The Vatican has decided to review its security procedures following midnight Mass incidence in which a woman jumped a barrier and rushed at Pope Benedict XVI causing him to fall briefly, said the Vatican spokesman.
The woman was later apprehended by the Vatican guards. It was her second attempt in the two years. Benedict, 82, was not injured in the incidence and next day delivered his traditional Christmas Day greetings in 65 languages from the loggia overlooking St Peter’s Square.
The incident at St Peter’s Basilica immediately ahead of the commencement of Christmas Eve Mass has raised serious questions about security for the pontiff.
Officials, however, said that the woman who pulled Benedict to the floor had jumped the barrier at last year’s midnight Mass in a failed bid to get to the pope. She even wore the same red hooded sweat shirt.
The woman was identified as Susanna Maiolo, 25, a Swiss Italian national with psychiatric problems who was immediately taken to a clinic for treatment.
Officials said she lives in Switzerland, and the Italian ANSA news agency said that she had traveled to Rome specifically for the Mass, as she did last year.
Maiolo, who was quietly held back by security in 2008 and could not reach Pope, had launched herself over the barricade on Thursday as Benedict walked down the aisle in the procession at the commencement of the service. As security guards wrestled her to the ground, she grabbed Benedict’s vestments, taking him down with her.
It may be mentioned that anybody can get into a papal Mass. Though tickets are need but can easily be attained if requested in advance. Also, identification is not necessary to gain entrance, but visitors must pass through a metal detector.
Father Federico Lombardi, the pope’s spokesman, said that it’s not realistic to think the Vatican can ensure 100% security for the pontiff because he is regularly surrounded by tens of thousands of people for his weekly audiences, services, papal greetings and other events.
“It seems that they intervened at the earliest possible moment in a situation in which ‘zero risk’ cannot be achieved,” he said of Vatican security officials, adding, “They will nonetheless review the episode and try to learn from experience.”
It was the first time a potential attacker has come into direct contact with Benedict in his nearly five-year papacy. Security analysts have frequently warned that the pope is too exposed in his public appearances, but Lombardi said that the events 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. “A zero risk doesn’t seem realistic in a situation in which there’s a direct rapport with the people.”
Benedict was unhurt in the fall, but a retired Vatican diplomat, French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, 87, fell and suffered a fractured hip.