available in full graphics and/or textonly
Once again it touches the Holy Father deeply, this time right in his own backyard. It brings to mind all that Our Lord said in Sacred Scripture and what His Blessed Mother has been imparting for the last 150 years. These are all machinations of satan who is pulling strings in a desperate attempt before his final curtain call and a new era of peace descends on all the earth. These are times that try men's souls and indicate we are that much closer to the Triumph of Mary's Immaculate Heart as she prophesied at Fatima. There is no place on earth immune from the ravages and lures of the evil one and there will be true Peace on earth only when lucifer is chained. The only means of chaining beelzebub is through prayer and, during this month of Mary - the month of the Rosary, it is so vital to launch our artillery at the enemy as often as we can. Unlike other leaders, the Pope knows the pain of suffering and loss of even one of God's children. He is in deep mourning over this incident, not because it might embarass the Vatican, but because he cares so deeply for his sheep. And one of those sheep went astray, badly astray, going into a fit over something and violated the Fifth Commandment. While Italian and secular media hounds try to put a menage trois or love triangle angle to the incident, Vatican officials disclaim such nonsense speculating rather that Tormay was upset that Esterman had dressed him down a few months ago for not meeting the standards expected of the elite Swiss Guard and the disgruntled non-enlisted officer felt unappreciative and dismayed that he had not been promoted. It was evidently a pre-meditated murder on Tormay's part for he penned a letter to be given to his family after his death just an hour or so before the dastardly deed which Vatican spolesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls called "a moment of madness."
And so it goes. Even within the peaceful confines of the Vatican satan runs amok. The Holy Father and the Heavenly Lady, to whom he has dedicated his pontificate, weep together and so should we. Not just for one man who was so dedicated to his work and to his chief commander the Supreme Roman Pontiff but for every one of God's little ones on earth whose life has been snuffed out by man. No man has the right to take another human life - whether their own or another's. This was mandated by the Father to Moses on Sinai and remains in effect today when millions are doing just that through the atrocities of abortion, euthanasia, ethnic-cleansing, starvation, exploitation and the like. No wonder Our Lady keeps reminding us that the Cup runneth over and that she can no longer hold back the Just Hand of God.
The shocking events yesterday in Vatican City bring home another point that is very alarming. How safe is our holy pontiff? Tornay, along with ninety-nine others of his fellow countrymen, took the pledge to protect the Vicar of Christ. Yesterday he flagrantly broke that vow by killing two people and himself. Who is to say another might "snap" and turn on the Pope? Who is to say someone could infiltrate in, at the beckon of liberal anarchists that do indeed reside inside the Vatican, and do in the Holy Father? While it is shocking to even think it, it is a remote possibility and when we see the violence intensify as it has in the nineties within homes, schools and the workplace we have to pray it does not reach this holy man, this giant of the twentieth century who will reach his 78th birthday in less than two weeks. The scenario of yesterday and the scope of evil in today's world make it a real possibility he is in imminent danger. There are so many "copycats" out there who are looking for their "fifteen minutes of fame" that they'd do anything - even "fifteen minutes of shame!" Yes, the Swiss Guard is there to protect the Pope, but there are only one hundred of them. Yet there is another protective unit that does an even better job of shielding our beloved Holy Father from harm's way: Mary's powerful army - a loyal band of souls who dedicate their Rosaries, prayers and sacrifices for this 264th successor of Peter. Through their unswerving loyalty and perseverance to prayer they bombard the Almighty that He keep our Pontiff safe and maintain the well-being of Christ's Holy Church on earth. Throughout the centuries it has not been so much the Swiss Guard that has protected the Popes, but rather the garrison of souls who intercede to Heaven on behalf of Holy Mother Church and her Vicars. While heroic action was taken by Estermann back on May 13, 1981 as the Popemobile sped away, much in the fashion of the Secret Service's reaction at the Kennedy assassination, it was the prayer platoon all over the world that pulled John Paul II through that tremendous ordeal. It's time to put that prayer patrol on duty once again, around the clock, for we are all in grave danger as long as satan prowls about the earth seeking the ruin of souls. The Holy Mass, the Rosary, and the Prayer to Saint Michael come immediately to mind as the best way to combat the next assault. Be ever on your guard. He wants you at the ready. Enlist now in God's elite Secret Service!
The Vatican is handling the autopsy and investigation of the crime by itself, without asking for help from Italian officials, in an indication that the case is clear-cut. Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told reporters that Tornay had apparently acted in "a moment of madness."
"That is the only hypothesis," a Vatican official confirmed. "There is no reason to advance any alternative."
Colonel Estermann-- who had been appointed to head the Swiss Guard earlier in the day-- was found dead in his own apartment, after neighbors reported a loud dispute. The bodies of Mrs. Estermann and Tornay were also found on the floor. All three had died of gunshot wounds.
