Vatican mulls options over woman who lunged at pope

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican said on Saturday it had not yet decided whether to take legal action against the woman who lunged at Pope Benedict while calls grew for more efficient security to protect the pontiff.

Pope Benedict XVI waves to the faithful during the Angelus prayer from a window of his private apartment at the Vatican December 26, 2009. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

The pope appeared fit as he made his usual appearance on Saturday at noon from his window overlooking St Peter’s Square to address the faithful on the day after Christmas, a national holiday in Italy.

The Vatican said its justice officials would decide over the next few days what steps to take against Susanna Maiolo, 25, an Italian-Swiss national.

Maiolo shocked the Catholic world and Vatican security when she jumped over a barricade in the basilica, lunged at Pope Benedict, grabbed his vestments and knocked him to the floor.

Usually those who commit offences in the Vatican, which is a sovereign state surrounded by Rome, are handed over to the Italian justice system for prosecution and eventual trial.

The Turkish gunman who shot and nearly killed Pope John Paul in St Peter’s Square in 1981 was tried in an Italian court and sentenced to life in prison.

But Maiolo is said to have a history of mental illness and it is still not clear if she had any intention of harming the Pope. She was not armed and he was not harmed.

A spokesman said Vatican justice “is usually benevolent,” signaling Maiolo will most likely be put into long-term care in an Italian psychiatric institution with no charges filed.

While Maiolo may not face trial, Vatican security is already being tried by the media and privately in the Vatican itself.

Vatican sources said a number of top level officials have privately called for what one called “a detailed review” of security procedures that would allow the pope to maintain contact with the public but reduce risk.


The Vatican has come under criticism because Maiolo had tried last year at the same Christmas Eve event to jump over the barricade and lunge at the pope but was that time blocked.

“Given that dramatic background, it is hugely embarrassing that this was allowed to happen this year,” the Belfast telegraph said in an editorial. “Surely, with hindsight, the Vatican authorities should have been much more prepared for any eventuality.”

French Cardinal Paul Poupard told a French radio station that “greater vigilance was called for.”

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi has said it was impossible to provide watertight security for the pope because being close to people is part of his mission.

“The pope wants to have a direct, pastoral relationship with people where you can touch children, shake hands and do what you want to do and what the people want you to do,” Lombardi said.

“If you want watertight security you can’t do that. Being out of touch with people, being far from them, runs against the spirit of his mission so there will always be a risk,” he said.

With the exception of seats in the front rows, tickets for papal events are not assigned to specific individuals. They are free and can be had at the Vatican or in churches around Rome with little or no controls on those who get them.

Visitors to the basilica pass through metal detectors but security once they get inside is relatively light.

Meanwhile the Vatican said that French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, 87, who broke a femur bone when he fell in the basilica, would likely undergo surgery on Sunday.

Editing by Louise Ireland