members believe that he would have mentioned them in a suicide
note…if he had written one. His mother claims that the non-inclusion
of his step-brothers is because the forger used only the Vatican's
official files to create this letter and hence was unaware of
their existence. Equally, the letter is addressed to "Mme
Chamorel", but Tornay always used his mother's maiden name,
Baudat—not the surname of her second husband. The Vatican
registers list Tornay's mother's surname as "Chamorel".
With such evidence, it should not come as a total surprise that
the handwriting experts engaged by Baudat confirm that her son
did not write this letter.
"Terrible Truth" Concealed
meeting with Pope John Paul II
his book City Of Secrets, Vatican reporter John Follain underlines
that though Tornay was depicted by Navarro-Valls as a "recruit",
he had served in the Swiss Guard for over three years. Tornay's
responsibilities as lance corporal included being in charge of
all the guards deployed at the Apostolic Palace—the residence
of the pope—and monitoring St Anne's Gate, the key entry
point into Vatican territory. Tornay, in short, was a distinguished
member of the Swiss Guard—not entry level.
Follain asked a Vatican monsignor why Alois Jehle, chaplain to
the Swiss Guard, allegedly told Tornay's mother that her son's
head had been ripped off his body. Why would he say such a thing?
"Because he was told to," the monsignor answered, "by
my boss." (Follain, 2003, p. 65) That boss was Angelo Sodano,
who also prevented Muguette Baudat from gaining access to the
completed Vatican inquiry.
"Reasons of state appear to reign at the head of the church,
and I think this is the origin of the great effort made by the
heads of the Roman Curia to prevent a terrible truth being revealed
to the world," Tornay's mother wrote.
With this statement, Baudat echoes the conclusions of Blood Lies
in the Vatican, that the Banco Ambrosiano affair was part of a
power struggle between Freemasons and Opus Dei that would cost
Estermann his life. Indeed, whereas the struggle of Freemasons
and Opus Dei is often depicted as occurring in the early 1980s,
it appears that around the close of the millennium that battle
was still raging inside the walls of the Vatican!
The Estermann affair might have been covered up if it had not
been for Mugette Baudat, who refused to be silent. According to
Baudat, the Vatican even sent an envoy to Switzerland to threaten
her: "He wanted to find out how much I knew and what I planned
to do about it. He gave me a rosary, but he also threatened me
in the name of his superiors, telling me I should stop asking
about Tornay's death and think of my surviving children. He said
he was sure I wouldn't want anything bad to happen to them. That's
a threat, isn't it?" (Follain, 2003, p. 175)
What did she know? Baudat states that a year before he died, her
son confided to her that he and two other Swiss Guards were investigating
Opus Dei. The less you know about it the better, he told her.
"Later," said Baudat, "I found out from some friends
of Tornay that Estermann was close to Opus Dei and had tried to
recruit guards into it." (Follain, 2003, p. 47) The question
is whether Tornay was carrying out this investigation on his own,
or whether he was asked to carry it out—and if so, by whom.
The answer to that question might be Yvon Bertorello, a member
of Vatican intelligence, who claims that one of his assignments
was to spy on the Swiss Guard to gauge the extent to which Opus
Dei had infiltrated it. There is no reason to doubt that someone
indeed wanted to know such facts. Bertorello befriended Tornay,
and Tornay became an intelligence-gatherer. Tornay himself, in
speaking to his mother, claimed that he was not the only Swiss
Guard in this intelligence-gathering exercise. As to who ordered
Bertorello: according to author Gérard de Villiers, the
assignment was given by an unnamed Vatican prelate.
It is generally accepted that Estermann was close to, if not involved
with, Opus Dei. In fact, according to some, his very involvement
with Opus Dei was the primary reason why his promotion to commander
of the Swiss Guard was blocked for several months, no doubt while
the Vatican tried to find out the extent of Estermann's involvement
with the organisation or to decide whether it would be a good
idea to have an Opus Dei member as head of the Swiss Guard. But
this fact has been buried in so many lies and rumours that few
have focused on it. Instead, most headlines fancied the notion
that Estermann and Tornay had a homosexual affair.
John Paul II visiting the three dead bodies
official version as released by the Vatican is that Tornay had
a personal grudge against Estermann. When Estermann was confirmed
as commander, Tornay was supposedly also in line for a recommendation
but did not receive the honour, allegedly because Estermann himself
had blocked it. Therefore, in a rage, Tornay took his gun, entered
the Estermann home and killed Estermann and his wife before turning
the gun on himself.
