The Vatican Swiss Guard murders are back in the spotlight with a new book

ROME — The mother of a member of the Swiss Guard accused of committing one of the most sensational crimes in the Vatican’s recent history – fatally shooting its commander and the senior officer’s wife before killing himself – is churning out hope a degree to the United Nations and Pope Francis almost a quarter of a century after the killings.

Muguette Baudat was present Tuesday as her attorney Laura Sgro, a veteran defense attorney in Vatican criminal trials, detailed her efforts to extract information from the Vatican and access the court files on the 4 book Blood in the Vatican murders.

“I’ve waited more than 24 years, so I don’t expect anything,” said Baudat at a book launch. But she added, “The book is very important.”

Within hours of the killings, the Vatican spokesman announced that Baudat’s 23-year-old son, Cedric Tornay, a Swiss Guard corporal, had killed Colonel Alois Estermann and Estermann’s Venezuelan wife, Gladys Meza Romero, with his service revolver, then turned the gun on himself himself. The spokesman said a build-up of resentment over Estermann’s reprimand and denial of an award, combined with a “peculiar” psychology, led to Tornay’s acts of violence.

Nine months later, in February 1999, the Vatican released a 10-page summary of its internal investigation that confirmed its initial assessment. It concluded that Tornay was solely responsible for the murder-suicide, but added that his marijuana use and a brain cyst the size of a pigeon’s egg may have tainted his reasoning.

Baudat campaigned for more information for two decades and hired Sgro in 2019 to demand the reopening of the Vatican investigation. She said her request was not spurred on by a belief that the Vatican was responsible, but to end the secrecy with which it has always handled the case.

Last year, the Vatican Secretary of State personally intervened in the case, urging the Vatican tribunal to pay “special attention” to Baudat’s request. Sgro was granted access to the court file.

In the book, Sgro describes what she found in the file, as well as the conditions imposed on her by the Vatican Prosecutor for inspection: she was not allowed to make copies, but was only allowed to view the documentation in the tribunal with two gendarmes standing behind her back and monitored her all the time. She was allowed to take some notes, but not too many as she was specifically forbidden from copying the text. She had to hand in her notes to the public prosecutor’s office after every inspection, which took place over a year.

And what she discovered while reading the court filing, she said on Tuesday, “confirmed whatever doubts the mother had about an absolutely superficial investigation.”

Sgro noted that in the moments after the killings, at least 20 people were granted access to the scene, including chaplains, monsignors and the Vatican spokesman, none of whom wore protective gear. No fingerprints or blood samples were taken and no DNA tests were performed.

A handwritten analysis of a letter, allegedly from Tornay to his mother, anticipating the murders, was performed on a photocopy, not the original document. The bodies were moved around the Estermann apartment along with furniture, according to 38 photos taken by a Vatican newspaper photographer and included in the court files. Autopsies were not performed in a hospital morgue, but in the crypt of a chapel within the walls of the Vatican.

“After an hour, Cedric was given up as the culprit and the investigation was built around it, and that’s absolutely the most worrying thing,” Sgro said.

The lawyer claimed that the conditions under which she was forced to see the file, as well as the mother’s long struggle to find information about her son, constituted human rights violations that should be addressed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

There were no indications Tuesday whether the UN might take up their case, as such complaints must show a consistent pattern of “gross human rights abuses,” such as the policies of apartheid in South Africa.

Sgro said she had little other option as the Holy See is not a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights and therefore not a party to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, where such appeals are normally heard. The Holy See enjoys observer status at the United Nations and has been criticized by UN human rights experts over the clergy sex abuse scandal.

Sgro said she sent a copy of Blood in the Vatican to Pope Francis and he responded with a personal letter. His response, she said, gave her hope that the Vatican might be willing to acknowledge that its original investigation was flawed and that Tornay’s legacy could somehow be redeemed even if he is confirmed as a murderer.

“That’s a small decrease after 24 years of silence,” Sgro said. “Hopefully that drop will become a glass of water and then a lake.”

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