Thursday, January 07, 2010

The sedia gestatoria would protect the Pope

Security expert Dominic Scarborough urges the Vatican to draw on tradition to prevent a repeat of the Midnight Mass attack on Benedict XVI

The Catholic Herald
8 January 2010

John Paul I was the last pope to be carried aloft by the sediari, or chairbearers. CNS file photo

Many years ago there was a joke doing the rounds of the pubs and clubs about two Irishmen on pilgrimage in Rome who ask at a bar near the Vatican what the Pope likes to drink. Upon being told he likes Crème de Menthe the two intrepid drinkers order two pints of the stuff.

Several hours and a lot of pints later both are lying comatose in the street. When they eventually come around one says to the other: "No wonder they carry him around in a chair!"

On a more serious note, the attack on Pope Benedict during the entrance procession of Midnight Mass by Susanna Maiolo, a mentally ill woman who once again, as she did last year, vaulted over the barriers before lunging at the Pope, poses serious questions about the Holy Father's safety.

Since 1970 alone there have been three documented attempted assassinations of the Pope. In 1970 Pope Paul VI was attacked by a man with a knife at Manila Airport, in 1981 there was the shooting of Pope John Paul II in St Peter's Square and only a year later, when the same Pope visited Fatima to give thanks for his survival, he was attacked yet again by a deranged knife-wielding priest.

Aside from Pope Benedict's annual Christmas encounters with Miss Maiolo there was the attempt by a German man to get into his Popemobile during an audience in 2007. After these incidents and the rise of Islamic terrorism since 9/11 there have been many noticeable changes to the security surrounding the Pontiff.

Long gone are the days when it was deemed enough for Archbishop Marcinkus to stand next to the Pope as a kind of clerical "heavy". On all his travels around the world now the Pope is accompanied by armed close-protection officers from the 130-strong Vatican Corps of Gendarmes who accompany him and work with the close-protection teams afforded by the Italian state and the particular host country. His Popemobile is fitted with bullet-resistant glass and his movements by limousine are handled in exactly the same way as any head of state, with armed officers travelling with him and in a support vehicle. When the Pope visited Turkey he was even asked to wear body armour under his overcoat.

At every papal ceremony in St Peter's when the Pope is required to walk through the crowded basilica to reach the sanctuary it is possible to see not only his personal protection officer Domenico Giani, (who has been Inspector General of the Corpo della Gendarmeria since 2006), walking nearby but also other black-suited, close-protection officers walking at the sides of the procession. Indeed, the Pope's close-protection team are to be congratulated that one of their number seized Miss Maiolo as she leapt the barrier but the distance between the barrier and the Pope was so small that, ironically, it was the force of this officer tackling her at the very moment she grabbed at the Pope's vestments that actually brought the Pontiff crashing to the floor.

See also:

Associated Press Wed Jan 6, 9:04 AM ET
Enlarge photo...

In this photo released by the Vatican's newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict XVI, center, walks down the central aisle of St. Peter's Basilica at The Vatican as he arrives to celebrate a mass marking the Epiphany, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2010. The central aisle was widened by about 1.5 meters (5 feet) as part of heightened security precautions that were put in place after a young woman scrambled over a barrier during his entrance procession on the night of Dec. 24, when the basilica was packed with thousands of people for Christmas Eve Mass.(AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano, HO)

And also:

From National Catholic Reporter, "Tradition is pope's best protection"

From AP via Yahoo! News, "Pope thanks guards for keeping him, Vatican safe"

From USA Today, "New security as pope leads Mass for Epiphany"

From the Herald Sun, "Pope says thanks after woman's attack"


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