Hordes of popes throughout history have been murdered, and there was an almost successful assassination attempt on the pope in 1981.
The pope does have bodyguards. The pope is protected by several forces. The Swiss Guard is the primary force in charge of protecting the pope. Vatican City, where the pope resides, is protected by the Corps of Gendarmerie of Vatican City. When outside of the Vatican, the pope’s security detail will liaison with Italian or other nationalities’ police forces.
Stick around to learn more about the pope’s personal protection and how the safety of the pope has been compromised over the years.
The Swiss Guard
You might wonder why the pope, who lives in a city-state enclaved within Italy, is guarded by Swiss mercenaries. Well, Swiss soldiers had a hard-earned reputation for being a tough, loyal, and reliable force.
Several royals in Europe employed select Swiss soldiers to protect themselves. It was on January 21, 1506, that 150 Swiss soldiers marched into Rome on the orders of Pope Julius II.
It was just over two decades later that the soldiers were put to the test, during the Sack of Rome. On May 6, 1527, 147 Swiss Guards were killed defending the current pope. The remaining 22 guards escorted Pope Clement VII to safety.
In remembrance of this bloody battle, 110 Swiss guards are annually recruited from select towns and villages that have a history in guarding the pope.
The Swiss Guard is responsible for protecting the Pope, as well as safeguarding the Vatican. They also carry out ceremonial duties, including guarding receptions and audiences.
Corps of Gendarmerie of Vatican City
The Gendarmerie is currently headed by Inspector General Gianluca Gauzzi Broccoletti. In 2017, it was reported that there were 130 members of the corps.
The Gendarmerie has been through several name changes over the years:
- Papal Carabinieri Corps (1816-1849)
- Papal Velites Regiment (1849-1849)
- Papal Gendarmerie Corps (1849-1970)
- Central Security Office (1970-1991)
- Security Corps of Vatican City State (1991-2002)
- Gendarmerie Corps of Vatican City State (2002-present)
The Gendarmerie is in charge of providing security, public order, traffic/border control, criminal investigation, and other duties within the Vatican.
There are two units within the Gendarmerie: Rapid Intervention Group and an anti-sabotage unit, named “Unità Antisabotaggio” in Italian.
In 2000, a specially-built operations and control room was created, which is staffed at all times.
The uniform of the Corps of Gendarmerie of Vatican City
Pope Safety Compromises
Dozens of popes have been assassinated over the centuries, and there have been several compromises in safety in more modern times.
John Paul II
John Paul II lost three-quarters of his blood and was close to death, but miraculously survived after a lengthy surgery.
Ağca was prevented from fleeing by a nun and other attendees of the parade until the police arrived. He was sentenced to life in prison. In 1983, just after Christmas, John Paul II visited Ağca in prison.
Speaking of the meeting, he said, “What we talked about will have to remain a secret between him and me. I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned and who has my complete trust.”
Watch the dramatic take on John Paul II’s life below.
The current pope is not exempt from threats to his safety. On the eve of the 2020 New Year, Pope Francis felt it necessary to slap away a woman’s hand which clung onto His Holiness.
The pope later issued an apology, saying, “We lose patience many times. It happens to me too. I apologize for the bad example given yesterday.”