Thursday, October 30, 2008


Around 9 p.m. on May 4, 1998, shots rang out in an apartment in Vatican City. Rescuers found three victims: Lieutenant Colonel Alois Estermann, 43, who only hours before had been appointed commander of the Swiss Guard, the elite corps that guards the pope; his Venezuelan-born wife, Gladys Meza Romero, 49; and one of Estermann's underlings, Vice Corporal C├ędric Tornay, 23.

Barely three hours later - in record time, many longtime Vatican observers noted - the Holy See put out a statement that opened, and quickly shut, the case. It claimed that Tornay had killed the couple before turning the gun on himself in what appeared to have been a "fit of madness."

A final report by Vatican investigators presented in February 1999 confirmed the original reconstruction. Traces of cannabis in Tornay's urine and a cyst in his brain discovered during the autopsy were given as possible explanations of why a simmering professional grudge had exploded into a double murder and suicide.

End of story? Hardly. Ten years on, the play "04-05-'98: Massacre in the Vatican," which opened in Rome last week and runs through Saturday, revives the salacious rumors and murky conspiracy theories that have hung over the case.

Why were the Swiss Guards without a leader for months, and why did Estermann get killed the same day he was appointed? Why were the Italian police excluded from the investigation? Then, if Tornay was killed in a fit of madness, why did he calmly write a suicide note?

Those are just a few of the questions that the playwright Fabio Croce poses in a fast-paced whodunit that happens to provide its own frank answer: Because the Vatican was trying to hide the truth, which is that all three were murdered.

The smoking gun never actually finds its way into the hands of a specific culprit, but in concocting his murder theory, Croce thickens the plot with enough twists to make the audience dizzy.

In the play, the three deaths are interwoven with the unresolved disappearance in 1983 of two young girls, one of whom lived in Vatican City; with the sudden, and some say mysterious, death of Pope John Paul I; with the bailout of the IOR, the Vatican bank, when it was in uneasy financial waters; and with secret service agents of various ilk. For good measure Croce throws in a bitter rivalry between the clerical freemasonry and the Catholic organization Opus Dei. The two groups were supposedly clashing to gain primacy over the pope's security detail.

Read the rest...

Playwright, incidentally, owns a gay publishing house.

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