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Pope to Pray before Remains of Victims of Swiss Guard Tragedy

VATICAN CITY, MAY 6, 1998 (VIS) - During today's general audience, the Pope spoke of the death Monday night of Swiss Guard Commander Alois Estermann, his wife Gladys and vice-corporal Cedric Tornay, and announced that, after the audience, he would go to pray before their remains in the Swiss Guard Chapel.

"I have special greetings today," said the Pope in German, "for the family members, relatives and friends of the Swiss Guards, who came to Rome for the swearing-in of the new halberdiers. Unfortunately, what should have been a happy occasion was turned into a disconcerting tragedy, which weighs on everyone's heart and which has been for me a cause of great suffering.

"While extending my most heartfelt condolences to the parents and relatives of Commander Estermann and his wife, I pray to the Lord that He will receive their souls next to Him in peace. Commander Estermann was a person of great faith and strong dedication to duty; for 18 years he performed a faithful and precious service, for which I am personally grateful to him.

"I am also close to the suffering of the relatives of vice-corporal Cedric Tornay, who now finds himself before God's justice, to whose mercy I entrust him.

"I ask everyone to join in my prayer, imploring the comfort and consolation of God, the Lord of life and death."


Second Press Briefing on Deaths in the Vatican

VATICAN CITY, MAY 6, 1998 (VIS) - Holy See Press office director Joaquin Navarro-Valls this afternoon held a briefing in which he communicated the following results of the autopsies carried out on the bodies of the Commander of the Pontifical Swiss Guards, Alois Estermann, his wife, Gladys Meza Romero and Vice corporal Cedric Tornay.

"The body of the Commander showed two fire-arm wounds - one bullet entered the face through the left cheekbone - touching the spinal column and the spinal marrow. The other bullet penetrated the region of the left deltoid muscle and exited through the left shoulder, re-entering the body on the left side of the neck, moving towards the right, and penetrating the central canal of the spinal cord at the level of the first vertebrae cutting through the spinal cord and brain tissue.

"The body of Gladys Meza showed one bullet wound to the left shoulder, moving towards the right, caused by a bullet which reached the cervical (neck) column.

"The body of the Vice corporal Cedric Tornay showed an exit wound in the lower part of the occipital bone (back of the head) caused by a bullet through the mouth.

"Further examinations and laboratory tests are being carried out.

"From a first reconstruction of the facts and the results of the autopsy, it can be basically presumed that Vice corporal Cedric Tornay, after firing two bullets from his regulation weapon at Commander Estermann and one bullet at the wife of the Commander, then committed suicide.

"It is confirmed that the funerals will be celebrated by the Secretary of State, Card. Angelo Sodano, this afternoon at 5 p.m. at the altar of the Cathedra in St. Peter's Basilica."

Amplifying his earlier remarks, Navarro-Valls said that ballistic, paraffin and toxic substance analyses were still being performed.

He affirmed that, after today's general audience, Pope John Paul had paid a visit to the chapel of the Swiss Guards where the three coffins had been placed, and prayed before them.

In confirming the funeral Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, the press office director said "there will only be two coffins." He added that the funeral Mass for vice-corporal Tornay would take place tomorrow in St. Anna, the parish church of the Vatican. Burial plans will be decided by the families, and were not known at the time of the briefing.

In answer to a journalist who asked for the church teaching on funerals and burials for suicides, the director, remarking that he was not a specialist in moral theology, nonetheless pointed out that the 1917 Code of Canon Law forbade the burial of suicides, whereas the 1983 Code greatly modified this teaching. He said that much had been learned over the years about the human mind, and about its dysfunctions, especially "those in which human freedom is seriously damaged." He also said there are "pastoral considerations" to be taken into account in such circumstances. For these reasons, there is reluctance to make a judgment about a person who commits suicide.

In several remarks about "the victims" of Monday's tragedy, Navarro-Valls pointed out that "Tornay was also a victim, a victim of himself."

Navarro-Valls expressed "overall positive judgement on how the media had reported this event," following the information released by the Vatican. He underlined that the Vatican "has given the media absolutely all the information we have in our possession - medical, legal, known circumstances, and personal assessments - except for one thing: the letter which vice-corporal Tornay wrote to his family." He said that the letter -handed by Tornay to a Swiss Guard colleague one and a half hours before the tragedy - was addressed to Tornay's mother and sisters, and it would be up to them to make its contents public.

In answer to a question on the apparent discrepancy between the reported number of bullets in the gun (6) and the total of bullets fired into the bodies (4) and remaining in the cartridge (1) - thus leaving one bullet unaccounted for - Navarro-Valls said that they are trying to ascertain the facts.

He also explained that the Swiss Guards' non-commissioned officers keep their regulation revolvers in their homes, as do the officers, including Commander Estermann.

av Webmaster publisert 06.05.1998, sist endret 06.05.1998 - 20:34