Vatican to review security

Woman had jumped the barrier during 2008 Midnight Mass too


The incident in St Peter’s Basilica raised fresh questions about security for the pontiff, however, after officials said the woman involved had jumped the barrier at the 2008 Midnight Mass in a failed bid to get to the Pope. She even wore the same red-hooded sweat shirt.

Italian officials also remarked on the odd similarity of the breach to an assault two weeks ago on Premier Silvio Berlusconi by a man with a history of psychological problems. The attack in Milan broke the premier’s nose and two teeth.

Virtually anyone can get into a papal Mass: tickets are required but are easy to get if requested in advance. Identification cards are not necessary to gain entrance, although visitors must pass through a metal detector.

The Rev Federico Lombardi said it’s not realistic to think the Vatican can ensure 100 percent security for the Pope considering he is regularly surrounded by tens of thousands of people for his weekly audiences, Masses, papal greetings and other events.

The Vatican’s security officials will nonetheless review the episode and “try to learn from experience,” Lombardi said.

It was the first time a potential attacker has come into direct contact with Benedict during his nearly five-year papacy. Security analysts have frequently warned the Pope is too exposed in his public appearances, but Lombardi noted that they are a necessary part of the job.

“People want to see him up close, and he’s pleased to see them closely too,” Lombardi said.

Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno remarked on the “strange” coincidence in the recent security breaches, saying “We need in some way to be more vigilant over all, because in an open and globalised world, the number of unbalanced people and their aggressiveness can increase.”

There have been other security breaches at the Vatican. In 2007, during an open-air audience in St Peter’s Square, a mentally unstable German man jumped a security barrier and grabbed the back of the Pope’s open car before being swarmed by security guards.
Then there was the assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca in 1981. John Paul suffered a severe abdominal wound as he rode in an open jeep at the start of his weekly audience in the Vatican piazza. The Pope is protected by a combination of Swiss Guards, Vatican police and Italian police. When he moves around St Peter’s Square during his weekly Wednesday audience, he does so in an uncovered white jeep; when he travels overseas or outside the Vatican, he usually uses one outfitted with bulletproof glass.

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Vatican has tightened security at events where the Pope is present. All visitors must pass by the police to get into the square, with those entering the basilica going through metal detectors or being scanned by metal-detecting wands.

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