City of Secretsby John Follain
On the night of Monday, May 4, 1998, in Vatican territory, the bodies of the commander of the Swiss Guard, his wife, and a young lance corporal were found in the barracks of the picturesque force entrusted with protecting the pope. It was the worst bloodbath to take place in more than a century in the heart of the supreme authority of the world's one billion… See more details below
On the night of Monday, May 4, 1998, in Vatican territory, the bodies of the commander of the Swiss Guard, his wife, and a young lance corporal were found in the barracks of the picturesque force entrusted with protecting the pope. It was the worst bloodbath to take place in more than a century in the heart of the supreme authority of the world's one billion Catholics. Four hours later, the Vatican announced that the lance corporal, twenty-three-year-old Cédric Tornay, had shot the couple, then committed suicide in "a fit of madness" brought on by frustration with the unit's discipline -- a conclusion it reaffirmed after a nine-month internal inquiry.
But as John Follain's hard-hitting exposé shows, the official report was a travesty, a tissue of suppositions, contradictions, and omissions. Based on an exhaustive three-year investigation, City of Secrets reveals how the Vatican, the oldest and most secretive autocracy in the world, staged an elaborate plot to obstruct justice -- and hide the scandals it dared not confess.
Thus the ingredients of this innuendo-rich true-crime tale, set among the gilded halls of Saint Peter’s. On May 4, 1998, a Swiss Guard lance corporal named Cedric Tornay stormed into the Vatican City apartment of his commandant, Colonel Alois Estermann, shot Estermann and his wife dead, and then killed himself. In a note to his mother shortly beforehand, Tornay wrote, "I must do this service for all the guards remaining as well as to the Catholic church. I have sworn to give my life for the pope and this is what I am doing." Vatican officials quickly covered up the murder, saying little other than that Tornay had had a cyst on the brain and that traces of cannabis had been found in his bloodstream. The heavy in this cover-up--for so London Sunday Times correspondent Follain (Jackal, 1998, etc.) considers it to be--was wily Vatican press secretary Joaquin Navarro-Valls, by his lights a worthy descendant of Torquemada and Richelieu. But Novarro-Valls was not alone: after all, Follain suggests, Pope John Paul II knew of the murder-suicide but did nothing to determine why the young, decorated guard had killed the man who only that afternoon had been promoted to commander of the Swiss Guard. And no wonder: according to one of Follain’s informants, "The Holy Father is so ill he’s become a prisoner of the Curia," a religious Mafia if ever there were one--or so we’re to believe. Follain argues that Tornay and Estermann had had an affair, that Tornay had complained loudly and frequently of the laxness of security and the ridiculousness of rules that prevented the Swiss Guard from carrying guns whiledressed in their striped-pantaloon finery, and that in all events a heavy animosity between the French and German Swiss who make up the security unit keeps all involved from doing their jobs effectively. All understandable motives for murder, one supposes, but not necessarily strong evidence for malfeasance and conspiracy at the highest levels of the Church.
That scenario will be of interest to those convinced that the Illuminati run the world. Others may want to wait for the movie.
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Meet the Author
John Follain has covered Italy and the Vatican as a correspondent for the Sunday Times since 1998. He is the author of the critically acclaimed titles A Dishonoured Society: The Sicilian Mafia's Threat to Europe, Jackal: The Secret Wars of Carlos the Jackal, and Zoya's Story: An Afghan Woman's Struggle for Freedom written with Rita Cristofari and Zoya. He lives with his wife in Rome.
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