The attack on Pope Benedict has shocked the Catholic world but the 82-year-old pontiff is unhurt.
He was entering Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome to give Christmas Eve Mass, when a young woman leapt a barrier and threw herself at him. Although she was unarmed, the incident called the Vatican’s security arrangements seriously into question.
The pontiff was knocked to the ground but he got up and went on with the service. Susanna Maiolo was taken away for psychiatric assessment. The Church said the 25-year-old Italian-Swiss woman also tried to reach the pope last Christmas. In both cases she wore a red sweatshirt.
The Pope is protected by a combination of Swiss Guards, Vatican police and Italian police, but a spokesman said his security cannot realistically be ensured 100 per cent.
Public reactions in and around the Basilica varied.
“It’s always difficult to protect against crazy people. I am glad that nothing serious has happened, and let’s leave it at that.”
“It was very ugly. After what happened just a few days ago to Berlusconi all we needed was for this to happen to the Pope! I think the Pope was not well-protected. They need to be much more careful, especially these days.”
“I think this Pope is a very rigorous person and a very sweet man, ready to forgive everything. Security is fine as it is, I think.”
Eighty-seven-year-old French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray also fell in the papal scrum, and broke a leg. This was the first time a potential attacker came into direct contact with Benedict in his five-year papacy. A gunman nearly killed Benedict’s predecessor in Saint Peter’s Square in 1981.