News24

Pope's security boosted

2010-01-05 19:08

Vatican City - Pope Benedict XVI's security has been reinforced, including by widening his safety cordon, after a woman knocked him to the ground at midnight mass on Christmas Eve, media reported on Tuesday.

Illustrating the changes, Il Giornale daily published images of the pope as he walked through St Peter's Basilica prior to the Christmas attack and images of him within the church with the new security measures in place.

They show the cordon around him enlarged by about a metre on all sides.

The larger space would give security services more time to react if someone tried to approach the 82-year-old pontiff, and more space in which to intervene if necessary, the paper said.

The photos also show that the pope escorted by four security agents rather than two as in the past.

The pope was unhurt in the assault by 25-year-old Susanna Maiolo's assault, but French cardinal Roger Etchegaray fell and fractured the top of his femur. Il Giornale said he had been jumped on by a security agent trying to intervene.

Etchegaray underwent a hip replacement operation a few days later.

According to the religious information agency i.media, there will be also be more security personnel along the path the pope takes as he moves through St Peter's.

Vatican spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi would not comment about the report.

After Maiolo's assault, Vatican authorities said it would be impossible to entirely protect the pope without putting a wall between him and the masses who come to see him.

That would be unthinkable and "like stopping him from breathing", Lombardi has said.

The pope's security detail is made up of about 350 people: 110 from the Swiss Guard, about 100 from the Vatican police and 140 Italian police.

Maiolo, who has Swiss and Italian nationality, has been in a psychiatric hospital since the attack and has been described as mentally unbalanced. She had also lunged at the pope at the 2008 midnight mass.

She has reportedly told doctors that she "did not want to hurt the pope, just ask him to help the weak".

But Vatican sources cited by said i.media said the young woman had confessed last year to wanting to scratch the pontiff's face.