The relationship between Tornay and Estermann is said to have
been complex. First of all, the Swiss Guards—as the name
indicates—are all Swiss. But as Switzerland is internally
divided, there are both language and cultural barriers between
the German and French Swiss. Estermann was German, Tornay French.
All the French Swiss Guards apparently frequently complained of
harassment by their German-speaking countrymen and Estermann in
After the murders, members of the Swiss Guard were formally forbidden
to discuss Estermann, Tornay or the murders with anyone. Hence,
reporters have been able to interview only ex-guards. One such
ex-guard said to Follain: "Tornay was a victim. He wasn't
[of] a violent nature, but he was the victim of bullying for three
years…for the Swiss Germans he was the devil in person."
(Follain, 2003, pp. 219-20; Mark Fellows, "The Smell of Death",
Catholic Family News, 3 November 2003)
Indeed, Estermann was the only officer to vote against Tornay's
promotion to lance corporal, but what the Vatican's official version
underplays is that he was overruled. So even though Tornay might
have carried a grudge against Estermann, Tornay had his promotion—making
it less likely that he would have had this mad rage against Estermann.
As mentioned, according to some sources Estermann and Tornay had
a homosexual relationship. Professor Massimo Lacchei, in his book
Verbum Dei et Verbum Gay ("God's Word and Gay Word",
Libreria Croce, Rome, 1999), claims that homosexuality is widespread
within the walls of the Vatican. He writes: "I see the Swiss
Guard as a kind of hot-house, whose flowers are picked by homosexual
bishops and cardinals. People in the Vatican tell me the Guards
supplement their tiny wages that way." In Lacchei's book,
Estermann and Tornay are featured, though under pseudonyms. Equally,
Follain claims that Estermann and Tornay had a homosexual relationship:
it lasted for two years, and ended when Tornay caught his superior
with another man. It is believed that when their relationship
ended, Estermann went on to bully Tornay and began a personal
vendetta for whatever specific reason. If true, no doubt only
the two of them knew.
So, on the one hand, we have a story of personal rivalry, born
from a lovers' dispute, while on the other hand we are told that
this is a conspiracy in which Tornay was an innocent victim because
he had been researching ties that Estermann and his wife had with
Opus Dei. Of course, both are not mutually exclusive, as Tornay
could have been selected to spy on Estermann specifically because
of their personal relationship. But why is this all so important?
It is a fact that Opus Dei had largely taken control of the Vatican
by 1998, and the promotion of an Opus Dei member to commander
of the Swiss Guard was in itself nothing out of the ordinary except
further evidence of their ever-growing influence. Even though
there was an alleged power struggle between "the Masons"
and Opus Dei over control of the Vatican, whispers go that the
true reason why the Vatican hesitated over Estermann's promotion
is due to rumours of his homosexuality. This is also the opinion
of "Vatican spymaster" Bertorello, who claims that Estermann
had homosexual relationships with various other Swiss Guard members.
Bertorello adds that Estermann and Tornay indeed had a homosexual
relationship, even though Tornay, unmarried, was heterosexual.
Bertorello notes that even the pope knew, and that it was indeed
the pope who blocked the promotion: "But Cardinal Sodano
lobbied and lobbied until he finally got what he wanted."
(Follain, 2003, pp. 170-71)
evidence suggests that Estermann and Tornay had a homosexual relationship.
But other evidence—the second autopsy and the suicide note—also
suggests that Tornay did not commit suicide, which suggests he
did not kill Estermann and that Tornay was asked to spy on Estermann
because of the latter's involvement with Opus Dei.
When asked about a motive for Estermann's murder, Monsignor Vladimir
Felzmann, an ex–Opus Dei member, stated: "Estermann
would be of great interest to Opus Dei… With Estermann in
its grip Opus Dei would be able to find out how the pope was,
and who he saw from day to day. [He] would be privy to quite a
few secrets about the cardinals, their health, that kind of thing.
