Another Close Call

Looks like Vatican police go through the same security training as the White House Secret Service. Last night, while processing down the aisle of St. Peter’s, Pope Benedict was tackled by a mentally ill woman in a red hooded sweatshirt.

After successfully hopping the barricade, the woman headed straight for the Pontiff and, grabbing the sacred vestments, pulled him to the ground as security guards attempted to neutralize her. The Holy Father seemed shaken but unharmed and continued the service. News reports claimed the Pontiff “popped back up,” but let’s be realistic. Nobody pops up at 82. Actually, he lay there for a few moments before being helped to his feet, as terrified onlookers held their breath.

Ironically, at last year’s Christmas midnight mass at the Vatican, a similar incident occurred. A woman in a red hooded sweatshirt managed to hop the barricade but she was tackled by security before she could reach the Pope. Hmm. Could it be the same woman? If not, it must be some cult that wears red hoods and believes in leveling clergy. (Actually, Vatican police confirmed today that it was the same person, an Italian-Swiss mental patient who comes to Rome each year to attend the mass and evidently to horizontalize the Holy Father.)

Vatican officials said today that it is hard to guarantee the Pope “100% security.” The faithful who flock there each Christmas want to be close to him. Granted. But how hard is it to spot someone in a red hooded sweatshirt? One would think such a sophisticated disguise would not be difficult to detect. After last year’s bravura performance, why was she allowed within 50 feet of the Holy See? Apparently, Vatican security is notoriously lenient, as one would expect of any benevolent institution. But a French cardinal, who was not so lucky, broke a hip in this year’s fracas. Italy’s Prime Minister was also attacked recently, breaking his nose and two teeth.

One wonders if the woman, exhibiting such tenacity of purpose, had ambitions of starring in some new reality series. As one mentally ill person I know said of the incident, “It’s people like her that give us a bad name.” We hope she gets the treatment she needs. We also hope the Pope’s security force, which include the centuries-old Schweizergarde as well as the more daunting Vatican and Italian police, will take a lesson from the White House and inspect its guests more carefully.

Security is an issue always in the news these days; it seems to have taken all of us hostage, not to mention our governments and constitutions. Whether it be an activist “detained” without charges in the name of “national security,” or a journalist bullied at a border crossing, we’ve almost come to accept the officiousness of our over-zealous security forces and our subsequent loss of freedom as a fact of life. That is why it is so ironic to see such lax incompetence toward a head of state, such as the Pope, Berlusconi, and our own President.

We’re relieved His Holiness was unhurt, and we wish Cardinal Etchegaray (87) a speeding recovery. Viva Il Papa!


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  1. But there have been security improvements as far as transporting the Pope.The Popemobile has bullet proof glass, a much more safer vehicle than the outmoded sedia gestatoria.

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