A neighbor, the wife of another member of the Swiss Guard, found the bodies when she came downstairs to investigate the loud noises she had heard in the Estermann apartment. Finding the door open, she discovered the three bodies.
Tornay's body was found sprawled on top of his service weapon, a 9- mm pistol. Six shots had been fired. No other weapon was found on the scene.
Early reports from the autopsy indicated that at least two bullets had been found in Estermann's body. Both appeared to match the ammunition found in Tornay's weapon.
Sources at the Vatican indicated that Tornay harbored a keen resentment against his superior because Estermann had reprimanded him in February for infractions against the rules of the Swiss Guard. Tornay had reportedly told colleagues that he felt he was not receiving adequate recognition for his work.
The apparent murder-suicide came just two days before a group of Swiss Guard members were to be recognized by the Vatican for their outstanding service. Tornay's name was not on the list of those receiving honors. (The awards ceremony has been postponed indefinitely in the wake of the killings.)
Just over an hour before the fatal encounter, Tornay gave colleagues a personal letter, which he asked them to relay to his family. The Vatican has indicated that it will be up to Tornay's family to decide whether or not the contents of that letter should be made public.
Reports in Rome suggested that Tornay had been romantically involved with a young Italian woman. But Vatican spokesman Navarro-Valls refused to comment on those reports, saying that the evidence was not yet clear.
The Swiss Guard have declined to comment on the tragedy, out of respect for their slain leader.
Alois Estermann had been named to head the Swiss Guard after serving for months as acting commandant. Traditionally the office of commandant is held by a Swiss nobleman, and there were reports in Rome that the Vatican was searching for such a candidate, but it was impossible to find a qualified Swiss nobleman willing to serve for a modest salary. In an interview with the Rome news agency I Media just prior to his death, Estermann rejected those rumors, saying they were "the fantasy of a journalist" and "without foundation." And Navarro-Valls said simply that Estermann was "the best adapted candidate for the job."
The low salary and unspectacular living conditions offered to the commandant might have convinced other potential candidates to seek employment elsewhere. But Estermann had told I Media that he was delighted and honored by his appointment. It is true that he could have made more money in the Swiss military, he conceded, "but here, one lives well."
The shooting was the most spectacular act of violence inside the walls of the Vatican since May 13, 1981, when Mehmet Ali Agca attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II. Ironically, it had been Alois Estermann who leapt onto the "Popemobile" to hold up the wounded Pontiff on that occasion, while the vehicle raced to the hospital.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican Secretary of State, will preside at a funeral service for Colonel Estermann and his wife on Wednesday, May 6, in St. Peter's Basilica.
Joaquin Navarro-Valls reminded reporters that the Vatican, as a sovereign state, had the authority to conduct its own investigation into the affair. Although the victims are Swiss citizens, he added, the government of Switzerland had indicated its full confidence in the Vatican's ability to handle the inquiry. If any special forensic tests are unexpectedly required, Navarro-Valls continued, the Vatican would enlist the help of independent Italian firms.
The Holy Father sent a telegram to Alois Estermann's parents, who were in Rome in preparation for their son's swearing-in ceremony set for Wednesday, but now canceled, and he said: "It is with great pain that I learned of the unbearable news of the violent death of your son, the commander of the Swiss Guard, and his dear wife." He added, "In the belief in the resurrection of the dead, I give to you and to all those in grief from my heart my apostolic benediction."
The 43-year-old Estermann, who had been appointed Captain of the Guard on Monday, and his wife, Gladys Meza Romero, were found dead shortly after 9 pm Monday after a neighbor reported hearing loud noises. The body of 23-year-old Vice Corporal Cedric Tornay was found at the scene, dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Vatican officials said they believe Tornay killed his commander because he was upset at a recent reprimand and a perceived lack of recognition.
Bishop Amedee Grab, president of the Swiss bishops' conference, flew to Rome on Tuesday to console the 100-member Swiss Guard which had been preparing to celebrate the anniversary of the death of 147 guards who fell protecting Pope Clement VII in 1527 on Wednesday, the day they were to swear in 40 new recruits for the elite unit. Bishop Grab said Switzerland's 3.5 million Catholics feel a solidarity with the Guards. "It is a huge sadness for us," Bishop Grab told French-language Swiss Radio on Tuesday morning. "We have lost a very active Christian. He was a man of admirable loyalty, fidelity and honesty," he said of Estermann.
Estermann was an 18-year veteran in the Guards and has served as its acting commander since last October when his predecessor resigned. He was recognized for throwing his body in front of Pope John Paul II during a 1981 assassination attempt. He had told the Swiss newspaper Le Matin that he was pleased at his appointment on Monday, but was not surprised. "Behind this choice I see the will of God, who will help me accomplish my service well," said Estermann, who held a degree in theology from a pontifical university in Rome.
