Politics, banking and sport have all experienced the irresistible narcotic of greed. When religion becomes endowed with riches, it too can be prone to the temptations of human nature, whether it’s financial or carnal. Here we look at five mysterious deaths linked to the Vatican.
5 Emanuela Orlandi
Missing for 33 years and believed to be dead, budding musician Emanuela Orlandi was just 15 years old when she vanished not far from the Vatican walls. Her family resided within the walls of the Enclave and worked at the Vatican Bank.She was last seen on the 22 June 1983 at a bus stop in the company of another girl, before allegedly being driven off in a dark green BMW. Prior to this, she had been offered a job distributing leaflets at a fashion show. A seemingly perfect lure for an impressionable teenager. Many theories have been put forward as to who might be responsible for her disappearance.
Was she snatched by a gang of criminals to extort money from the Vatican Bank? Or was she kidnapped to be used as leverage for the release of Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish gunman who attempted to murder Pope John Paul II in 1981? Another hypothesis was that Emanuela was the victim of a sex ring involving high-placed officials within the Italian establishment. Coupled with this theory was the disappearance of Mirella Gregori, aged 16, who went missing from Rome in 1983. If it was a paedophile ring, were both girls its victims?
4 Alois Estermann And Gladys Meza Romero
On 4 May 1998, a triple shooting occurred in the Vatican. This murder-suicide rocked the Vatican and by extension, the Catholic Church. The two victims were Alois Estermann, 43, a senior officer of the Swiss Guard (tasked with the protection of the Pope) and his Venezuelan-born wife Gladys Meza Romero, 49, a former model. Their assailant was a man by the name of Cedric Tornay, 23, a corporal, who also served in the Swiss Guard.
The Vatican claimed that Tornay was aggrieved that he had been overlooked for promotion and blamed Estermann at least in part for this. However, other potential truths emerged. Alternative explanations the Vatican had hoped would not surface. It is alleged Estermann was bisexual and had been having an affair with Tornay, but at some point had transferred his affections to another person. Tornay, outraged and humiliated, then took revenge on Estermann and his wife – killing them both, before taking his own life. Tornay’s mother, in numerous interviews, swears her son was not capable of such a thing.
Another supposition put forward was that the couple were killed by other persons because Estermann was in the midst of a power struggle and Tornay, entirely innocent, was set up as the patsy.
3 Roberto Calvi
God’s Banker. That was the moniker bestowed on Roberto Calvi because of his close links to the Holy See. He was chairman of Banco Ambrosiano when it collapsed in 1982. It is thought the Mafia used the bank as a clearing house for money laundering.
Before this, Calvi had been given a four-year suspended prison sentence in 1981 for financial improprieties. It is believed that he had attempted suicide during his incarceration. At this time the Vatican Bank was the largest shareholder in Banco Ambrosiano.
On Friday 18 June 1982, Roberto Calvi was discovered hanging from scaffolding beneath Blackfriars Bridge, close to London’s financial district. Suicide was the initial assumption. The day before he had been relieved of his duties at Banco Ambrosiano. That same day his private secretary, Graziella Corrocher, had jumped to her death from a fifth-floor window of the bank. Her suicide note blamed Calvi for the destruction visited of the bank. There has always been speculation and rumours that her death was, in fact, foul play.
Twenty years after Calvi’s death, Italian judges ruled that the banker had been murdered and in October 2005, five people stood trial for his murder. In June 2007, all were acquitted.
In 2012, Francesco Di Carlo (known as Frankie the Strangler), a former Mafia hitman turned supergrass claimed he had been originally hired to kill Roberto Calvi. The case is still unsolved and continues to serve up more questions than answers.
2 Pope John Paul I (born Albino Luciani)
33 days after his election to the exalted position of God’s Vicar, Pope John Paul I was dead. He was 65 years old, and his reign was the 10th shortest of all time. Much has been written about the possibility that he was murdered. Why? Some theorists suggest he was planning to tackle corruption and the alleged influence of the Freemasons within the Vatican.
The official Vatican version was a heart attack. However, many believe he was poisoned to bring a halt to his ambitious plans for reform. While Patriarch of Venice he had already overseen investigations into money irregularities. He had no history of heart disease, and no autopsy was performed. The Vatican announced that post-mortems were not permissible under Papal law, though it is widely believed they were performed on Pius VIII and Clement XIV.
If he was murdered who stood to gain? Apparently Pope John Paul I was a liberal progressive, and this would have brought him into conflict with more traditional forces within the Vatican and the wider Roman Catholic hierarchy.
These theories reverberate to this day. We may never know.
1 Michele Sindona
A Sicilian native and a graduate of the University of Messina, Michele Sindona moved in the highest circles. He was, by profession, a corporate tax lawyer and had close connections with the Gambino crime family of New York. It was also reported he was a member of Propaganda Due, a Freemasons lodge. He was also a business associate and confidante of Bishop Paul Marcinkus, the Vatican Bank president from 1971 to 1989. Pope John Paul I (who died under mysterious circumstances) was not an admirer of the relationship.
Following the collapse of Franklin National Bank and investigations into illegal money activities, Sindona was arrested and convicted in 1980 in a US court on charges of conspiracy, fraud and perjury. After extradition to Italy, he was also convicted of fraud in 1985 in a Milanese court. In addition to these convictions, Sindona was also adjudged to have ordered the killing of lawyer Giorgio Ambrosoli who was investigating the financial trail of the collapsed banks.
Ambrosoli was gunned down on July 12th, 1979 at his home in Milan. The murder is thought to have been carried out by mafia hitmen. Sindona was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his involvement in the killing.
In 1986, Michele Sindona collapsed in his cell after drinking coffee. He had been poisoned with cyanide.