And among the cardinals is John Paul's successor. Never forget
that for Opus Dei knowledge is power. It would be able to get
anyone into the Vatican; the guards wouldn't breathe a word. You
have access, you have freedom." (Follain, 2003, p. 107)
Felzmann was also asked if Pope John Paul II was involved with
Opus Dei. He replied: "Of course he is. In all sorts of ways…
We used to bank with Banco Ambrosiano; I used to deposit money
in our account there. When the pope had to find two hundred million
dollars that Calvi, 'God's Banker', owed the Vatican in 1982,
Opus Dei came up with it. And at that time Opus Dei was made personal
prelature. When the pope wanted a new spokesman, Opus Dei gave
him Navarro-Valls. And all the time there is Opus Dei's hidden
agenda, to grow and grow and grow. There are people in the Vatican
who can't stand it, but that hasn't stopped Opus Dei from getting
more and more powerful. Of course it would love an Opus Dei pope."
(Follain, 2003, p. 110)
In an attempt to uncover the truth, we need to return to the prosecutor
Ferdinando Imposimato. He argues that Estermann was instrumental
in the 1981 assassination attempt, not because he allegedly protected
the pope from dying but because he took part in its planning.
Imposimato and Agca claim that the KGB was responsible for the
assassination attempt, and that the KGB left it to its satellite
states' intelligence agencies to work out the detail. Though the
Bulgarians have often been singled out, it is clear that such
an attempt would have involved rallying together all the assets
which the Soviet Bloc had in and near the Vatican. This would
have included Estermann, who was on the Stasi's list of assets.
Imposimato refers to Estermann as a "precious pawn"
in the "preparatory phase of the assassination attempt of
May 13, 1981". If true, it puts Estermann's murder in a totally
different framework—and may also explain why Pope John Paul
II blocked his promotion.
Equally, it is reported—and accepted—that Estermann's
office had been burgled on a number of occasions. Each time, some
files were removed but valuables were left in place. Estermann
also apparently complained of being under surveillance; he had
CCTV installed in all areas that fell under Swiss Guard control…and,
if anything, it would be interesting to find out what precisely
was recorded on the night of 4 May 1998.
The central question is whether Tornay found material about the
Estermanns—not necessarily though possibly to do with Opus
Dei—and that, as a result of this, all three had to be silenced
so that "something" would not come out. If so, that
"something" remains likely buried forever. But what
has now become clear is that "murder-suicide" in the
Vatican is far more interesting and important than the official
version has led us to believe.
Bringing it back to St Peter's Square and 13 May 1981, we can—and
should—ask the question as to whether the Swiss Guards—or
at least some or one of them, like Estermann—"stood
down" and, by doing so, enabled Agca to fire a salvo of bullets
so that all of them could reach the pope rather than a Swiss Guard
throwing himself in their flight path. It would bring great irony
to he "error" made by Navarro-Valls in saying that Estermann
had shielded the pope, whereas he might actually have left the
pope exposed to the bullets.
Critics of this line of reasoning point out that it nevertheless
does not make any sense that a guilty Estermann would be promoted
to commandant of the Swiss Guard. But the fact of the matter is
that no one within the Vatican would have known that Estermann
had stood down. The only people who would know this would be people
who knew that Estermann was a Stasi asset and had perhaps even
been told to stand down, or people like Tornay who had investigated
To use up our quota of questions without firm answers, we fire
our final salvo by asking whether Estermann was killed by someone
who knew what had really happened on 13 May 1981 and decided that
enough was enough. Though a firm answer cannot be given to the
question posed, it can be pointed out that it is specifically
Agca who claims that Estermann's murder is connected with the
papal assassination attempt—and no one can doubt his credentials
on that subject. Equally, in his briefing, Agca would have been
told whether or not members of the Swiss Guard would stand down—knowledge
which would have allowed him to shoot the pope more easily.
Today, the murder of Alois Estermann continues to be the subject
of intense intrigue and speculation. For the Vatican, it is officially
a crime of passion. It is known that Tornay had investigated the
new head of the Swiss Guard as part of an inquiry into the power
of Opus Dei within the walls of the Vatican. As soon as Estermann
was promoted, he, his wife and Tornay were dead. Is it possible
that Tornay discovered something about Estermann which had to
be kept still at all costs—but which, with Estermann in
his new position, would soon rise to the surface? If so, it meant
that someone went to the remarkable extent of committing three
murders in the Vatican. As the evidence shows, that someone was
article appeared in Nexus Magazine 18.5 (August-September 2011).