Prior to his appointment, Colonel Estermann had served for several months as the acting director of the Swiss Guard, which is responsible for the security of the Pope and the Vatican.
Just prior to his formal appointment as commandant, Colonel Estermann was interviewed by the Rome news agency I Media. This interview, originally conducted in French, appears here in translation exclusively through Catholic World News.
Q: What are your thoughts, just a few hours before your appointment?
A: I am very well acquainted with the work itself, having been exercising the various responsibilities of the position already. So there will be great surprises for me. On the other hand, I am deeply honored by this appointment-- which is a formal pontifical appointment.
Q: What will be your main plans for action?
A: Any leader must set objectives for his men to reach, and then help them to achieve those goals. The standing orders set out our duties, and we shall do everything possible to fulfill them-- in other words, to serve well.
Q: Are there certain particular points on which you will insist?
A: I wish to follow in the footsteps of my predecessor, Colonel Ronand Buchs. I will insist on professionalism in the Swiss Guard. That will mean instilling among our men a strong motivation, and a desire to be professional soldiers-- with that phrase in capital letters! That in turn means carrying out one's responsibilities in every possible situation, and it means understanding the importance of working for the Holy See and the Holy Father.
Q: How would you explain the current problems that you are having in recruiting new members for the Swiss Guard?
A: Yes, we have had some problems during the last two years. In part they can be explained in terms of the somewhat difficult economic situation in Switzerland. But it also must be said that service to the Church is seen as less desirable than it was some years ago. You must keep in mind the general situation in Switzerland, regarding anything that concerns Rome and the Holy Father. [In recent months, dissident Swiss Catholics have been outspoken in their criticism of the Vatican.] That doesn't help us, either.
Q: Do you think that more should be done to improve the image of the Swiss Guard in Switzerland itself?
A: It is certainly necessary to find other ways of motivating young men to join. That is always a challenge. But the Swiss Guard is not a product which can be sold on the basis of a month-long publicity campaign. We are constantly looking for a steady stream of new personnel. It is a question of providing information, and of active recruitment.
Q: Will this be one of your priorities?
A: Without doubt, yes; this is a top priority.
Q : Is it true that during this past summer, students and seminarians were called in to fill out the ranks of the Swiss Guard during vacations?
A: There is an auxiliary service. When the Holy Father is at Castel Gandalfo [his summer residence], we cannot afford to reduce our ranks significantly here at the Vatican. So we have the option of signing up auxiliaries-- students who come here from Switzerland during their vacations in order to serve. It is possible that some of these auxiliaries may be theology students, but that is certainly not a rule. This summer, however, we should be able to do without any auxiliaries.
Q: Your formal appointment has been scheduled just two days before the date when new recruits will take their oath. Isn't this a bit of a last-minute decision?
A: Well, I don't have all the details about the process that led up to my appointment. But no doubt they were looking for the individual best qualified for the position. The Holy Father places a high value on his Swiss Guard; one would not want to leave this appointment to chance.
Q: The media have advanced two different reasons to explain the delay in your appointment. The first explanation is the question of salary. The second concerns the tradition that the commandant of the Swiss Guard must be a member of the nobility.
A: As for the first issue, I am not too concerned. I receive a decent salary from the Holy See. Certainly, if I were to make comparisons with opportunities available in Switzerland, there would be a great discrepancy. But here, one lives well.
As for the second issue-- the question of nobility-- that is an invention born out of a journalist's fantasy; it has no basis in fact. It is certainly true that some commandants have been men of noble birth, but today that is no longer required.
Q: How do you see the future of the Swiss Guard-- is its very existence in jeopardy?
A: No, that is not a question at all. Today, organizations in charge of security are in more demand than ever before. That holds true for the Holy See as well. The Swiss Guard has done, and will do, everything possible to be an efficient security service. Of course it is important for the members of the Guard to be well trained, to ensure that they serve effectively. That is a permanent challenge.
Q: Is Switzerland, as a country, sufficiently interested in "its" Guard-- an institution which also has gained international recognition?
A: I would say-- not only of Catholic Switzerland, but of the country as a whole-- that it does not adequately understand the importance of the Swiss Guard as an international institution. The Guard provides an image of Switzerland before the world, and the importance of that image should not be underestimated.
Q: You are the postulator of the cause of Nicolas Wolf, a Swiss layman, the head of a family and a political leader, who is a candidate for canonization. In what ways does his example inspire you?
A: His life was very simple; he was a man who always kept both feet on the ground. He placed his faith totally on God, and from that faith he drew the energy to live in service to others.