A young Italian cadet officer of the elite Vatican police force has died of a gunshot wounds in an apparent suicide that raised questions about the selection process used to choose the Pope's guards.
Alessandro Benedetti was found in the early hours yesterday with a single wound to the head inside a bathroom at the Gendarmes barracks. He was rushed to the Santo Spirito but died 90 minutes later.
"The first clues suggest the young man wanted to commit suicide. A note found at the scene is being examined by the Magistrature of the Vatican," said Fr. Federico Lombardi, the chief Vatican spokesman.
Vatican sources said the 25-year-old cadet had evidently taken his life for "sentimental reasons" and an aunt at his home in Umbria told the Ansa news agency her nephew had broken up with his fiancée.
It was the worst incident of violence in the Pope's sovereign state since the triple shooting deaths in 1998 of Alois Estermann, the commander of the Swiss Guard, the other corps devoted to protecting the pontiff, together with his Venezuelan wife and a young Swiss Guard lance corporal, Cedric Tornay. The Holy See blamed Mr Tornay for shooting the other two before turning the gun on himself but there has been persistent speculation that awkward questions about the affair were covered up.
Young Benedetti was hired last April as a trainee Gendarme with the usual procedure of psycho-attitudinal selection. His behaviour till now had given no cause for concern."
There are about 150 Vatican Gendarmes in all, on patrol in Vatican Museums, St Peter's Basilica and Vatican-owned buildings in Rome.
"The Holy Father learned of the news with pain and entrusts young Alessandro to the mercy of God," said Fr Lombardi.
Earlier this year the Vatican denied claims that many Guardsmen were disgruntled with strict discipline in the force since the Tornay affair. The Vatican has sought to improve conditions for young men working in the security forces of the Church's last temporal redoubt.